“Ditch the Witch” became the notorious phrase the Australian media spread to oust the country’s first female, and rightfully elected, Prime Minister Julia Gillard. The vicious campaign forced her to step down from the post and eventually politics as well.
Experts claimed the press waged class war on behalf of the extremely rich, in the name of phony populism.
The angry populist resurgence that shocked this world in June this year when the UK voted to leave the EU has now gripped American politics — first witnessed in the surprise upstart candidacy of Bernie Sanders, and then the political juggernaut of the ultimate Washington outsider Donald Trump.
Nothing — not misogyny, sexism, racism, mocking of the disabled, a questionable business record, or even complete ignorance of current political, diplomatic events — could slow his roll.
In his third presidential debate, he even threatened to throw Hillary Clinton in jail, and called her a “nasty woman”.
American values were out the door.
Initially, the mainstream media had Donald Trump on for laughs, and kept him coming on when network bosses saw his appearances were a ratings bonanza. As early as March this year, according to The New York Times, Trump had garnered approximately $2 billion of free media coverage, strengthening his position, and enabling him to clinch the nomination.
Democrats spun Trump’s attacks on Hillary Clinton as evidence that she was a tough woman ready to fight the fight, owing to the fact that Clinton had already established her own political identity.
“Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights,” she had said at a conference hosted by the United Nations Fourth World Congress on Women years ago.
Meanwhile, Clinton loyalists worried that in addition to sexism, her surname was also damaging her chances. She was accused of lying, fraud, corruption, and even murder. She continued to be blamed for the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi, despite multiple Congressional investigations turning up no evidence. She was blamed for creating ISIS. She was accused of being in the pocket of the Wall Street, and of running a crooked foundation.
These conspiracy theories are not a new phenomenon. As early as 1992, she was accused of being a sinister force in the Clinton White House. During her Senate bid in 2000, a Republican sponsored campaign accused her of supporting terrorist organisations like the one that caused the death of sailors on the USS Cole. It was a reference to the tragic attack on a US Navy ship anchored in Yemen that claimed the lives of 19 sailors.
During the election campaign, ‘Hate and Corruption’ replaced ‘Hope and Change’ pretty quickly. The FBI’s email inquiry added yet another level of chaos, fueling the notion that she is over-qualified but not trustworthy. The Atlantic quoted pollster Anna Greenberg noting, “Clinton has generally been most popular when confirming to traditional gender roles — working on women’s issues as first lady, sticking by her husband during the Lewinsky scandal, loyally serving Obama as secretary of state — and least popular when heading the healthcare task force, serving in the Senate, running for president. Being the first female president, needless to say, violates traditional gender roles.”
Many were still flabbergasted that even Democrats were split over Clinton. “Clinton’s loss can be attributed to many factors, but one of the more unfortunate issues is how she was abandoned by some elements of her own party. We can be sure that some more conservative and blue collar Democrats voted for Trump or didn’t vote at all. Likewise we can assume that some left wing Democrats, including Bernie Sanders supporters, chose not to vote,” commented Michael Kugelman, senior associate for South and Southeast Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Center.
On the eve of the election, Clinton asked the crowd, “You can vote for a hopeful, inclusive, big hearted America. Our core values are being tested in this election.” And they truly were. The verbal and other forms of aggression she suffered from her opponents was demonstrated publicly. There were T-shirts and pins depicting disgusting comments. From “Trump that bitch”, to “Life’s a bitch: don’t vote for one” were out and about, and almost all resonated what Julia Gillard had faced.
In the last few weeks, as a team member for the Geo’s special transmission, I came across scores of people who loudly professed that they would abstain from voting. There were many who admitted to voting for Trump; and then there were the rest who decided to “stand with her”. According to the Public Religion Research Institute, 52 per cent of white men hold a “very unfavourable” view of her. A reputable magazine The Atlantic claimed that the number was 20 points higher that the percentage who viewed Obama unfavourable in 2012 and 32 points higher than the percentage who viewed Obama very unfavourably in 2008.
As election day dawned, almost 40 per cent of Americans eligible to vote had already cast their votes through postal ballots or early voting. By the end of the day, swing states like Virginia were decisive. Thin margins in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, even Florida added fuel to the fire. What also acted against her were the third party candidates. Just when the Republican candidate was drawing 100,000 lead, the third party candidate Gary Johnson had bagged 200,000 pushing Clinton a bit behind Donald Trump.
By the time the outcome of the voting poured in, hundreds of people gathered outside the White House in utter shock. The mood quickly turned crushingly somber, until Trump enthusiasts walked in and created scenes of haggling and arguments around every corner. “The election of Donald Trump to the presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the constitution, and a trump for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism,” The New Yorker’s David Remnick declared.
Adil Najam, dean of the Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University, mused that Donald Trump’s victory exemplifies a disturbing global trend towards populism, authoritarianism, and ultra-nationalism. “He is just one of a list of such leaders who have assumed power — Trump (USA), Dutert (Philippines), Erdogan (Turkey), Abe (Japan), Modi (India), Putin (Russia), Xi Jinping (China), and more.”
During the over-a-year long process, various pressing national and international issues faded into the background. The Republican Party, and especially Donald Trump, brought out stark differences that have existed in American society but had remained buried under antagonism and much frustration. These include racism, xenophobia, gun control, immigration, abortion rights, and a broken political system that allowed Donald Trump to sneak in and take over.
Hillary Clinton later next day delivered the painful concession speech, “This is painful, and it will be for a very long time”. Dressed in a meaningful purple colour black suit, she stood before a sobbing crowd, and acknowledged that Democrats need to fight hard and have to protect their values.
Hoping that a woman candidate will surface soon, she said, “I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but someday, someone will, and hopefully sooner than we might think right now”.
Then she added, “To all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and to achieve your dreams.”
With this message, she concluded her White House quest and possibly her political career too.