America Did ‘Drain The Swamp’

Banuchandar Nagarajan

Nov 09, 2016, 02:31 PM | Updated 02:31 PM IST

Donald Trump (Mark Lyons/Getty Images)
Donald Trump (Mark Lyons/Getty Images)
  • It will take a while for Trump to earn back respect from the mud-slings of the campaign.
  • The real swamp that needs to be drained is some of the media’s uppity editors and commentators.
  • And on the pedestal these words appear:

    'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

    Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'

    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

    The lone and level sands stretch far away

    The Clinton dynasty has been defeated! And it is only apt to recall Shelly’s “Ozymandias”.

    Let’s begin with a requiem to the Queen. Hillary Clinton is as tough as they make it. Few will contest that statement whatever one’s political leanings are. She is neither the natural charmer, nor the “great explainer” like her husband Bill, but she has ploughed on for decades in political life – as political activist, Arkansas lawyer, first lady, New York Senator and the globetrotting Secretary of State.

    Ploughed on she has, in spite of personal humiliation of Bill Clinton’s scandals, professional defeat at the hands of the then greenhorn Barack Obama, health issues and recent troubles with Clinton Foundation and Huma Abedin. Despite the image of being untrustworthy, she would have earned the respect of any politician around the world for her guts and her “bring ‘em on” temperament. She will have her name in the history books as the most powerful woman in American politics over the last two decades in a list that includes Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice.

    And all hail the new Emperor! Donald J Trump, the buccaneering New Yorker imposed his personality on the events of the world, and has made a dent. He is the great defier. He defied conventional wisdom, defied the New York Times, defied the Nate Silvers and their statistical models, defied the Plouffeian algorithms of new-age campaigns and defied wisdom of “more the campaign money, better the chances”.

    He name-called, cursed, attacked Clinton and media relentlessly, outraged enough to get more “earned media” and, more than anything, stayed stoic amidst the image-breaking audio tapes. A weaker person would have succumbed. He touched the chord with the beleaguered American better than any professional politician could, and more importantly, provided a masterly display of “persuasion”. Case studies are waiting to be written on this.

    For sociologists, the great white upheaval needs to be studied. In this election, swing states propped up everywhere. It was not just Ohio and Florida like in 2012. Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Utah, North Carolina, Maine districts, Minnesota, Nevada, Arizona, Wisconsin and Nevada were all in play till the last few hours. Real Clear Politics and FiveThirtyEight had to provide qualifiers and addendum to any prediction lest they appear silly. With more undecided voters, and the difference between the two candidates falling within the margins of error in the run up, models could only do so much. With some flimsy logic, one can say men beat the machine this time.

    Where does it go from here? As far as the presidency is concerned, it will take a while for Trump to earn back respect from the mud-slings of the campaign. The Republicans have retained control over the House of Representatives and captured the Senate as well. Still, the Congress will size up the new outsider President, though Republican, before bargains begin. The wounded DC establishment will try to have its pound of flesh. Among “the wall” and other things, foreign policy looks set for a major disruption. If Newt Gingrich, as rumoured, is appointed Secretary of State, we are in for some exciting times.

    Politics in the US is ripe for innovation. The GOP elephant is injured. The insiders have been ambushed, and they lack coherence on immigration and minorities-related issues. It needs to shed its Rubios and Ryans and is badly in need of a unifier. While the liberals wonder aloud about the other party, the one that needs a kick in the backside is the “Donkey” itself. The likes of Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Donna Brazile symbolise nepotism and corruption. The liberal cause was hurt by the acts of these fixers and one just needs to ask those who still “Feel the Bern” of Sanders. Michelle Obama has charmed the Dems enough, and it will be interesting to watch her career from here. (For whatever it is worth, this author is willing to bet that “the next big thing” will rise from the West Coast.) The usual idea of a stronger centrist “third party” taking foothold will be revisited much to chagrin of the “median voter” theorists.

    The real swamp that needs to be drained is some of the media’s uppity editors and commentators (and extended ecosystem of avaricious lobbyists, think tanks and assorted carpet baggers). It is unlikely to happen, but an honest assessment is necessary for the American press for it to make any claims about being the conscience keeper of the “free world”. The most venerable media houses were humbled by their own partisan passions. The liberals that hand-wring about moving to Canada should be reminded that the founding fathers of the US have only vested in the President “a small oar to the big boat”. The other arms of the republic will act as a check and balance.

    Hillary Clinton had once angrily remarked at reporters in 1992 that “We are President”. Sadly for her, she could not say that in first-person singular. She waited, worked hard and made all the strategic choices. But, ultimately her fate hinged on an announcement from a government official during the final week of her campaign. Trump came out of nowhere and glib-talked his way to the White House.

    Clinton’s defeat also shows why politics, with all its vicissitudes, is not exactly a great career choice. In spite of the great endeavours, much of what happens to a politician’s career depends on others: fellow party leaders, general public, political adversaries or sheer timing and luck. It calls for people cut from a different cloth to be in politics and/or to run governments, someone with mad passion for change or for power. For people pondering about the personalities of Clinton, Trump or their ilk, the great French philosopher Montaigne has some words of wisdom:

    Likewise in every government, there are necessary offices which are not only abject but also vicious. Vices find their place in it and are employed for sewing our society together, as are poisons for the preservation of our health. If they become excusable, inasmuch as we need them and the common necessity effaces their true quality, we still must let this part be played by the more vigorous and less fearful citizens, who sacrifice their honor and their conscience, as those ancients sacrificed their life, for the good of their country. We who are weaker, let us take roles that are both easier and less hazardous. The public welfare requires that a man betray and lie and massacre; let us resign this commission to more obedient and suppler people.

    Banuchandar is a political and public policy advisor. He posts at @Banu4Bharat.

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