Like it or not, we live in interesting times.
Casablanca – Many Americans — and a fair number of people throughout the world — woke up on November 9th to the shocking realization that Donald Trump, the billionaire real estate mogul and reality TV celebrity, had won the U.S. presidential election. As an American citizen living in Morocco, I spent the entire evening on November 8th glued to my smart phone. Waiting for the state-by-state results to come in. Eventually, they did. And, it wasn’t what many had expected.
In victory, Donald Trump won 290 electoral votes, 20 more than the minimum required to win the presidential election (one state, Michigan, is too close to call but Mr. Trump maintains a very small lead). Althought Hillary Clinton received roughly 500,000 more votes nationwide than Trump, her electoral vote total was only 232. Winning individual (and populous) states is the key objective for presidential candidates. Hillary Clinton lost critically important states that traditionally had voted for the Democratic presidential candidate in past elections, including Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and (likely) Michigan.
As the long and contentious election campaign demonstrated, Americans have strong feelings about both Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton. According to exit polls, only one out of three voters consider Trump “honest and trustworthy”. One out of five voters had unfavorable views of both candidates. Additionally, white voters, who constitute 70% of eligible voters in the U.S, preferred Trump over Clinton: 58% to 37%. That’s the largest margin of victory (21%) among white voters for any presidential candidate in modern presidential election history.
There are a few questions that Moroccans and other interested observers may have as they watch the American nation prepare for a Trump Administration.
1. Hillary Clinton received more votes. Will Donald Trump have genuine legitimacy as the new president?
Yes. The United States has chosen its president using the Electotal College system since 1789. Its original design by the Founding Fathers was to ensure that all states — including small states — received proper attention from the electoral process. Additionally, in the era when the Electoral College system was established, social media, TV and the internet did not exist as a tool to educate voters. And post-secondary schooling was rare among the majority of citizens. Selected so-called “electors” would represent the citizenry.
Should the Electoral College system be abolished? Maybe. It is a creation from a bygone colonial era whose institutions of power were led exclusively by white land-owning men. On four previous occasions (1824, 1876, 1888, 2000) the popular vote winner lost the election to the electoral vote winner. In her concession speech the day after the election, Mrs. Clinton did not mention the fact that she had, in fact, received more votes. She graciously accepted electoral defeat from an electoral system she most certainly opposes. That system will likely disappear some day in the future. Just not very soon.
2. The opinion polls and political experts seemed to agree that Hillary Clinton would very likely win. What happened?
2016 is an interesting year. Not just in the United States. In June, citizens in the United Kingdom voted (just barely) to leave the European Union. Brexit supporters campaigned against establishment politicians and policies in both London and Brussels. In Spain, countless attempts to form a government failed in early 2016 after voters abandoned the two traditional political parties (the Socialists and the center-right Popular Party).
Valid or not, Hillary Clinton was seen as an establishment candidate in a year when many voters wanted to “shake up the system.” Along came Mr. Trump. His victory (again, he received slightly fewer votes than Hillary Clinton nationwide) was impressive in that he won an impressive number of votes from particular segments of the US electorate that hadn’t often voted for a Republican candidate in large numbers before. For instance, despite all the criticism Mr. Trump received concerning his lewd behavior towards women, Hillary Clinton’s margin of victory among women voters was 12%. Good but not great.
Clinton led a disciplined and well-funded campaign but the perception among numerous voters that she was an “insider” helped set the stage for her defeat. According to exit polls, among those voters who listed the economy as the most important issue this election, Clinton actually beat Trump by 10 points. But the desire for change was very strong in certain regions, including the Midwest Rust Belt (Michigan, Indiana, Ohio). Some dismissed Trump voters as uneducated and uninformed about issues. But Trump actually beat Clinton 49% to 45% among white college graduates. Clinton did well among those with post-graduate degrees. But it wasn’t enough to overcome, as one analyst called it, the revenge of the forgotten class.
3. Donald Trump promised to ban Muslim immigrants to the U.S. Can he really do this?
American presidential campaigns are filled high hyperbole and exagerated rhetoric. Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants and banning Muslims were uninformed and cruel. Now that he has won the election, may we assume that he will moderate his views and his discourse? We shall see.
The level of anxiety and frustration among a modest but active segment of the population in both the European Union and the United States is quite high. Some of this anxiety is based on unreasonable fears about immigrants and new citizens who may be from unfamiliar parts of the globe. But research has demonstrated, though, that in the U.S. second generation immigrants have lower rates of criminal activity than native-born populations. Immigrants play a major role in certain segments of the U.S. economy, including growing sectors like health care and information technology.
In 1952, Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act. It has been amended repeatedly and it delegates to the executive branch (the president) broad powers to protect America from real or perceived (and exaggerated) external threats. While non-citizen immigrants already in the U.S. would have many legal options to challenge a ban (or expulsion order), those foreign nationals outside the U.S. would have few options to challenge presidential directives that deal with national security.
Any proposed ban on Muslim immigrants would create profound questions for government and society: How would U.S. immigration officials even determine someone’s religion? Would a ban include all citizens from a country that was considered Muslim? If it was a ban on immigration from countries that were deemed somehow to be dangerous or supporters of terrorism, would a ban on Egyption immigration, for instance, include Coptic Christian individuals? Many Republican leaders in Congress reacted negatively to Mr. Trump’s comments. Congress could vote to scale back presidential powers on immigration (a difficult proposition given that both chambers in Congress are controlled by Trump’s own Republican Party). Additionally, banning entire groups from entering the country would go against several fundamental American traditions, from the “melting pot” ideal to freedom of religion.
Mr. Trump never previously served as a governor or U.S. senator. He doesn’t have a past track record in government service from which we can glean his core political philosophy. In 2016, a significant number of American voters decided that this isn’t a bad thing.
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