They said he could never win. At best, Donald Trump was seen as a voice for a growing number of desperate Americans. Trump was a symptom of the political and cultural misery of the working classes in the United States — the empire of our time. His strongest critics portrayed him as a monstrous, sexist, racist and vulgar buffoon.
We'll now have to alter our view of the ill-mannered Trump and get used to seeing him occupy the office of the U.S. president. The man who Obama feared to entrust with the country's nuclear codes will become the world's most powerful man for four years. We have to admit that Obama's fears weren't baseless: Trump's reputation as an erratic megalomaniacal adventurer isn't exactly undeserved.
The baffled look on the faces of journalists wasn't hard to see, and they didn't try to hide their shock either. The official explanation has already begun, and we'll keep hearing it in the coming days: The old, rotten America, fueled by White populism, fear of the Other, fear of anything different, allowed Trump to win. Some will overdo it by warning people about the arrival of fascism. Questionable historical comparisons will multiply and the new American president will be Nazified a few times. We'll ask ourselves to what extent Trump is evidence that the Western world is returning to the 1930s era. Americans will be encouraged to feel ashamed. There's no escaping it. It's always the same old tune.
And yet, what happened is something else. From the victory of "Brexit" — Britain's withdrawal from the European Union — to the Trump revolution, not to mention the rise of European populist movements, lately we've been witnessing an uprising against globalization. The topics are the same: people demand borders, people want the government's authority restored, people want to contain mass immigration, people want national identities to be defended.
Each country has its own way of doing it, drawing on its own political traditions and archetypes. Often, these aspirations are carried forward by unusual and eccentric political figures. Or, at the very least, these figures are the ones who manage to make those aspirations emerge in the public debate, as we've seen in the case of British politician Nigel Farage before Brexit. Those who chose to listen to people's concerns are meeting a political demand that hadn't found its voice in what being offered.
Is this the end of "happy globalization"? Perhaps the right answer would be that the working and middle classes never experienced globalization as something positive. Their unease was either not taken seriously or seen as a sign of nostalgia that was inappropriate in an inevitably global world. It was believed that this category of people was displaying a regressive psychology — evidence of their inability to adapt to new realities that globalization demanded.
We forgot the human soul's fundamental need for roots, a need that cannot be neglected or stifled, a need that would eventually grow. Humans need boundaries, points of reference, a sense of belonging. When you try to tear someone away from his world, he rebels. And political revolt isn't always nice, gentle and delicate. What we're seeing is the return of tragedy.
Shut out — Photo: Abardwell
A world seems to be dying, another seems to come to life. In many aspects, the Trump revolution is an anti-establishment referendum in an election against an opponent, Hillary Clinton, who is the embodiment of the "system."
We cannot understand this revolution if we don't understand how much Trump used the contempt elites had for him to his advantage. The media establishment's scorn towards the traditional American, accused of all possible flaws, fueled a profound bitterness, a powerful resentment. This figure was caricatured as a white heterosexual male desperately holding on to old privileges and eagerly oppressing minorities.
Middle and working classes eventually turned against the political-media establishment. They banked on the candidate willing to transgress in the most brutal and radical way possible. They seized Trump's candidacy as an opportunity to protest even though, for many of them, that meant overcoming the disgust he might have inspired in them.
Already, some voices are urging the media machine to reflect on how it made Trump's election possible. It's being suggested that the media's indulgence helped him get elected. In fact, the media never missed an opportunity to say the worst things about him. Of course, he also invited being caricatured. Because, paradoxically, being demonized helped him.
The more the media spat on Trump, the more those who no longer identified with the system saw him in a positive light. Political correctness is true ideological tyranny. From Brexit to the Trump revolution, for the second time in a few months, this tyranny collapsed. The media establishment will be quick to counter the attack and it will lead a systematic ideological guerrilla warfare against the new president.
A conclusion we can draw from this election is that those in politics who claim that something is inevitable or impossible will long mull over the 2016 race to the White House.
Trump remains a murky, often coarse, character. He probably wasn't destined to become president and we can ask ourselves how he'll be able to go from a protesting clown to a president who can bring back unity in a country divided like never before. His personal political doctrine isn't particularly well built. Will the presidency give his policies the consistency they have lacked? Will the job transform him? Because revolt cannot be an end in itself. Our observation of the failure of the American establishment shouldn't bar us from also noting that the man who won the battle against it probably isn't cut out for fulfilling the aspirations of those who elected him.
*Mathieu Bock-Côté is a sociologist and professor at HEC Montréal.