Friday, November 18, 2016

Karl du Fresne: It's their country


Well, at least Hillary Clinton didn’t get elected. You have to take whatever positives you can get out of the US election result.

Many of Clinton’s supporters seemed to think she deserved to win the contest just because it would make her the first woman president. Sorry, but that’s hardly justification for putting her in the White House.

There will be other female candidates, ideally with fewer skeletons in their closets.

Having said that, I probably would have held my nose and voted for Clinton if I were an American citizen, simply because she seemed marginally the less ghastly of the two options.

But now we’re stuck with President Trump, and the most we can hope for is that somehow, the American polity will find a way of turning him into someone worthy of the most powerful office in the world.

It will be a challenge, but don’t rule it out.

America’s weirdness and excess tend to dominate our perceptions of the country, but we should have faith in the basic decency of its people. As Winston Churchill said, “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else”.

I also believe that Americans are fundamentally resilient and optimistic. That’s one of the keys to their economic success.

My wife and I travelled widely in the US during and after the global financial crisis, which knocked the stuffing out of the US economy, and saw no sign that Americans were paralysed or demoralised. They just got on with things.

Similarly, although many Americans might be temporarily stunned by Trump’s election, they will get back on their feet and carry on. That’s what they do.

And who knows? Maybe Trump will undergo a transformation once the mantle of the presidency settles on his shoulders.

The immense responsibility that goes with the office, the weight of history behind it and the great legacy of presidents such as Abe Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, may prevail over his vulgar, hucksterish impulses.

People are capable of rising to the occasion, after all. It’s the reverse of the Peter Principle, which states that people rise to their level of incompetence.

Already, a more moderate, conciliatory Trump has emerged. He felt magnanimous enough in victory to speak kindly of Clinton, although one suspects it would have been a very different story had he lost.

President Obama, similarly, changed gear overnight from attack dog to statesman, extending an olive branch to Trump and offering to do whatever he could to ensure a seamless handover of power.

Perhaps both men understood that the presidency, and the need to maintain stability for the benefit of their fellow Americans, was bigger than either of them.

Perhaps too, as has been suggested, Trump deliberately presented himself as an unreconstructed bogan on the campaign trail just to exploit voter resentment against the political elites, and that he always meant to tone things down if he won. We shall see.

In the meantime, we’re left to scratch our heads over the perversity of the American political system.
This manifested itself in two ways. The first mystery is how a country as enormously rich in human capital could throw up (double meaning intended) two such deeply flawed candidates.

The US is due for a serious national conversation on the shortcomings of the selection process. Some suggest that the reason good people don’t put themselves forward is that the price they would have to pay – the relentless media scrutiny, the character assassination, the viciousness of social media – is just too high.

While they’re about it, perhaps the Americans should also be asking hard questions about the increasing isolation of the professional political class from ordinary working stiffs, just as people are doing in other countries.

The second issue is that the candidate who wins the most votes – in this case, Clinton – can still finish second.

No electoral system delivers results that perfectly mirror the popular vote, but America’s electoral colleges produce more distorted outcomes than most.

Trump got fewer votes than Clinton, yet won 279 of the crucial electoral college seats to her 228. You can imagine the fury of the Trumpeteers if it were the other way around.

One final thought. It seems that virtually every New Zealander has a firm opinion on American politics.  I include myself.

As I wrote in my recent book A Road Tour of American Song Titles, it’s remarkable that so many non-Americans know what’s best for America. But ultimately it’s their country, and their right to conduct their affairs in their own way.

Karl du Fresne blogs at karldufresne.blogspot.co.nzFirst published in the Dominion Post.

1 comment:

jh said...


The future of Auckland is the focus of a panel discussion chaired by Bill Ralston at the Auckland Museum. It features Marina Matthews from the law firm Chen Palmer; and Waikare Komene, a young architect from Otara, along with Professor Damon Salesa from the University of Auckland, and business commentator Rod Oram, well-known to RNZ listeners.

Bill Ralston: I mean Marina picking up on the Herald thing and based on your massive study. Going back (I think it was 2001) 67%of our island city was pakeha. Now it is down to 54% and falling rapidlyIt wont be long before Pakeha Aucklanders are a minority. Is that necessarliy a good thing or could it be a bad thing?

Marina Mathews: I think it could be a good thing. I'll just draw on my experiences working 10 years in the public sector in Wellington. I mean when you look at Wellington it has it's own ethnoburbs as well. Um the population and ethnicity of folk in Eastbourne (across the water) is a bit different to that of Cannons Creek by Porirua . So it is slightly systematic. It 's starting to grow across NZ. Asia NZ did a survey (a 2015 report)on the population of house buyers in Auckland. It was just a little more scientific than Phil Twyford may have ventured about people who had surnames that might have sounded like some foreign word who were house owners. What they did say is that 25% of the population of Pine Hill in NZ are Chinese. Um 10% of the population of house owners in Glenn Innes are Indian and so what is happening as a result is that businesses are having to alter what they are doing, how they are delivering and how they are coping. The number one seller at Pac nSave in Albany is white rice (not white potatoes). Another big seller is chicken feet. And so you are seeng the market (I love the French market in Parrnell) It's a lot different to if I went down to Otara on a saturday.

Ralston: It's a lot different to if you went down Sandringham Road where there's a whole pile of medium spice shopsand Restuarants, um and down the back of Dominion Road there is the biggest Chinese Supermarket I've ever seen (bout 2 or 3 football fields in size) and you can buy whatever you want. That's the gift, I suppose, that diversity brings.

Rod Oram: Absolutely! That makes Auckland a fabulously interesting city. And obviously the key thing we need to care a lot about about are that people are moving around and are appreciating and taking more interest year round rather ratjher than just turning up at Albert Park for a lantern show or Diwhali festival. And of course there are people who just hunker downin their neighbourhood or their community. But I'd like to thinkthere are people particularily amongst the younger generation who are strong in their own identity but are keen to appreciate other identities too.
.......
And you wonder why people voted for Trump?