Following Tuesday night’s American election results, a panel discussion examining the outcome was held at Kingston City Hall, featuring Queen’s researchers and moderated by associate political studies professor, Jonathan Rose.
The event, titled What Just Happened? provided an in-depth analysis of the 2016 election cycle as well as the factors responsible for Trump’s rise to power.
The invitation to speak went out days before the results, and to Professor David Haglund, the evening’s title was “kind of banal” at the time. “Now I realize John chose very truly indeed,” he said. “What the hell did happen last night?”
Queen’s researchers Bruce Berman, Catherine Conaghan, Jessica Merolli and David Haglund spoke to a large audience including many Queen’s students. They cited social, economic and institutional issues, societal division, party corruption in both camps and irresponsible media as catalysts for Trump’s success as president-elect.
Berman said the rural-urban divide in America, as well as the political exclusion felt by Republican and working-class Americans, built resentment towards establishment politics over several decades.
He concluded that Trump’s win can be seen predominantly as “a reaction of white ethnic nationalism,” connecting the event to other nationalistic events like the Brexit vote this past summer.
He described Trump as political opportunist, exploiting the current political atmosphere and using it to become a self-labelled voice of the forgotten and disenfranchised.
Conaghan said that Trump’s win was a reaction to Obama’s presidency, as well as what she sees as the stagnation of the Democratic Party. In the interim years, she said that the opposite occurred for the right-wing, with the rise of the radical Tea Party.
“The Tea Party was able to generate this grass-roots energy, and then really affect the Republican Party itself by electing candidates, but also by affecting the agenda of the party,” Conaghan said.
On the left, movements such as Occupy Wall Street, student unions and anti-corporate agendas never fully integrated into democratic policy during the Obama years. She believed by the time Bernie Sanders’ campaign addressed these issues, it was already too late.
“Although garnering a lot of media attention in the short run, the Occupy Movement was never able to permeate the Democratic Party in the same way the Tea movement was able to permeate on the Republican side,” she said.
For Haglund, Tuesday night evoked bleak memories of the 1972 election, which saw incumbent Nixon beat Democrat George McGovern in a landslide victory. The fallout from the Watergate scandal ended the president’s political career no more than two years later.
He also cited Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980 as a reminder to students not to feed into the “doom and gloom” narrative perpetuated by mainstream media.
Despite mass hysteria regarding Reagan’s inexperience and policy platforms, the president served two terms and left office with what Haglund considers to be a moderately respectable legacy.
“No one in 1980 could’ve imagined by 1988 how Reagan was reconstructed in the imagination, not just of Americans, but of many people in the Western world” he said.
“If 1980 is your reference point, then we may be in for a surprise. Donald Trump may not turn out to be the disaster that many people imagine he must be.”
Merolli spoke about the sexist narratives that played a role in maligning Clinton’s campaign. She said women are forced to navigate the political arena differently than men, and make certain compromises to garner broad appeal and succeed.
Ultimately, the panel unanimously agreed that Trump’s biggest obstacles as president will be his relationship with his own, fragmented party and in the international arena.
“He knows little to nothing,” Berman said. “It is not like building a casino where you can short contractors and investors. He will literally be eaten alive — what’s he going to do, scream obscenities at them and threaten to sue?”
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