Divided, the world falls

NOVEMBER 8 — So the world’s most powerful democracy held a presidential election a few days ago and well, there were no signs of a clear victory for either candidate for days. 

How did this happen?  For me the fundamental problem is that America is so deeply polarised and divided. 

Of course the USA has always had its divisions — race, states, sprawling cities and huge countryside.   

But a much more key division — class — now seems to cleave the vast nation.  

America as a land of immigrants was meant to be free of the old world’s entrenched class systems.   

But Trump has clearly fared well among the less educated, blue collar segments of the population as well as in the heartlands — the areas away  from the coasts, away from the major cities we see on cable TV. 

We saw the media and the polls tell us again and again that Trump was far behind. That he was bumbling, disastrous and dangerous but effectively, half of all Americans stuck with him. Despite the uncertainty of Covid-19 which should have loosened the hold of any incumbent.  

Basically most working class Americans (including increasing numbers of minority voters) have lost faith in the elites in Washington DC and are prepared to back an unpredictable maverick over a long-term established politician like Joe Biden (he has almost 50 years of experience in politics).   

We’ve seen similar voting patterns in Europe with populist governments in Italy and strong challenges from right wing groups in the UK and France.  

In Malaysia, we watched what seemed to be a presentable, relatively liberal multi-ethnic coalition take power and then lose it as less elite voters failed to warm to the new administration. Increasingly preferring grassroots politics based on religion.  

The ideas — economic liberalism, globalisation, social equality — that resonate with intelligentsia, academics, celebrities and broadly the more affluent and educated segments of society re not resonating with people on other socio-economic levels.  

These people feel that the government, economy and media have been monopolised by interests that exclude them and look down on them.

The solution is not for mainstream parties to abandon liberalism, it is for those who hold and have traditionally held power to understand the grievances of large sections of the population and begin to accommodate them.  

It is time for the media to stop releasing completely irrelevant and biased polls and to start exploring and understanding why so many people are dissatisfied with the existing system.  

The reality is incomes for many ordinary American rose under Trump. Curbs on immigration, policies encouraging factories to return from Asia benefited people on the lower rungs of the social ladder. Trump supporters were not simply driven by racism and ignorance but by genuine concern for their livelihoods.  

The same sentiment holds in much of Asia. 

Again in Malaysia I suspect it’s not simply religious sentiment that drives many ordinary voters to PAS but a sense of resentment at elites they feel genuinely look down on them.  

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.