Four or five weeks before the just-concluded election in the United States I sat down and wrote an article about who would be the next president of the world’s super power.
The article was intended to appear in this very column after the US election; so I wrote and shelved it, waiting to send it for publication after the announcement that Hillary Clinton had won.
Like many people I was excited and totally convinced that we were about to witness history being re-written: a woman becoming President of the United States, definitely the most powerful nation in the world.
America being the world’s super power (except in soccer), something especially hallmarked by having the largest and best-armed military as well as being the richest and largest economy, whoever becomes US President takes on global significance.
Undeniably the US is so powerful that every nation in the world takes inevitable interest in American politics. American foreign policy has far-reaching effect; which is why, when the Americans go to vote, the entire world watches with more than just passive interest.
I was certain that the Hillary presidency was a done deal, especially as all the major opinion polls showed she had a clear lead over her rival Donald Trump. In the years gone by, American polls have invariably gotten it right. We are talking about professionals with a track record of proven performance – people who could do a poll with their eyes closed and still get it right.
In my article I talked about the beauty of the impending historical moment: a first woman president of the US and what that would mean for women everywhere in the world. This coming on the back of an outgoing Barack Obama – the first African-American to lead the US – felt like another glorious chapter of history was being put together. I kept an eye firmly trained on CNN, to check how things were shaping up for our lady.
So three weeks or so ago, one of my sisters – Elizabeth Sherurah – dropped by my home to check on us. She found me glued to the television and joined me in watching more analysis of the US elections.
My girls were making tea, so I went to the kitchen to check if they had put enough omutete (lemon grass) in the tea. But after a minute or two, Elizabeth called out for me, telling me to come running.
“What was happening in the US?” I wondered, alarmed.
“Come listen to this history professor,” Elizabeth said, without taking her eyes off the telly.
Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University in the US.
Zelizer wasn’t buying into the opinion polls that were trending. He was of the very rare and rather incredible view (to many here) that Trump was going to carry the day. He delved into analysis of political detail showing and contending that the final run of the campaign (the Americans call it the home stretch) could end up being too much for Hillary and he did not see how she could beat Trump.
Zelizer was no soothsayer; just an analyst who dwelt on the pragmatics. He pointed out that he’d been at this for more than three decades, had closely watched and followed American polls since 1984 and had never gotten a prediction wrong. He said he’d turned this particular election inside out and downside up; and still couldn’t see Hillary in the White House (wish I had space to list his reasons – but all this is available on the CNN web page anyway).
Suffice it to say my sister and I were so convinced by Prof. Zelizer’s analysis that I picked up my laptop and deleted the article I’d written to congratulate Hillary Clinton. When the final results came through I had nothing but respect for Prof. Zelizer.
Hillary’s supporters around these parts found the loss difficult for them to stomach. It didn’t help matters that the American election dynamics are different than what we are used to here and many people still don’t get it how you can win the most votes – like Hillary did - and still not win the presidency.
The last time that happened was in 2000 when George W. Bush lost the popular vote to Bill Clinton’s Vice President Al Gore. When Americans vote for a President and Vice President, they are actually voting for presidential electors, known collectively as the Electoral College. It is these electors, chosen by the people, who elect the chief executive; a modus operandi designed to insulate the election process from political manipulation.
It was humbling to watch Hillary, gracious in defeat, make her concession speech, calling on Americans to unite behind the new President and give him a chance to serve.
Naturally she must have been going through a very difficult and painful time after the loss. But she remained calm.
Our people say that the one married to your mother is your father, no matter how you choose to view it; so people (whether they supported Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump) better put their sentiment aside - congratulations to Mr. Trump are in order!