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How Africa can best deal with US president-elect Trump

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Added 23rd November 2016 01:54 PM

Let me put one thing straight. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by over 1.8 million ballots, but lost the election.

How Africa can best deal with US president-elect Trump

Let me put one thing straight. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by over 1.8 million ballots, but lost the election.

By Opiyo Opio

On this day last week, the headline in this column read:  Hillary Clinton comes into office with a handful of challenges. How wrong I was in making that call. Instead Donald J Trump is on his way to being sworn as the 45th President of United States of America.

When the election results were announced in the early hours of Wednesday morning my first instinct was to flee to a very dark hiding place for the next four years till the next US elections.  Instead, I heeded the advice I always tell my students: It is better to be wrong and learn from it than to be right and learn nothing.  So, for the last week, I busied myself with learning why almost the entire world media industry (me included) was so wrong about the rise of Donald Trump to power.  Many predicted a Clinton victory.

Let me put one thing straight. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by over 1.8 million ballots, but lost the election. Unlike in France and many African countries where the candidate with the most ballots wins the election, the American system employs the Electoral College system that allots electors to each state. There are 538 electors who cast the final votes to elect the next president. The candidate with 270 votes or more wins the presidency. California, for example, gave Clinton all 55 electoral votes. Texas, meanwhile, handed all 38 electoral votes to Trump, as did Florida (29), Pennsylvania (20) and so forth.  The king-making ballots were cast in states of Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida, all called for Clinton but swept by Trump.

According to Clinton, FBI Director James Comey was to blame for her loss, arguing that her momentum was stopped by the late revelation that the FBI had reopened investigation into her email scandal. But there is no evidence to suggest the FBI announcement impacted Clinton's support in the battleground states.  There are also those who argue that Trump was very successful in motivating racist white voters to cast ballots for him. But the very tiny minority of white racists could not elect a dogcatcher if they tried.

Instead, my starting point is this simple question: Why did a large section of white voters in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin who voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, suddenly make a break for candidate Trump who openly spouted misogynistic and extremely intolerant rhetoric?  Was this section of white American voters racist, backward and anti-immigrant?  No, they are not bigoted, crazy, frothing-in-the-mouth card-carrying members of the Ku Klux Khan. Far from it, I suggest that the majority of the white voters who make up Trump Nation in the industrial hinterland of America—Michigan, Philadelphia, Ohio and Wisconsin—are decent folks.  They believe in family, good neighbours, God and, yes, the 2nd Amendment's right to bear arms.  Yet the common unifier for many of these white voters is the fast disappearing manufacturing job opportunities that have moved to China and other developing countries where labour is cheap.  The adage used to be that whoever wanted to work could find work, make good money, raise a family and lead a decent life.  Now, whoever can find work needs two or three other jobs just to make ends meet, with no guarantees the jobs will be there tomorrow.

Many of these folks voted for Obama in 2008 because Obama offered them hope. When the US economy tanked in 2009, even as businessman Trump counseled that nothing should be done, Obama bailed out the big three auto companies in Michigan, helping many workers in the industrial belt to keep their homes and put food on the table.  For that, Obama was rewarded with votes in 2012.    In hindsight, Clinton lost this bloc of white voters much earlier on when she referred to them as "a basket of deplorables."

Given their dire situation, the calculus to vote for Trump was easy. Yes, Trump is a loud-mouth billionaire who has admitted to exploiting the US tax system to enrich himself, and whose thin-skin is legendary, but he spoke with brutal clarity directly to the angst they feel everyday about the future.  He promised he would bring back jobs, build a big long wall to keep out the undesirables and, yes, make America great again.  From the perspectives of these white working class voters, Trump is the champion of the little guy. And although Trump is prone to saying the most despicable thing, many see him as an honest straight shooter who will lift them up from their morass.

To put it another way, in my mind, the race factor is overblown and overrated.  These folks are hungry to get back to work.  Trump, despite his many blemishes and blunders, spoke closer to their hearts than Hillary Clinton did. To them, Clinton was a Washington elite and insider, propped and enabled by the media, who never bothered to get to know them.

That, folks, is why academics of all stripes are beating the path to these states to research everything about the white folks who live there and who J.D. Vance talks about in his best-selling book Hillbilly Elegy.

I highly recommend it.

Opiyo.oloya@gmail.com

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