It is easy to be shocked by Donald Trump’s victory in the American elections, but it was probably something that should have been easy to predict, writes Ryland Fisher.
It is easy to be shocked by Donald Trump’s victory in the American elections, but it was probably something that should have been easy to predict. There seems to have been a pattern over the past few decades where the Republicans occupy the White House for two terms (eight years) followed by the Democrats for two terms.
Bill Clinton (Democrat) served from 1993 to 2001, George W Bush (Republican) from 2001 to 2009 and Barack Obama (Democrat) from 2009 to 2016.
If all goes according to script, the Democrats should win again in eight years, even though that might be too late because much damage can be done in eight years.
There is, of course, the possibility that Trump might not stand for a second term because of his age. He turned 70 on June 14. If Trump does not stand, it would give the Democrats an opportunity to try to reclaim the White House earlier - it is exceedingly difficult to unseat a sitting president in the US.
There are some people who wonder why we should be concerned about American politics. The reason is that the US remains the most powerful nation in the world and if they cough, we often catch a cold.
But there are also disturbing trends that could be applied to the South African political scenario.
The first matter for concern is that there seems to be a trend for the world to become more conservative. We have seen this with the Brexit vote, when Britons voted to leave the EU as a way of trying to keep immigrants out of their country.
Trump’s unexpected victory could be seen as a continuation of what happened in Britain and what is happening in other parts of Europe where people are turning on people perceived to be immigrants.
After all, his campaign was built on keeping people seen as ”others” out of America. He appealed to working class white people who felt their jobs were under threat because of immigrants.
South Africa is no different. We have seen xenophobic violence based on the desire to keep out people perceived to be ”others”.
We have also seen how people have interpreted employment equity legislation and black economic empowerment in narrow terms to deprive others of employment or economic opportunities.
A few years ago, when I was conducting interviews for my book Race, I spoke to Carel Boshoff, one of the founders of Orania, and he said they were doing in Orania what most people were doing in South Africa anyway: wanting to live and work with people who look and sound like them.
I never understood or agreed with what he said, but there is some merit. Most people feel comfortable with people who look and sound like them. Those who interact with people across racial and cultural boundaries are very much in the minority.
This could be an explanation for what is happening throughout the world where many people seem to be retreating into the laager. Part of this is economic - including holding on to jobs - but it could also be cultural.
Please note that I am not trying to make excuses; I am merely trying to understand what is going on.
Another parallel between the Brexit vote and Trump’s victory is how surprised pollsters and experts were by the results. Until Trump won the required 270 electoral college votes needed to become president, most experts were still hoping his opponent, Hillary Clinton, could stage a late fightback.
What this probably shows is that pollsters and experts often construct theories based on what they would like an outcome to be.
In South Africa, experts have written off the ANC many times and, while the ANC lost a few major metros in the last municipal election, it is probably still too soon to predict the end of South Africa’s oldest political organisation.
I believe that, despite its internal turmoil, the ANC can probably still win the next general election, even if with a reduced majority.
The only people who can determine the outcome of elections is the electorate and, quite often, experts and pollsters are out of touch with them. In a country such as South Africa, where most potential voters are poor and do not have access to basic services or technology, it is difficult to determine how they will vote. Pollsters in South Africa probably don’t reach the rural poor who form a significant part of our electorate.
If there is one positive to come out of Trump’s victory, it is that progressive people throughout the world must realise how difficult it is to convince people to be accepting of others and how difficult it is to make people live in harmony.
The task of creating a socially cohesive society is never-ending. We cannot just talk about living in harmony; we need to do it.
(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in Weekend Argus on Saturday 12 November 2016)