Explaining Trump’s win to baffled Brits

(Hint: It’s the economy, stupid)

I remember the moment when I first thought it was all over for Hillary Clinton. It was the night in September that she stood in front of a cheering crowd of rich donors in New York and sneered at the ordinary working Americans that her campaign claimed to be fighting for.

“Half of Trump’s supporters”, she said, you could put into a “basket of deplorables. The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it.”

It wasn’t just what she said, it was the way she said it. Casually rattling off an insult aimed at millions of her fellow citizens who wanted nothing more sinister than the chance of a good job, a decent income and opportunities for their kids. And it wasn’t just that the crowd lapped it up: it was their smug, knowing laughter, the contemptuous chortling of an out-of-touch elite.

This country’s heading for a revolution, I thought. On Tuesday night, that’s exactly what happened.

To understand why, we have to understand a basic fact of American life that many of those who make up Britain’s own ruling elite — judging from their horrified reaction to Trump’s victory — have failed to grasp. Things have been incredibly tough for many working Americans, for many years. Not just since the financial crash, but way before.

US income statistics published recently showed that half of all Americans earn less today than in 1999. Just think about that for a second. 50% of the country earning less than nearly two decades ago. They’ve had eight years of President George W Bush, eight years of Barack Obama, and still their incomes are lower than at the start.

No wonder they’re angry and want change. No wonder they responded to a political outsider who wasn’t tainted with the failures of the last twenty years. And no wonder, even, that they were prepared to overlook Donald Trump’s personal flaws and chequered history in order to give a massive middle finger to the political, media and business establishment that made itself richer while they, working Americans, literally got poorer.

To dismiss all that as racism, sexism and all the other -isms that the politically correct establishment threw at Trump and his supporters (just as the establishment hurled similar insults at Brexit supporters here) is nothing more than a cynical attempt to evade responsibility for the failure of the ruling elite’s policies.

For many years, we’ve been living in a world run by bankers, bureaucrats and accountants who have pushed a technocratic agenda of globalisation, centralization and unlimited immigration that has improved life for poor countries, and for rich people in rich countries, but which has undermined the economic security and social stability of working people in the west.

The effect has probably been starker in America than anywhere else. But it was almost totally missed by the establishment. They failed to see that policies which they viewed as being ‘cosmopolitan’ and ‘progressive’ were actually causing real hardship in parts of the country they rarely, if ever, visited.

Instead of understanding, empathising and trying to do something about it, politicians and, vitally, most of the American media simply dismissed any opposition as prejudice.

That’s why so many Trump supporters ended up quietly resolving to vote for the insurgent candidate they saw as their champion, but refusing to tell friends, colleagues — or pollsters! — that they were in his camp. Who needs the abuse?

And then right on cue, during the final stages of the campaign, almost daily revelations from Wikileaks confirmed Americans’ worst suspicions about the corruption of the ruling class.

Bill and Hillary Clinton were revealed to have made millions by selling access to government contracts and granting favourable treatment for companies that gave them money.

The contempt for average Americans shown in the leaked private emails of Clinton campaign staff members showed that Hillary’s “basked of deplorables” comment was no one-off gaffe.

And the exposure of collusion between the Democratic party establishment, the Clinton campaign and the media fueled accusations that the whole political system is “rigged.”

At a time when people were demanding radical change, Hillary Clinton was the worst possible candidate — the ultimate symbol of a system that so many people of all political views have come to despise.

As if to rub salt in the wound, secret video footage filmed during the campaign revealed that Hillary Clinton’s allies had actually hired thugs to provoke fights and physical confrontations at Donald Trump’s rallies, so they could falsely accuse the Republican candidate of inciting violence. What jaw-dropping cynicism in pursuit of power at any price.

These were the ingredients of Trump’s stunning upset, coming together in a powerful movement to overthrow America’s corrupt and decadent ruling class.

Time after time, the political and media establishment got Trump wrong.

They said he had no policies even though he made a series of speeches setting out detailed plans on everything from education reform to reviving America’s troubled inner cities.

Most importantly, Trump set out a simple but powerful pro-growth and pro-jobs economic plan that resonated far better with voters than Hillary Clinton’s endless wonky attempts to curry favour with particular interest groups by promising more government intervention on their behalf.

They accused Trump of being a risk to world peace and security because he was soft on Russia’s Vladimir Putin. But it was Barack Obama who stood by and did nothing when Putin marched into the Ukraine, admitting later in a magazine interview that he was never going to intervene in a dispute that was in Europe’s back yard, not America’s.

They said Trump was a threat to the constitution because he was an ‘authoritarian’ and a ‘demagogue’ — but in fact he was more conscious than most presidential candidates of the proper limits of the office he sought. In America, laws are made by Congress, not the president, and so when candidates list all the things that they plan to do, they are really just items on a wish list that has to be negotiated. Throughout the campaign, Trump acknowledged that reality, making his negotiating skills a selling point.

On January 20th next year, Donald Trump will take office as the first US president who has never served in any elected office or the military. He has an awesome set of responsibilities.

To bring the country together after an extremely divisive campaign. To get the economy moving after a long period of low growth and stagnation. To make America once again a strong defender of freedom in the world, after years of uncertainty and retreat.

But above all, he needs to deliver the hope of his movement for change with a dramatic and lasting shake-up of the entire political system. That’s what America voted for, and no-one should underestimate the historic importance of this moment.