Vagaries of Electoral Politics: Many a Slip between the Cup and the Lip

By: Sandeep Shastri
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Democracy and democratic politics, they say, is a great leveler. The voters, at the end of the day have this inscrutable ability to show a 'reality mirror' to the political class. Hillary Clinton accepted this reality with humility, poise and grace in her thanksgiving speech before her campaign team and President elect Donald Trump, responding spontaneously to the need of the hour, assumed a statesman like demenour in his acceptance speech. This in essence is the cut and thrust of democratic politics. A bitterly contested elections that saw both mudslinging and name calling, has ended with the principal protagonists saying good things about each other with a visible touch of sincerity.

Vagaries of Electoral Politics: Many a Slip between the Cup and the Lip

The election of the 45th President of the United States was truly unique and represented the dilemmas of a 21st century America grappling multiple challenges. It represented hope and cynicism, dreams and desperation, long cherished values and deep rooted divisiveness. The electoral verdict and its many subtle nuances represent the multi-track plurality that the United States represents. If Clinton won the popular vote, Trump secured the minimum required electorate vote to become the President, a point underscored by the losing Vice Presidential candidate while introducing Clinton at the final closure event. In the final analysis, three critical states- Florida, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and their 59 electorate votes, made all the difference. All these states saw a Trump lead that hovered around a wafer thin one to two percentage points.

While both Clinton and Trump have sought to provide the healing touch to unite an increasingly divided society through their concession and victory speeches, reports of protests in different parts of the United States are being reported. These protests are not the byproduct of a very divisive and acrimonious campaign but reflect the deep social schisms and contradictions that have emerged in American society. During the campaign and in the preliminary analysis of the results one notices the fact that both Trump and Clinton focused attention on select segments of society. The typical Trump supporters were those who had not accessed higher education and had experienced income stagnation and/or unemployment. This segment of society was deeply disenchanted with the political class and cynical of those who went by the tag of politician. Trump capitalized on this sentiment effectively and his criticism of the political elite was music to the ears of this segment of society. It is important to highlight the fact that being critical of the system (especially when one is not part of it) may help a candidate score points with the voters. The real test is when one has to act on the criticism and work on alternatives. In India, the Aam Admi Party (AAP) won the admiration of young idealistic citizens who were disillusioned with the machinations of mainstream politics and saw in AAP an alternative to mainstream politics. After having come to power in Delhi, many now wonder whether AAP is an alternative to mainstream politics or merely another alternative within mainstream politics! Trump will now face a similar test. During the campaign it was easy and attractive to lampoon politicians and politics. Now when entrusted with responsibility can one remedy the situation that one had been so critical of or over time and once in power does one behave very much like the ones you earlier criticized.

In another sense, Trump represents a growing return to conservatism and an intolerance of emerging diversity. One saw this in many countries of Europe and now this sentiment has manifested itself in the Presidential election results. Given the sharp and divisive rhetoric one saw in Trump's campaign, it would be interesting to see whether the President elect would distance himself from the same. If he does distance himself in policy and practice, what would be the response of the core constituency which elected him? If he does continue to espouse the controversial priorities he had highlighted in the campaign, its wider long term implications for an increasing divide within American society would be all too apparent. What additionally worked to Trump's advantage was the inability of Hillary Clinton to enthuse those segments of society which were opposed to the rhetoric that the Trump camp was promoting, in sufficient numbers to come out and exercise their franchise.

The scars of an acrimonious and divide electoral campaign are only too visible. It would take great effort, energy, commitment and dedication from the President elect to bind and bond and take all segments of society along. A tall order indeed!

(A student of Politics, Dr Shastri is the Pro Vice Chancellor of Jain University)

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