In political terms 2016 is turning out to be every bit as important, in historical terms, as 1968. In Britain and America a revolution has happened, and it is one that few saw coming. Yet again it wasn’t just a political party or cause that was defeated, it was the political classes themselves, especially the pollsters and pundits. Yet again they got it catastrophically wrong. Even the betting markets called it wrong, with one company (William Hill) saying they may pull out of political betting because it is too risky. I wonder how many polling firms might also decide to stop political polling. They make no money out of it, and in normal times they do it to get their names in the newspapers. This time, for all the wrong reasons.
So why did we get it so wrong – and I include myself in that? From my own point of view, I just couldn’t take Trump seriously as a candidate. With every passing day he’d make an even more ludicrous and extreme speech. He’d make a fool of himself. He’d say something hateful, nasty and divisive. But what we all failed to see was that his wasn’t just a message of hate, it was a message of hope to a group of Americans who had become economically disenfranchised. To white, working class, blue collar Americans, many of whom had lost their jobs or seen their wages depressed over the last 20 years, he represented hope. Somehow they didn’t see him as part of the establishment, even though he patently is. He’d never held office and had never been part of the Washington establishment, and that was good enough for them. They lapped up Trump’s xenophobia because it reflected their own. They blamed Mexicans for taking their jobs. Even Trump’s ‘grab a pussy’ comments were discounted as just the sort of locker-room banter that is part of every-day banter on the factory floor. Trump was immune to infections that kill of other politician’s careers, and the media classes failed to understand why. He got more black votes than Mitt Romney did in 2012. He got more Latino voters. He got more young voters. Who’d have thought. Among whites with no degree Clinton only got 28%. Trump got 67% and that’s why Trump won many of the swing states, especially in the so-called Rust Belt.
So, what should we in Britain make of it? Many will see Trump as a threat, not an opportunity. They are wrong. To quote Alastair Campbell’s comments to Sir Christopher Meyer in 2000, when the UK Ambassador asked what his role should be vis a vis the new President, George W Bush, he was told “Get as far as you can up Bush’s arsehole and stay there.” The Germans and French have been very lukewarm in their welcome for President-Elect Trump. Theresa May, the opposite. She’s right to embrace him. He will move Britain to the front of the queue in terms of a free trade agreement. He may be a protectionist, but it is clear that he is an admirer of this country and a huge fan of Brexit. I suspect Liam Fox is already planning his next visit to Washington DC.
UKIP MEP William Dartmouth has suggested Nigel Farage be appointed to Washington. I suspect that might be one step too far, but it wouldn’t at all surprise me if Trump appointed Farage to some sort of advisory role. On my LBC election night show he suggested he might like to be Trump’s Envoy to Brussels. And I suspect he was only half joking.
Mario Cuomo once said that you campaign in poetry and govern in prose. In Trump’s case he is now no more than The Apprentice. Let’s hope he can learn on the job.
Over 27 hours on Tuesday to Wednesday I presented 13 hours of programming. I admit that by the time I came off air at 7pm on Wednesday my brain could hardly string a sentence together, but if you can’t enjoy yourself and cope with the pressures in these circumstances, you shouldn’t be doing the job. Obviously I didn’t listen to the competition on the BBC, as I was behind the microphone, but I’ve been told that we did a brilliant job in explaining what was going on and informing our audience in an accessible way. Clearly we don’t have the resources of the BBC, but sometimes, just because you’ve got those resources you tend to overcomplicate things. This is especially true on TV, where some of the graphics and computer wizardry can look incredibly impressive, but to the viewer can be incomprehensible. On radio, we felt that we just needed to tell our audience what was happening and why. And hopefully we achieved that.
Quite what Trump’s election will mean for the rest of the world is anyone’s guess. The fear is that he will play to the isolationist gallery and withdraw from America’s traditional role in world politics. We can take as read that NATO will change. America’s funding is likely to decrease, which will mean that European members will have to contribute more. His policy to Russia will be very different to Obama’s. Don’t bet against Putin being one of the first world leaders to meet Trump. The big unknown is how he will change America’s policy in the Middle East. The Israelis will be cheering Trump to the rafters, having finally seen the back of Obama, a man Netanyahu doesn’t get along with. But what Trump will do about ISIS, who knows.
Many of us look upon Trump with undisguised horror and contempt. But for those of us in the media world, we ought to be very excited. Trump is going to give us four years of wonderful copy. God Bless America.