US election: What happened?

Hillary Clinton came out as the establishment candidate amid popular anti-establishment sentiments.

Trump rushed off stage by security agents at campaign rally in Reno, Nevada
Donald Trump is an unlikely champion of the working class, writes Beinhart [EPA]

The people of the United States wanted change; more than change; something between a coup and a revolution.

They took the only one on offer.

They had done it the last time they had the chance. In retrospect, that was what Barack Obama’s first election was about. It was to reject the elites that had brought about the financial and military and foreign policy disasters of the George W Bush years.

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They expected more from the Obama years. But Obama turned out to be too conservative. He didn’t go after the bankers. He didn’t really go after the banks. He didn’t revive the wages and benefits of lower and middle-class employment.

He tried to withdraw from the US’ military entanglements. But the regions where they had been fighting didn’t cooperate, and turned withdrawal into something that looked like disaster and even defeat.

When the Republicans ran the sound, safe, respectable Mitt Romney against Obama, the people knew that it was just one elite member of the establishment against another and there was nothing to make them jump to the distinctly duller, white version of the incumbent.

This election, the Democrats ran as the establishment. Hillary was the candidate of the party. She had been part of the machine for decades. She was entwined with Wall Street and big money. She had come to live and hobnob, day in and day out, with the well-connected, the super-rich, and the holders of power.

To make it clear how much Hillary was the candidate of the establishment, the Republican establishment walked away from Donald Trump – never having done anything like that in living memory – some nodding towards his rival, some even openly endorsing her. Virtually every newspaper in the country, practically a definition of the establishment, endorsed Hillary, even those that historically only endorsed Republicans.

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The other thing that must be reiterated, is that no one in that establishment, Democrat or Republican, had given real thought to the losers in the game of income and wealth inequality that had been being played against them for the past five decades.

If anything, the establishment was willfully blind to what was happening. The left had embraced social progressivism but somehow, in the process, had abandoned economic progressivism.

The right kept pressing forwards with anti-tax, anti-redistribution, anti-government policies that had been so successful for Ronald Reagan, and then for his heirs and successors.

So the centre, on economics, moved ever further to the right. While part of the success of social progress meant the rejection and alienation of what used to be the mainstream voters, the white, working class.


Again, in retrospect, it shows that even the pollsters were somehow part of the establishment. It was a signal that they too had become corrupted. Not in the sense of selling out for money, but in the sense of buying into the thought patterns and conventions of this intertwined and interwoven establishment of politics, money, military, power, and academia.

Trump is, without doubt, a strange, even a terrible choice to be a defender of working people, of people of low and middle income.

There is no logical connection between his promises to them and his policies. Indeed, his policies – to the degree that they have been articulated – point in the other direction. Towards greater income inequality, towards more power for the super-rich, to greater deficits – if that is actually a real problem.

Not only did he win, he has a Republican Congress, a Republican Senate, and the opportunity to nominate at least one new member of the Supreme Court that will be friendly to his policies, who will almost certainly be accepted.

On one level it is a triumph of the will of the people over the cozy corruption of the establishment. At the same, it promises to make things even worse for the people who chose him.

Larry Beinhart is a novelist, best known for Wag the Dog. He’s also been a journalist, political consultant, a commercial producer and director.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.