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WHILE supporters of Donald Trump celebrate a shot to the heart of a tired, old establishment that had failed so many, liberals, progressives, those to whom racism, xenophobia and sexism are anathema, woke to a much colder, much darker world last week.
Countless column inches will be written on where it all went wrong for Hillary Clinton, why her lifelong dreams are now ashes from which she will never rise again.
But in the simplest terms, she was not the right candidate for these times. She was the epitome of an out-of-touch neoliberal globaliser elite in an election where the US, and indeed the world, is turning in on itself, where the left-behind and laid-low were yearning for change but stuck two fingers up to hope and punched their cards for fear.
Or at least many of the white ones did — polling data suggests overall those on lower incomes tended to opt for Clinton — and the racist appeal of Trump to some cannot be denied.
Clearly there is a lot of soul-searching to be done.
And a US in which the old certainties now are smoke will have to work hard to find a way to heal the divisions at its heart — between rich and poor, black and white, men and women — that have long been festering, but that have been ripped wide open by the most brutally unpleasant election campaign in living memory.
Who will lead that healing? There’s something instructive about the two candidates’ victory and valedictory speeches.
“I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans,” president-elect Trump said.
“I’m reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country.”
Every president has to reach across the table and attempt to govern for the whole country, not just their most ardent followers. So far these are just words and Trump has been full of those.
His appointment of far-right crackpot Steve Bannon as chief strategist and the likely elevation of arch Bush-era hawk John Bolton to secretary of state do not bode well for a presidency for all America’s stripes. What’s more interesting are the words buried in the speech of his defeated opponent.
“Our campaign was never about one person, or even one election,” Clinton said. “It was about the country we love and building an America that is hopeful, inclusive, and big-hearted. We have seen that our nation is more deeply divided than we thought.
“But I still believe in America, and I always will. And if you do, then we must accept this result and then look to the future. Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead. Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power. We don’t just respect that. We cherish it.”
Crucially, she added: “It also enshrines the rule of law, the principle we are all equal in rights and dignity, freedom of worship and expression. We respect and cherish these values, too, and we must defend them. Let me add, our constitutional democracy demands our participation, not just every four years, but all the time.
“So let’s do all we can to keep advancing the causes and values we all hold dear. Making our economy work for everyone, not just those at the top, protecting our country and protecting our planet. And breaking down all the barriers that hold any American back from achieving their dreams.
“We spent a year and a half bringing together millions of people from every corner of our country to say with one voice that we believe that the American dream is big enough for everyone. For people of all races and religions; for men and women; for immigrants; for LGBT people and people with disabilities. For everyone.”
In that speech was an acceptance that Donald Trump is the man who will be leading the US away from these values, but also a promise. That liberal, progressive America will be watching and it will not just be waiting.
A counter-movement against fear and prejudice and hate and insularity is brewing from sea to shining sea. Hillary Clinton might not be the one to lead it.
Indeed she should not be the one to lead a movement that must not just be about racial and gender and sexual equality but economic equality too.
A movement that can never again accept vast swathes of the population left on a scrapheap; that must give all a stake in society; that must one day offer fresh answers to those conned by Trump’s populism when it turns out to be hollow and one that proves to them it can genuinely make their lives better.
The best of the US is still there, ready to rise again. It’s already rising, thousands are taking to the streets across the country, not in spite of democracy but because of it.
Let it rise. For the night is darkest just before the dawn’s early light.
- Salman Shaheen is editor-in-chief of The World Weekly and a Labour Party member. He has written for the Guardian, New Statesman and Huffington Post and is a regular commentator on current affairs on television and radio.
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