Although there were more than two candidates on the ballot (at least on paper), the realities of the plutocratic bipolar parisan model were such that it all boiled down to a choice between Hillary and Donald, which is a choice that looked as if borrowed from a crappy comedy - or rather, a dystopian novel. This made the outside observer wonder if it was more comforting or horrifying that the political circus in the world's hegemon was even more absurd than the one back home (and I can promise you, our own political circus is quite ridiculous).
I don't think it would be an overstatement if I said that this was a clash between the embodiment of absolute cynicism and the one of complete grotesquery. Because in fact, most of the nasty things that the two opponents and their supporters flung at each other, were actually true.
Trump is indeed the epitome of intellectual downfall, he's a byproduct of the TV consumer culture, and an embodiment of egocentric hedonism. He's a guy who in a rational and logical world shouldn't be supposed to get anywhere beyond a mere gate-keeper at a shitty brothel, let alone a viable candidate for the highest position in the land (and the world). Trump is the grotesque face of everything that's wrong with the culture of modern consumerist society. Case in point: daddy's daughter, who didn't even wait for a week to pass since daddy's election to start flaunting her jewelry and using daddy's fame to promote her company's products. She did later apologize facing the public backlash (and a potential organized boycott of her business) - but that's not the point.
Now, seen from a safe distance, Trump's opponent Hillary Clinton looked quite different: she was like just another rubber politician from the establishment. Even when you looked closer into the details, she still managed to look like a synthesized version of everything that's wrong with the political elites: cynicism, corruption, hypocrisy, immorality, lack of principles, hunger for power, warmongering, irresponsibility, abuse of power, trading with influence, and dependence on corporate interests. If someone decided to make a statue of the rotten status quo, they could've easily picked up Hillary for prototype.
Although these two looked very different from each other, both were equally horrifying in their own way. After all, they both shared some common characteristics - such as their pathological affinity for dishonesty. The choice between them was not just a mere curiosity, or an exotic glitch of US representative democracy, it was a hostage crisis at a global scale.
If Hillary got to the White House, that would have meant the US would've been ruled by two dynasties for the last three decades, with a convenient 8-year interruption that went to the "minorities' quota". h'America's choice between the umpteenth member of a corrupt oligarchic clan that's been subscribed for power, and an idiotic clown who normalizes fascist rhetoric on a daily basis, didn't quite seem like the most inspiring motivation to get politically active and vote. So the citizens of "the world's greatest democracy" were standing at a crossroads: they had to choose between the model of power inheritance that exists in the Central Asian republics, and the bombastic chieftain populism that can be witnessed in Duterte's Philippines or Latin America.
From an establishment Democratic perspective, at a first sight, Trump was the perfect opponent to a politician as weak and heavily loaded with baggage as Hillary Clinton. In theory, any standard and faceless Republican candidate would've been much more dangerous, especially given the state the GOP was in, after two Obama terms. Given Trump's infuriating idiotism, it shouldn't have been a problem for the h'American people to recognize the lesser among these two evils, right? This should've been a no-brainer. And yet Hillary still failed. For which she has only herself to blame. Oh, and Comey. And her party's short-sightedness and arrogance. And people being fed up with politicians like her. The list got a bit long, I realize.
Let's not forget, though, that she managed to snatch the much coveted nomination at a time when the consequences of all her actions during her political career started to hit her back in full force. We all know the case with Those Emails - they provided a very good picture of the way the political machinery of the mainstream parties is functioning. They only confirmed things that were already known, or at least suspected. Including the fact that Hillary had used sensitive information in a way that under any normal circumstances should've granted her a place right next to Chelsea Manning, or at least David Petraeus' fate. And the fact that as a Secretary of State she had
But the most damning revelations were not those emails. It was the leaked texts of her paid speeches to Wall Street bankers. In one of them, she clearly defined the biggest problem the electorate might be having with her. She compared politics to making a sausage: it ain't pretty, but we eventually always get to the end - while everyone is watching. And politicians need to have two positions on issues: one for the cameras, the other for the backdoor meetings, where they face nervous donors and lobbyists that need appeasement.
Her letters and speeches show that she also had those two faces, the public and the private one - virtually on any issue of importance. The regulations on the private sector, global warming and environment protection, the globalist trade agreements, tax reform, social policy - you name it. While hardly being a surprise, the revelations of Clinton's "private" positions only add more color to the picture of the constant transformations (or "evolvement") of her "public" positions on issues from the war in Iraq to trade agreements to gay marriage.
So here, when we've got two terrible players like these, the role of the third serious participant in the political equation becomes more important than ever: the media. In the US, there's a tradition that most media would make an official endorsement of candidates and political positions. Lobbyism in h'America may have taken shocking and cynical proportions compared to other democracies, but at least it's sincere about its biases. You know where it stands. A brief look at the list of print media who declared official support for any candidate, however, shows quite an imbalance. The vast majority of them declared for Clinton. And that's hardly a surprise - not just because of the nature of the Trump phenomenon, but also because nearly 90% of all media in the US are in the hands of six corporations, more or less. And big business was clearly on Clinton's side.
This even includes media like Foreign Policy, which in their entire history had never declared official support for a candidate. The situation was similar in television. Some even started calling CNN the "Clinton News Network", just like RT is Putin's news outlet in Russia. Even the pillar of blatant conservative propaganda, Fox News only supported the GOP's nominee with half a mouth. What's more, this tendency spread beyond the US media, and engulfed The Economist, The Guardian, and dozens more from around the world. They all had their reasons.
If we're to keep it simple, the pro-Hillary media narrative could essentially be boiled down to two talking points: 1) sure, she does have stains on her biography, but at least she's not Trump; and 2) she's the candidate with the most experience, and besides, she's not Trump. We could add a few more if you like: electing the first woman president would be historic, besides, it would teach that misogynist buffoon Trump a good lesson; and, Hillary offers some stability and normalcy, while Trump means chaos, collapse and other unspecified horrors.
Well, perhaps these messages would've been convincing enough for any other candidate - maybe even for Hillary, but a few years ago. At this point though, people's tolerance to the financial, social, political and ideological bankruptcy of the neo-liberalist experiment, seems to have run out. Many of the voters cannot be convinced that More Of The Same represents a lesser evil than those unspecified horrors. This became evident by the socialist rebellion within the Democratic Party initiated by Bernie Sanders, and by Trump's populist tsunami within the Republican Party. Although the two phenomena were driven by very different motivations and convictions.
Now granted, Trump himself constantly provided abundant ammo and good reasons for the media to demonize him, but at the end of the day, the blatant one-sidedness of the media coverage only amplified his legitimization as a perceived alternative to the status quo. Which he really is not - but more about this, a bit further down. The infuriating double standards in the coverage of the two candidates' transgressions helped quite a lot in that respect, too.
So there was the false dichotomy. On one side there was a spoiled, constantly feuding, aggressive, egoistical rich man who had known privilege his entire life and only pretended to care about the ordinary people. Shedding light on all the reasons that made him unfit for the White House was fair game. On the other side though, there was a politician with decades of history in a position of power, who had occupied some of the most influential positions within the establishment, and whose list of transgressions was constantly growing, the biggest of which, it turns out, was her disregard for the people whose champion she had always claimed to be.
If it's important that Trump had made extremely degrading and sexist comments back in 2005, it should be just as important that back in 2006, Hillary, in her capacity of a US Senator, expressed regret that the US hadn't attempted to manipulate the elections in the Palestine. (Curiously, Trump's vulgar comments about women from a decade ago actually hurt him much more than his racist statements about Mexicans which he had made just recently). Shouldn't the coverage of the sex abuse allegations against Trump be just as important as the allegations of a number of women who allege that Hillary had tried to intimidate them against testifying for actual sexual misconduct against her husband about the same time?
A number of media and even more analysts expressed loud indignation at Trump's allegations that the election might be rigged. In the meantime, they almost unanimously echoed Clinton's theories that the election process was being rigged against her by various conspiracies involving Wikileaks, the FBI, and Vladimir Putin.
What's more, the revelations that Clinton has used her immense influence within the Democratic machine to snatch the nomination from under Sanders' nose, somehow got pushed to the sidelines. Whenever those were tangentially mentioned, the focus was somehow not on the essence of the facts themselves, but on the source (Russian hackers and Wikileaks). A number of media actively jumped on the bandwagon - some of them, those same media who in GWB's time had aided Julian Assange, gaining popularity and winning journalism awards thanks to Wikileaks, and even covering the shady Russian connections of the Clinton Foundation.
It's also worth noting that the carefully crafted notion that Trump is somehow something extraordinary, a glitch, failed to look convincing enough - especially for the outside observer. All the cartoonish absurdity of his character notwithstanding, Trump is actually a logical result of all the messages that the Republican electorate had been fed with for decades. Xenophobia, racism, sexism, homophobia, religious fundamentalism, extremist nationalism - all of these have been the norm for the Republican way of thinking and talking. Hey, on some issues Trump sounded even less extreme and horrifying than some of his fellow partymen, including some of the candidates that he vanquished on his way to the nomination, like Ted Cruz. It's quite telling that The Newyorker recently mocked the conspiracy theory that the GOP is preparing to replace Trump with their preferred puppet Mike Pence, saying that "they want to replace a man who hates women with a man who hates women and gays".
We shouldn't also forget that having an idiotic showman for president who's almost completely detached from reality, is hardly a precedent in the US. We needn't even look too far back, to remember the moronic George Bush Jr, or Ronald Reagan the Hollywood actor. Their terms arguably led to heavy consequences for the rest of the world - but in many respects, Hillary Clinton also looked like a worthy successor of their economic and geopolitical heritage. Only, without the charisma.
It's curious to speculate what the media would've done, had Hillary become president as everyone in the media/politics establishment expected. The Trump threat would no longer be an excuse for her sins, after all. Could we have expected the media to return to the journalist standards that they had abandoned for short-term political gains? Would they be capable of holding a Clinton administration accountable, despite all the scandals that would've defined it? (The investigation of those emails could take five years, mind you).
If we're to judge by the revelations of Clinton's close relations with the media, perhaps we shouldn't have expected too much criticism of her from them. Moreover, the same media worked hard for her during her fight with Bernie Sanders, when she still didn't have Trump as an excuse.
And a president does need criticism and accountability, and using various ways to distract the public attention from real transgressions would only last up to a point. Which is the case with the new president-elect, by the way.
All that said, the relentless propping up of a candidate who was barely electable, even when running against Trump, ultimately worked against that candidate, and in Trump's favor.
But let's face it, Trump is not the alternative to the status quo that he likes to pretend he is. As satirist Jonathan Pie aptly points out, while Hillary is in the pocket of the corporations, Trump is himself a corporation. He doesn't offer anything viable on important issues like the staggering social inequality, the domination of the financial capitals. and corporate irresponsibility. All issues that need urgent tackling, as the wide support for Sanders indicated. The early signs from Trump are that he'll just strive to offer some short-term vent for the problems, mostly by means of fostering internal conflict along political, racial and ideological lines. A divide and rule sort of governing style, so to speak.
The hopes that he'll pursue more isolationist policies will likely also be proven wrong. Don't get me wrong, the world would certainly gain more if the accelerated turning of East Europe into a new battleground is scaled back, or the reversion of the Middle East to the Stone Age, or the forceful shoving of "free" trade agreements without the people's consent. But just like Hillary, the Donald will also seek for a vent for unsolved problems, and he'll eventually look for a convenient external enemy. He also shows a proneness to scare his people with external threats: while Hillary used the Russians, he's using the Chinese and the Mexicans. Trump is courting the Israeli lobby nearly as much as Hillary did, and this doesn't bode well for the Palestine, and doesn't promise a more moderate approach to Syria or Iran.
At the end of the day, Trump is not just a false messiah of change - he'll ultimately serve as an agent for discrediting the resistance to the status quo, even if unintentionally. Because he'll be defining that resistance from now on, at least on the surface. Despite the horror he seems to pose for the elites, and despite his calls for putting an end to the corrupt establishment in Washington, he's actually one of them. Although he's just a clown with the mind and temperament of a 5 year old, he's of the same class and breed like the elite. Now that he has found his way into the White House, the powers-that-be will likely invite him to the big table, he'll be ushered into one of the comfy leather sofas, and then he'll be explained how things actually are. And everything will click right back into their ordinary place. He probably won't even need a dramatic warning against playing with the "primary forces of nature", the way Howard Beale from The Network was brought back in line.
In fact, the big, real threat to the rotten political and economic status quo in the US was Bernie Sanders. Which is why there was no way he could be allowed access to the nomination - even though he could've demolished Trump by a landslide in the general election. It's just that he was the real agent of change, and the elites couldn't possibly have that.
Sanders put the real issues to the fore, instead of distracting the attention with nonsense like, "which country of brown people should we bomb next", or "should we ask for ID upon buying a machine-gun", or "could we trade allowing gay marriage for an abortion ban". He managed to direct attention to the real problems, and the need for real solutions. But with the concerted efforts of both media and elite, this drive for change was at least temporarily muted, muzzled, and put into the grotesque frames of a conveniently scripted mud-fight between two oligarchic clans.
What's now happening in the US has largely been mirrored in Europe as well, in the last few years. People have run out of patience, and this initially gave rise to various popular (not populist) movements against the system. The political and economic establishment and the media are already recognizing this as a problem, but they still refuse to allow a real alternative, for fear of losing their control. Even if that alternative comes in the form of moderate, reasonable social-democracy, which is trying to bring the political spectrum back to its normal condition, after it had been pushed extremely to the right by the reigning neo-liberal consensus. Thus, the new moderate center-left movements in South Europe were soon blocked or even crushed through political and financial pressure. The ideological vacuum was instantly filled with various destructive forms of populist anti-establishment protest, shamelessly sucking up life power out of people's fears, xenophobia, and desperation. Meaningful movements like Syriza and Podemos were sucked dry of blood, while evil, yelling ulcers like Pegida and Alternative For Germany took their place.
The situation in Britain is similar, where Jeremy Corbyn's attempt to bring the Labour Party back into the left political space where it belongs, was met with considerable media and political resistance, while the forces that managed to drag the country out of the EU, enjoyed remarkable comfort to act as they please.
There's a certain amount of historical logic in all of this, when you think of it. In the past, the conservative and liberal right also used to go through phases of reluctant adoption, and eventual alliance with far-right populist movements and agendas. The parallel to the 30s may look a bit too much at a first sight, but when we look at the way UK's new PM Theresa May has adopted the rhetoric and the messages of the far-right populists from UKIP in order to consolidate her position of power at a time of crisis, we get the general idea.
Now that the anti-establishment crowd has adopted Trump as their champion and made him everybody's president, he'll just infuse himself into the fabric of the corrupt system he pretends to be opposing, and this will start the process of merging the plutocracy with conservative populism. The GOP may be basking in its shocking rise to dominance right now, but that process promises big trouble for its identity, and ultimately, its long-term fate (or maybe a chance to finally transform and evolve). On the other hand, the protests that we've seen right after Trump's election, may further politicize and activate the civic society, particularly the youth. Constant resistance could start to act as that correcting power that the media failed to provide for Hillary, and it could become the beginning of a new political movement that would foster real change in the future. On the other side, we shouldn't forget that there were large-scale protests against Bush Jr too, but they still failed to prevent him from committing a long list of crimes against humanity, which largely precipitated the global financial crisis eventually, and hugely eroded the world's trust in h'America.
The big resistance to Hillary could have forced her to act more moderately and keep some of her promises that were made by her "public" version (as opposed to the "private" one). Especially if she was hoping to be a two-term president. But that's history now. After all, Obama came with a message of hope and change too, riding a wave of huge enthusiasm and big expectations, but he failed to deliver on most of those promises for one reason or another. The threat with a Clinton president would have been that with the highest glass ceiling being shattered just for its own sake, the "real change" movement that had started forming around Sanders could have been blunted, and fallen into apathy, the way it happened with Occupy Wall Street not so long ago. And now that Trump is president, they'll have a big opportunity to make themselves more prominent than they've ever imagined. Because he'll be sure to give them plenty of reason to stay active. And that, I guess, is an upside of having Trump for president.
Sadly, the upsides end there. It takes a lot of optimism to expect anything good from a Trump regime, as was the case with a potential Clinton regime, albeit in a different way. Neither Hillary was the normal candidate, nor is Trump a true alternative to the status quo. In both cases, the light at the end of the tunnel mostly relies on the positive energy for change preserving itself and developing into a significant political movement that would endure the imminent reactionary pressure that is sure to come against it - both from the political and media establishment on one side, and from the now legitimized destructive populism on the other. The outcome of this fight will determine the ultimate fate of American democracy, and world democracy by extension. And not just of the now almost-discredited "representative" form of democracy, but of the very essence of democracy itself. Trump's popularity among the various anti-establishment movements, the Brexit, the rising Euroskepticism within the EU, the geopolitical advancement of despotic regimes like China and Russia, and the emerging resistance against the global trade agreements, are all converging to give a general picture, where the voices arguing for the fundamental failure of democracy will be getting ever stronger. These used to be whispers before, but now they're getting louder. So there's a real threat that one day, sooner than we might expect, democracy would be abolished... in the name of democracy.