At a recent event in Delhi, a visiting American CEO apologised to the audience on behalf of the US electorate for Donald Trump’s election as President. One of the members of the audience asked how the same country that gave Barack Obama two terms could have possibly chosen Trump. “I don’t know, maybe we’ve become schizophrenic,” he responded.
Through 2016 and the numerous political upheavals that it threw up, terms like “schizophrenic electorate”, “deeply divided society” and “the new normal” were freely tossed around as analysts struggled to make sense of what was happening to the world. Astonishingly, they seemed to miss the most obvious point – society has not become deeply divided overnight, it always has been.
Four years ago, The Times of India carried a front-page lead headline, “Divided States of America” to illustrate the deep gulf between those who backed Obama – largely the young, minorities, women and disadvantaged – and Mitt Romney’s supporters, who were overwhelmingly white and rural dwellers.
Some American newspapers used the headline too – but only four years later. Interestingly, Hillary Clinton, the candidate overwhelmingly endorsed by the US media, got more votes in 2016 than Obama did in 2012 – indeed, she got more votes than any white US presidential candidate in history, with only Obama in 2008 receiving greater popular support. So, the 2016 election only perpetuated a trend that has been visible for many years.
Hillary is the fifth candidate to lose the election despite winning the popular vote, so clearly there have been deep divisions within the US even in the past. The astonishing thing is not that the American electorate is supposedly schizophrenic, it is that the American media, and the rest of the world, is treating this as some sort of revolutionary discovery.
But why single out just American voters? If one looks at the........