From the Editor’s Keyboard

Why Trump won

17 November 2016 at 04:36 | 1715 views


By Dagbayonoh Kiah Nyanfore II, Guest Writer, USA*.

The results of the US Presidential election 2016 took the public, and many pollsters and pundits by surprise; they were stunned. I was too.

Though the media had informed us that the race was close, they reported that Hillary Clinton had about 70% chance of winning and was far ahead in the electoral votes. The actual results proved otherwise. Clinton won the popular votes, but Trump won the electoral votes and therefore won the election. It was the biggest upset in US Presidential election history. Why and how did he win?

Donald Trump was not the best candidate; he was not the most experienced and the most qualified. He did not win any of the debates and did not look presidential either when he debated Hillary. But he was different, he represented change, and the American people wanted change.

Voting data show that over 50% of those who voted for him were White men, without college degrees and with an income of about $50,000. Most were rural dwellers, older citizens, 45 plus and over, conservative and most were dissatisfied with the establishment, the system of operation of the government. Most disliked the way their tax dollars were spent and have a fear of terrorism, crimes and immigration. The fear of the possibility of losing what they owned, and the feeling of loss of their country’s greatness, created the need for change.

Trump tapped into that disillusionment, dissatisfaction, mistrust and fear, and formulated a running theme to make America Great Again. He called on Americans to rise up and take their country back. With this message, he easily defeated some of the heavy weights of the Republican Party for the nomination.

He was not an impressive speaker or a great communicator. In fact, he had problems articulating the issues. But in the debates and in public appearances, he was an average Joe. He was different, a non -politician. He did not mince his words. He said what was on his mind, said it the way he felt, not sugar coating it like a politician. He blamed the politicians for not showing good leadership, making bad trade deals, forgetting America, selling the country short. He criticized Obamacare, he blamed the government for wasting money caring for others and allowing criminals into the country. He preached populist nationalism.

We saw Trump in the debates with Clinton. He did poorly, did not address the issues and did not look presidential. Hillary won the debates. But regardless how well she talked and how hard she campaigned, Trump kept closing in. Regardless how the press predicted his loss, he surprised most of us and won. He won 279 electoral votes, Clinton has 228 votes. He won all the Red states as expected. Moreover, he captured most of the swing states, including Ohio and Florida. He won Pennsylvania and Michigan, states which have never voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988.

The election was not about qualifications. It was not about money either. Indeed, Trump’s campaign spent 50% less of what the Clinton camp spent. What happened was a social phenomenon.

On the one hand was the group with fear, needing a messiah, one who was different and bold. They were mostly of rural America, older citizens and with higher incomes.

On the other hand, were the poor, urban Americans, those who felt neglected, those finding it hard to make ends meet, other Americans, the marginalized women, the union workers, the laborers, the African-Americans, the Hispanics and the immigrants saw Hillary Clinton as a person who cares and who would make conditions better for all Americans. This created a divided social class and ideology leading to the election. One group grew larger and overtook the other in the election.

Neither Trump nor Clinton was well liked in the election. They had unfavorable ratings. But one had to win. Trump’s message got across well to most of the electorate, particularly his supporters and sympathizers in the swing states. Had he lost, he probably would have, with his resources and national exposure, become a crusader spreading his message, creating a movement ……… and he would have had thousands of followers!

Will Trump become a good President? Trump’s lack of political office experience should not mean that he will become an ineffective leader. A president has many talented people around him/her. They write the president’s speeches and advice on matters, giving the president options to choose from. The president has the last say on issues from the executive branch. His cabinet runs the various departments or agencies. The president is the Commander-in-Chief.

Trump will have tremendous power to do what he wants. With a Republican control of Congress, state governorship, and an expected Republican dominated Supreme Court, he can easily carryout his domestic and foreign policy agenda.

Many Republicans see him to be the “second coming” of Ronald Reagan to re-energize conservatism and a populist agenda and to implement a go-touch foreign policy, though he seems a fan of President Vladimir Putin.

Trump has said that if elected, he would deport undocumented foreigners and build a wall on the US-Mexican border to stop criminals and rapists from entering America. He preyed on the fear of one group and vowed to prevent Muslims from coming to the US. He could stop Obama’s go-easy approach on immigrants and implement tougher reforms. But to succeed as a good president, he must put campaign rhetoric aside and bring people together to create a greater America.

Being a president of America is powerful; you are the leader of the free world as some Americans say. But the position is also stressful. In college we did a study on the US presidency, looking at the tremendous responsibilities of the office. We found out that the president ages faster in the first or second term. Trump is 70 years old. He will become the oldest US president, older than Reagan. By the end of his first and or second term, he would look older physically than if he were in private life. One good exercise is to look at a picture of Obama before and after the presidency. I say this to indicate that the office, besides its power and glory, is very stressful and difficult. But Trump will have help at his disposal for a successful presidency.

Determining Factors
In an article concerning the election, I stated some factors that could impact the election, three of which I want to discuss.

The first factor is a major event or unexpected information (October Surprise). Friday, one week to the last weekend of the election, FBI Director James Comey stated that the agency would look into Hillary Clinton’s emails relative to new information. This created a major concern, making Hillary to lose votes and making the race to get tighter in the final days. The statement increased more doubts about Hillary; of her being forthcoming with the truth. The director’s action was viewed by some observers as political and was criticized. Although he later tried to clear the doubt, the damage was already done.

The second factor is turnout. The voting data of groups show surprising information. The number of votes by women, African-Americans, Hispanics for Clinton was less compared to that in 2012. In order words, their turnout in 2016 was low unexpectedly. Although Clinton got more votes from the groups than Trump did, their low number harmed Clinton particularly in the swing states. The Hispanics votes for example, should have increased considering the growing rate of this population as the major minority group in the US. Hillary received 65% of the Hispanic votes, while Trump got 29%.

In 2012, Obama received 70%, Mitt Romney, 25%. While Hilary’s number decreased from that of Obama, Trump’s votes increased from Romney’s. Ironically, Trump spoke of this group, particularly Mexican -Americans, negatively calling them “rapists” in the campaign, but it did not move them to come out to vote in large numbers for Hillary. A more surprising fact was that trade union members voted less for Clinton than in 2012 for Obama, while non-union workers voted more for Trump than for Clinton. The low turnout for Hillary could be due to poor ground work. The ground game which the Obama campaign utilized in 2012 took about four years prior, involving mobilization of the various groups. For details, see How Obama Won, published 2012. As I said in my article on this recent election, the candidate with the largest turnout in the swing states would stand a better chance to win. Trump did better in the swing states, among the white-working class and in the rural areas, where the battle was won.

The third factor is religion. Angelical or evangelical Christians played a critical role in Trump’s win. As Religion News Service (RNS) reported, “Christians who described themselves as evangelical and born-again gave Trump 81 percent of their votes, up 3 percentage point from their support of Mitt Romney”. Clinton received 16% of their votes, a vast difference. This group was also instrumental in the 2004 election, as indicated in previous article.

US-Liberia Relations
What does the election of Trump mean to US-Liberia relations? I stated sometime ago that the US foreign policy can be divided into two parts, namely constant and variable. With the former, the relation is often based on historical ties and does not change. For instance, the US is committed to defending and supporting Israel. That is a policy that every American president must maintain. The latter is created by an administration and can change by another administration. For example, Jimmy Carter formulated a foreign policy centered on human rights, while Reagan was specifically about breakingdown the Soviet Union and focusing on Eastern Europe.

US relations with Liberia go back to the founding of Liberia in the early 1800s, when ex-slaves from America landed on the land now called Liberia. The first Liberian constitution was written by an American and the flag is similar to that of the US except that the Liberian flag has a lone star. The US has given millions of dollars in aid and in other assistance, though Liberia is one of the poorest countries in the world. Liberia is now 169 years old as an independent nation. During the cold war, Liberia was a strategic and important ally of the US, but now her importance has diminished greatly.

Economically, the country does not have an industrial base or a major exporting economy worthy of US vital interests. The prices of her key commodities, iron ore and rubber, have fallen drastically on the world market. Although an oil exploration effort started some years ago, the established managing entity, National Oil Company of Liberia, has run into bankruptcy. Today, the United States is one of the major aid donors to Liberia. Liberia heavily depends on the US and many Liberians own homes and other properties in America. The US will always support Liberia, but how much and to what extent? The Obama administration is quite aware of Liberia and her issues.

When Trump won the election, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf stated her disappointment on BBC for Hillary Clinton’s loss. She said, “We are extremely saddened by the missed opportunity on the part of the people of the United States to join smaller democracies in ending the marginalization of women”. She wondered whether Trump would have an African agenda. “We can only hope that he will do so in due course,;, she ended.

Some Liberians commented that her words were unfortunate, that the president should have at first congratulated Trump and then called for continued relations between the two countries, noting their long bilateral and historical ties. Other African heads of state, including Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, South Africa’s Jacob Zuma and Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari, have sent congratulatory messages to Trump.

Dispite the criticism, Madam Sirleaf’s reaction was generally natural, though she should have been more diplomatic: Hillary is her close friend. Hillary attended her second inauguration and is a strong supporter and admirer of Sirleaf, as the first female president in Africa. Sirleaf was not the only world leader who reacted negatively. Angela Merkel of Germany and Nicola Sturgeon of Scotland also expressed concern.

Had Hillary won, it would have helped Sirleaf Vice President Joseph Boakai in the upcoming presidential election in Liberia in 2017. She would have introduced the VP to Clinton for Hillary’s blessing. In 1943, Liberian president Edwin Barclay introduced Associate Justice William Tubman to US President Franklin Roosevelt as his (Barclay) successor. President Tubman ruled Liberia for over 25 years. He was also influential in African politics, a founding member of the OAU (Organization of African Unity) in 1963. As an older and a US supported president, emerging African leaders looked up to Tubman and sought his advice. He led the Monrovia Group, which took a conservative approach to the OAU.

President Sirleaf would not have the opportunity to take the vice president to Hillary. Meanwhile, the opposition parties in Liberia are trying to form a coalition to stop the ruling Unity Party from succeeding itself to a third term. They want to follow the model or example of Nigerian opposition parties in that country’s recent presidential election. The Unity Party seems to be concerned about the coming change in Washington.

Beside possible party interesst resulting Sirleaf’s disappointment, some critics of the administration pointed out that she did so primarily because Hillary would not be able to protect her from possible persecution, when she leaves office, for her alleged role in the Liberian civil war.

Trump promised to make changes. If he implements his promised immigration reforms, thousands of Liberians and other Africans in the US would be forced to leave. There are many Liberians on the TPS (Temporary Protected Status) program, which allows them to stay in America temporally because of the civil war. Obama recently renewed the program, but it is scheduled to expire next year. Their return to Liberia would add to the already high unemployment rate in the country.

Permanent Africans residing in the US are concerned about Trump’s win. Famous Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka has said that he would leave after Trump’s inauguration. Some Liberians and probably other Africans view Trump’s intended immigration move favorably, pointing out that Liberians temporally in the US need to return to help develop Liberia and that Americans develop America, Liberians and other Africans in the Diasporas need to return to develop the motherland.

Other individuals have commented that the election of Trump would be good for Africa, indicating the corruption of some African leaders. These leaders would not get cooperation from Trump, because he would be critical of their ways and behavior. Business would not be as usual, according to comments.

On corruption, Toril Krua has stated that some African leaders have taken development funds and have gotten rich while their people live in abject poverty. On Liberia, he wrote, “Spending American taxpayers’ money for projects in poverty stricken Liberia makes no sense when the beggars’’ salaries and benefits are far higher than the donors’ salaries”. Some African leaders are worried about what theTrump presidency could mean to their corruption and human rights abuses at home.

How it could work
Usually the president-elect is constantly briefed on national and international issues. Trump will replace key policy advisors, department heads, and ambassadors of the Obama administration. This means that Linda Greenfield, a US Secretary of State and a close friend of Sirleaf, will leave. Trump’s people will be in charge and would run things.

Sirleaf however can mend the fence and develop a working relationship with Trump. Through her PR advisors on K Street, Washington, DC, she can build a personal relationship with Trump. Her ambassador in Washington can also help. It would take about three to six months to build such relations. But Trump would always be Trump, though with diplomacy. However, President Sirleaf does not have time on her hands. She will leave power in January 2018.

The Trump transition team has set up an office in Washington, DC to coordinate affairs with the Obama administration. In addition to Trump’s personal choices for key appointments, the team will recommend names of individuals for consideration for appointment. As done internationally in other administrations, ambassadorial posts are generally reserved for individual contributors to the campaign. The ambassadors are personal representatives of the president and will have direct communication with the president and with the secretary of state pertaining to the host countries. The desk officers at the State Department for each country will handle program and development matters.

The transition office with be flooded with correspondence, resumes, and other matters addressed to Trump. Issues regarding foreign affairs will be handled by a section of the office. The section may be divided into parts, including African Affairs, Asian Affairs and European Affairs. It will compile a brief on each country within the areas for policy consideration or for other concerns.

When I worked with the Bill Clinton first transition team, we handled international communications, entailing congratulatory statements from other countries and issues of concern from individuals and entities expressed for Bill Clinton’s attention. Their views, as I observed, were that Clinton as a young leader would bring change in US foreign policy and relations.

Building Bridges and Uniting the Nation
On the home front, Trump has lots of work cut out for him. First, he will have to mend fences with the Republican establishment, with the Democrats and with the American people, particularly those whom he offended during the campaign. He has to be the president for all Americans. Talking and acting tough publicly is one thing, but ruling a nation is another. You have to listen and act fairly and justly. You have to be a leader, a father and not a bully and a businessman. Diplomacy, caring, firmness, fairness and integrity should be the corner stone. He must unite people.

Trump made many promises and the American people would be expecting much from him. He has to deliver. If he fails, the people would not forgive him. He and the Republican Party would pay. He would be voted out in the next presidential election should he run for a second term. The test would be in the mid-term election two years from now when Congress will be out for election.

I think this was one of the most exciting and surprising elections in US history. Professor Allan Lichtman deserves congratulations for his brilliant analysis and prediction of Trump’s victory.

*Dagbayonoh Kiah Nyanfore II, a US resident since 1966, is a Liberian national. He can be reached at