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During a long and distinguished career, heavyweight American financial journalist Barry Wood has analysed many unusual events. Not surprisingly, he has turned his attention to the surprise ascendancy of Donald Trump and what it means for the rest of the world. Having started his career in South Africa with the Financial Mail (under legendary editor George Palmer), Wood also considered the implications for this country, specifically what it means for the continued rule by the ANC. He says there are powerful messages for President Jacob Zuma and his party – and unless they are heeded and the current direction altered, a very different political future awaits the country. – Alec Hogg
By Barry Wood*
WASHINGTON: It’s been three weeks since the United States experienced a political earthquake. Historian Douglas Brinkley of Rice University called the shock Donald Trump victory a social revolution comparable only to the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Chris Cillizza in the Washington Post called Trump’s win the biggest upset in U.S. presidential history.
While a recount of votes is occurring in Wisconsin and may take place elsewhere, Democratic party officials do not expect the Trump victory to be overturned. Warren Buffett, the sage of Omaha, Nebraska and a supporter of Hillary Clinton, says it’s time for the country to unite around the president-elect.
Asked by CNN why his candidate lost, Buffett said Hillary Clinton has been around for a long time and that it was “hard to get new hope about somebody who perhaps you’ve formed a negative opinion on.” Buffett said despite the electoral setback he remains 100% optimistic about America.
If there is a single message from Trump’s victory it is that after eight years of Barack Obama the country wanted change. Patti Waldmeir of the Financial Times and formerly its correspondent in SA, went to suburban Milwaukee, Wisconsin to find out why white women in that traditionally Democratic state voted for Trump.
What she found was unease about illegal migration, opposition to government regulations that hurt business, and worry about deteriorating race relations.
Despite a history of distasteful remarks about women as sex objects, nationwide 53% of white women voted for Trump.
Trump won the election because he carried states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania that are traditionally Democratic. In my home state of Michigan the black turnout in Detroit was way down and working class whites from Detroit’s northern suburbs went for Trump.
In its analysis of the Michigan vote the Detroit News said Trump replicated what Ronald Reagan did in 1980, winning over union workers in the auto industry who usually vote Democratic. The paper said the Reagan Democrats of Macomb County voted for Trump because he promised to protect American jobs and end unfair trade practices.
The tepid post-financial crash recovery has not boosted incomes in most parts of the industrial Midwest. A recent visit to Springfield, Ohio, a once thriving industrial centre near Dayton tells a story that is commonplace in the American rustbelt. Family incomes in Clark County where Springfield is situated declined by 25% to $54,000 from 1999 to 2014. Several small manufacturing plants have closed and moved operations offshore.
Similarly in nearby Indiana two industrial centres — Indianapolis and Huntington — will sustain significant losses of well paying jobs if the Carrier Corporation goes ahead with plans to shift 2,000 manufacturing jobs to Mexico. During the campaign Trump promised to either stop the move or impose penalties on Carrier’s parent, United Technologies.
So what does all of this mean for SA?
It means that if the ANC wants to retain power it better get its act together and implement business friendly policies that can reactivate a stalled economy. According to the International Monetary Fund, per capita incomes in SA are falling. For the nine million unemployed and for those in rural areas there has been no discernible improvement in living standards.
If people believe they’re stuck economically with little hope of improvement they’ll demand change. It probably won’t happen by the 2019 parliamentary elections but ANC losses in the August municipal elections should be a very loud wake up call for the ruling party. At some point South Africans will have had enough of corruption and economic stagnation.
In the US, Hillary Clinton, despite impressive qualifications, failed to connect with voters. She was seen as the establishment figure who was too close to Wall Street and who would continue the policies of Barack Obama. People wanted change and she was unable to present herself as the agent of change.
Over the past 12 months 70% of Americans consistently told pollsters that they disapproved of the direction the country was moving, Donald Trump – despite strong negatives – became the candidate for change, an implausible working class billionaire who would take on the establishment.
- Barry Wood is an acclaimed and respected American broadcaster and writer who started his career at the Financial Mail in the 1970s under George Palmer, Follow him on Twitter @econbarry or read more of his work at www.econbarry.com