By Tamrat G. Giorg
The tone for the day was set early on; a bright, mildly warm and sunny morning with a breathy touch of the fall air. A group of non-American journalists were on their way to report on the most heated and rigorously fought presidential election many Americans came to hate. On Tuesday, November 8, 2016, these journalists were told to wear their badges visible all the time; Mark Zimmer, media relations officer for Foreign Press Centre, under the State Department, cautioned them from entering 30 meters into polling booths.
“This election is special, for a lack of better term,” said Zimmer.
Special it was for its conclusion in electing a candidate many in Washington, D.C and its surroundings were little prepared to see coming. No less than 93pc of residents of the capital voted for the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, something hardly surprising considering only one in 12 are registered Republicans.
Among those who did not see the triumph of Donald Trump, the candidate who won the presidency under the Republican ticket, was Wondwesson Shiferaw, 50, a resident of Wolfe Street. Exiting from the Lyle Crouch Precinct, one of the 28 polling stations in the city of Alexandria, Virginia, it was Wondwesson’s fourth vote made for president since he moved to the United States in 1989, from Kolfe area of Addis Abeba. A father of a son and one of the 4,000 cab drivers of Ethiopian origin registered in DC, he has voted to a candidate he was not willing to disclose.
Muna Ibrahim, 28, a native Ethiopian from Bole Medhanialem area of Addis Abeba, was however forthcoming in disclosing who she voted for. A graduate of business administration from Laurel College, in Maryland, she did not hesitate to use her third vote for president to Clinton.
“Because she is a woman,” Muna, who moved to the United State 13 years ago, told Fortune in explaining the rationale behind her decision voting in favour of the Democratic candidate.
Like in her age groups though, she was not enthusiastic about either of the candidates. She described herself as “confused”. Nonetheless, Muna was one of the 57,147 people who voted for Clinton, giving her close to 76pc of the 70,387 votes cast in the county.
Early that morning, the concern of many in this largely Democratic leaning suburb was not the possible loss of Clinton but whether her opponent would peacefully concede his loss in an election fought so “ugly” that many were eager to see it over. Another voter, who identified herself just as Pam, was wearing two pins of one of which read “I’m with her.”
“The American tradition of the morning after will continue,” she said, confidently. “I hope Trump will be American.”
There was little doubt Pam had his electoral defeat in mind. Walking down the stairs on Lyle Crouch Elementary School, where 45,000 voters were registered, Wondwesson said,”he has no choice” but to concede to his electoral loss.
To the dismay of many here and the shock of the world beyond, the unlikely candidate has finally prevailed over a polished candidate whose fate to enter the White House had seemed sealed. Several factors were thought to have been in her favour. The majority of Americans were preoccupied with the state of the economy. Polls revealed 71pc Democrats believed it was doing well and 73pc Republicans also said it doing just fine.
After eight years of under the Democratic President, Barack Obama, the American economy is doing much better than it was during the time of Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton. Under Obama, there were 9.3 million jobs created, dropping the unemployment rate down to single digit. Changing demography was another factor believed to have been on Clinton’s side; close to 60pc of young voters and 90pc of African Americans were known to have a history of voting for Democratic candidates.
Lucinda Callahai, 85, and her cousin Robert Thompson, 66, were among these African American voters who visited the Mount Vernon Recreation Centre, a precinct where 5,200 voters were registered to vote. When both arrived at the polling station before noon, a little over half of these have made their choices. Callahai and Thompson voted for Clinton. They were open about their deep disappointments with Trump’s many offensive statements during the campaign season many pundits said alienated from many groups.
“Trump could win if he was not to offending many groups on his way,” said Allan Rivlin, CEO of Zen Political Research, said talking to journalists at the National Press Centre on Tuesday night.
These are the Latinos, immigrants, women, gays, and the African Americans disparaged by Trump’s often provocative statements over the months leading to the election. Indeed, only eight percent of African Americans across the country have ultimately voted for him.
“Trump does’t have a class,” Callahai told Fortune. “Why would you have someone with that kind of mouth in the White House? I’m looking at the Republicans and say ‘why can’t they stop him?’ “
The Republican Party is known to be helplessly divided and unable to stop their unruly candidate who is at logger heads with their establishment in Capitol Hill. No less is the perpetual division within the Republican party, which puts their machinery in disarray, which was believed to have benefited Clinton.
“Average Republicans would not agree with the extremism of Trump,” John Zogby, former president and CEO of Zogby International, a veteran and renowned pollster, told a group of foreign journalists few hours before the polls were closed on Tuesday night. “The undecided voters fear Trump, and tilt towards Clinton. History and demography are on her side!”
It was proven not to be the case, thereby discrediting many pollsters and political pundits in Washington. Although Clinton won the popular vote, Trump swept the presidential race carrying 279 Electoral Colleage votes to Clinton’s 228.
Electoral College is a peculiar system in the United States where electors get elected to select the president and vice president in proportion to the number of seats each state has in Congress, although all the states have equal representation in the Senate, except Washington, D.C.
However, the near equal popular votes both candidates got (25.6pc against 25.5pc) exposes an underlining fact on how America is divided and its society alarmingly polarized.
“We’re a polarised place and we have moved in such direction for over the past decades,” said John Fortier (PhD), director of the Democracy Project.
In hindsight many pundits appear to be frantic to digest Trump’s victory and understand what they might have misread or were unable to read in his ascendance to power. Yet, many attribute his triumph to an electoral base that has been angry at the American political establishment, even as its shrinks in size during each election cycle. It was this group that was seen by pollsters and pundits alike for having inconsequential size, dropping from 81pc of voters in the 1960s to 48pc two generations later now.
Despite its declining numbers, the impact of globalised economy, although beneficial to the United States overall, has hit the white working class America hard with the financial meltdown of 2008 and stagnant wages. This has brought, in the words of Zogby, a “status anxiety.”
Michael Moore, the well known critic of the Republican party, sees this group of voters “broken, depressed, struggling, and the smokestacks strewn across the countryside with the carcass of what we used to call the Middle Class.” The white working class America was lied to by the trickle-down economics of Reagan as they were abandoned by Democrats, according to Moore.
“What happened in the UK with Brexit is going to happen here,” Moore had successfully predicted the results in manner perhaps was a lone voice prior to the election.
Trump has brought out this extra white votes with his “Make America Great Again” slogan, according to Zogby. It is a slogan that has awakened the working class America with a profound feeling of nostalgia. The results show that close to 58pc of white voters cast theirs in favour of Trump, versus 37pc who voted for Clinton. Of the 250 counties with the majority of white voters, she lost all except one, according to data from US Census.
Susan Hobbes, a volunteer for the Republican Party working at the Mount Vernon polling station on Tuesday, believes it is the “people who have chosen Trump and not the other way around.”
Ironically, many of these hard hit voters live in areas with a history of voting for Democrats. Although Clinton had thought to have advantages in securing 242 electoral votes way before the votes were cast, the final results showed she has lost states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin to Trump. In the end, Clinton won 21 electoral votes less than what was thought to be already hers.
“No Democratic candidate ever got less than 300 in electoral votes except for John Kerry and Al Gore,” recalled Zogby.
The opportunity for America to see its first female president has slipped away, coming so close to real in the 240-year history of the United States. Many however see the very persona of Hillary Clinton as a factor that has worked against her bid to the most powerful office in the world.
Having a rich history of being the First Lady of the state of Arkansas and later the United States; Senator from New York and Secretary of State, Clinton has as many detractors as she has admirers.
“Because Hillary is a woman first close to the presidential race, she is more of disruptive,” said Rivlin of Zen Political Research.
It is partly her gender that has surfaced in the cultural war between the conservative and liberal America and galvanised a giant constituency against her. Yet, she is perceived as “untrustworthy” by many people of both groups.
“Nearly 70pc of all voters think she is untrustworthy and dishonest,” said the pollster Zogby.
Women are among the many who harbour deep suspicion towards her, more so due to the email saga played until the last week of the election. The Republican volunteer Hobbes have had moments when what Trump said embarrassed her.
“Trump may embarrass me sometimes,” she told Fortune. “But he is not a liar as Clinton is.”
Hobbes was among the 42pc women who voted against her, despite sharing the same gender with Clinton.
“Not to that woman,” declared Hobbes, responding to a question why as a woman she would not be for Clinton.
For the young such as Muna and many others, Clinton not only is “untrustworthy” but also represents the establishment they despise and the past they would like to see changed. Close to 37pc of Muna’s age group and 42pc of voters between the age of 30 and 44 have voted against her. As she admitted when conceding defeat on Wednesday morning, this was a consequential election. With her defeat, liberal America which has been on the offensive over the past half century winning the wars on the cultural and economic policy fronts have gone to the defensive, if not in retreat.
“This election was not about one person and one election,” Clinton told her supporters. “I have successes and setbacks, sometimes painful ones. This is painful and will be for a long time.”
Clinton’s concession speech was taken as gracious and graceful, even in defeat. Despite bitter and venomous exchanges of words during the campaign, she was conciliatory in her tone upon conceding and as forthcoming urging in Americans to give chance to her opponent.
“I hope he will be a successful president for all Americans,” Clinton said of a person who was fond of calling her “crooked” during the campaign. “We owe him an open mind and a chance to lead.”
How Trump is prepared to lead is everybody’s guess. A head line of the Washington Post published the day after captured the mood.
“From no ‘no way’ to ‘now what?’ ” says the headline, wondering what kind of leader Trump will turn out to be.
Before knowing the outcome of the results, Thompson was worried what could be the impact of a possible win by Trump. First victims of Trump will be the Affordable Healthcare Act, a.k.a Obamacare, which is ironically disliked by the Ethiopian community for its rising cost. Trade, immigration as well as law and order are seen issues claiming his prior attention.
“It’ll be a major rollback of all the gains we have made in the decades since the 1960s,” Thompson told Fortune.
For many voters of Ethiopian origin, it was a moment of struggle to grasp what just happened. A country they call home and believed has moved on from its haunting past has brought back the shadow of its past. Immigrant parents are now lost to explain to their children the rise of to power of someone perceived as hateful as Trump. Frustration has made some Ethiopians consider moving back to Ethiopia, if their homeland was not engulfed by a political turmoil of its own, raising the concern of the U.S. State Department.
Particularly in the foreign affairs front, what President-Elect Trump would do is everybody’s guess, according to Daniel Serwer, director for Conflict Management Program at John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Trump is seen inconsistent and incoherent in his foreign policy pronouncement of the countries he mentioned during his campaign. Assailing his political opponent, Trump had hardly mentioned many countries in the world, least of all Africa.
“Not being mentioned in the American election campaign is the healthiest thing I can think of,” says Serwer.
Neither is the foreign policy team he assembled known to the public. If he rules as he campaigned, thriving in unpredictability, foreign policy wonks in Washington, D.C are at a loss of what to make of his administration.
“I’m lost what to say on Trump,” Serwer told a group of foreign journalists he met during the night of the election at Foreign Press Centre.
No less are these experts lost when it comes to predicting America in the coming four years under Trump’s administration. For emigres such as Wondwesson and Muna, his policy on immigration remains a major concern. If they are documented and naturalised Americans, they certainly know someone close who is not or in the process. However, many Ethiopians are terrified of the backlash from his ardent supporters who appear to dislike blacks, Muslims and immigrants.
“Trump has unleashed something he will not be able to control,” Zogby said, summing up the fears of many Americans and others around the world.
With the victory of Trump, Rivlin was certain to see a disruption in American politics.
“I’m not predicting the elections results, but the future. And the future looks dismal,” says Rivlin. “Whoever wins, the best thing to do is to heal the nation as quickly as possible.”
In the words of Paul Ryan, House Majority Leader in Congress, this is a time for “redemption; and not recrimination.”
Despite such fears and contrary to the tone prior to the election, Trump was seen tuning down his rhetoric as he has appeared conciliatory and inclusive in his victory speech made the night of the election. He appeared to be interested to start his reign with words of healing than the division many say is inevitable. The country is engulfed with protests across many cities of the United States, including his hometown, New York.
“It’s time for us to come together as one united people,” Trump told Americans. “I pledge to every citizens of our land I will be president to all. I reach out to you to get your help and guidance.”
Believing there is no dream too big and no challenge too great, Trump has pledged to find common ground to hostility.
“I promise to you I will not let you down,” President-Elect Trump said.
Remaining very skeptical of this words, many would like to see him live up to his promises.