Everybody can agree America has seen an election of the oddest kind for any number of reasons. One of them is the way in which it broke with the usual ideological format of American elections.
For one thing, each party’s nominee seems to have swapped places with the other on many issues. It is the first time in modern elections that one of the two main candidates – and a Republican at that – was openly rebellious towards the “establishment” and denounced the inordinate influence of money in Washington. Ordinarily, the right would defend and seek to expand that influence, while the left attempt to curtail it.
Conversely, it was Clinton who was the more hawkish of the two when discussing foreign affairs and her social agenda is only as progressive as was required in order for her to be presentable as a Democratic nominee. Rather her electorate seems to have been swayed instead by tertiary factors: the prospect of a woman in office or simply the offensiveness of Trump. Of course, there are plenty of issues where both candidates followed the traditional ideological pattern, such as immigration or healthcare.
Still it was enough of a shake-up to cause the second oddity of the race – many prominent members of the Republican establishment announced their support for Mrs. Clinton. The Washington Post needed an entire article just to list their names (notably Colin Powell and George Bush Sr.). Similarly, many supporters of Bernie Sanders, on what one might call the revisionist left (as opposed to the more status quo supporters of Hillary Clinton), transferred their vote to Donald Trump. Though, Sanders himself did not.
As a result, even though the GOP won a majority in the legislature and the executive, it will not be so straightforward for Trump to put his policies into action. He is especially likely to be frustrated on the more extremely right-wing parts of his plan. Building an impenetrable wall over two-thousand miles of land promises a heavy cost and probably a few embarrassing episodes. His proposal for the segregation of Muslims is almost certain to be crushed by the Supreme Court, as an obvious violation of the Constitution. The discrimination against Americans of Japanese origin, during the war in the Pacific, was similarly deemed so.
Thus, Trump will need to embrace the support of the far-left to advance the parts of his agenda on which they share views, such as protectionism, interventionism in foreign affairs and money in politics. Democrats themselves have an incentive to push those items, even under Trump’s presidency, to build substantial achievements to show the electorate and avoid getting ‘re-Trumped’ in another four years.
One reason why the US population have become so disenchanted with current politics is the tendency of American institutions towards gridlock. Built by the Founders in the eighteenth-century, driven by fear of tyranny, the Constitution included so many checks and balances political progress is extremely difficult. Today, US politicians can hardly pass anything, without running into committees staffed by opponents. One quality therefore often sought in American statesmen is the willingness to “reach across the aisle”, as Americans put it.
For all these aforementioned reasons, this may be the very situation Trump faces, in spite of the contradiction in rhetoric to his campaign.
Bow Group International Affairs Reseacrh Fellow