US Election Shock, Awe and What next? -Mahdi Bin Khair
However unlikely, jaw-dropping or even uncomfortable it might sound to any keen observer of the US elections, Donald J. Trump has been elected as the 45th President of the United States of America. All the fuss and fumes and everything that brewed up for last couple of years ended in the Election Day of November, and by means of the Electoral College votes it was pretty evident from the earliest hypes of the day that the USA is going to get their first President with zero political experience.
As always, it was a simple choice between a Republican and a Democrat – although two independent candidates like Gary Johnson and Jil Stein swept up some votes. The glimmer of hope in the eyes of the pumped-up youth force behind Bernie Sanders didn’t bear any fruit after all.
The election system of the US itself, however, is far from simple; especially the electoral college system and its function might sound too complex to understand for the common man, but it has its historical justification as well. All 50 US states and Washington DC have a set number of “electors” in the electoral college – roughly proportionate to the size of each state. For example, California, the largest state, has 55 electoral votes, while less-populated Wyoming and tiny Washington DC only get only three each. The number of electors each state gets is also equal to the number of seats it has in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
In total, there are 538 electors and to win a majority and become president either candidate needs to accumulate 270 electors – half the total plus one more. All but two states, Maine and Nebraska, use a winner-takes-all system, so if the candidate wins the most popular votes in a state, he/she takes the entire haul of electoral college votes of that state.
The key to win the presidential election is to target specific battleground states. There are several swing states, that over recent elections have gone both ways (Florida, for instance). They hold the key to winning the election.
One interesting aspect is the timing of the election. That too is based on history and tradition of the American society; the election is in November because America was a predominantly agrarian society and November was the quietest period for rural workers. It is always traditionally on a Tuesday to allow people living in rural areas time to travel to towns and cities to vote, removing the need to travel on a Sunday.
It is always the first Tuesday after the first Monday to avoid the election falling on November 1st. This was to avoid clashing with All Saints Day and the day when businessmen traditionally did their accounting from the previous month.
In the founding days of the USA, election of the president by Congress was rejected as it was thought to be too divisive. Likewise, electing a president by state legislatures was discounted as it could have eroded federal authority. Popular vote (like Bangladesh) for electing the president was also not accepted on the fears that people would vote for their favorite local candidate and no president would emerge with a sufficient popular majority to govern the whole country.
When the founding fathers of the US created this election system in 1787, there was no way a presidential candidate could mount a national campaign – and there was little in the way of national identity.
The system of electors, based loosely on the Roman Catholic College of Cardinals selecting the Pope, was chosen with the theory that the most knowledgeable and informed individuals from each state would select a president on merit, disregarding state loyalties. However, the Electoral College system does usually reflect the popular vote. In the 52 presidential elections since 1804, 48 of the winners have also achieved the popular mandate.
For the 2016 election, polling booths opened in all 50 states and in Washington DC on the morning of November 8. When voting finished in the evening we got our first glimpse of the exit polls, surveys carried out throughout the day to give an idea of who would win, and Donald J. Trump emerged as the victor.
However, the presidential election of the USA is not over yet, technically. On the Monday following the second Wednesday in December, the electors of each state meet to formally cast their votes. The results are then sent to the Senate and read out on Jan 6.
According to law, Barack Obama is president until noon on Jan 20, 2017 – Inauguration Day – when the new president, Donald J. Trump, takes over and moves into the White House.
Implications for Bangladesh and Muslims around the world
Although PM Sheikh Hasina immediately sent special note to President-elect Trump as a nice gesture, there are a few areas of particular concerns of Bangladesh regarding the policies of the future US President. As the largest export destination for RMG products of Bangladesh (outside of the European Union), factories of Bangladesh also produces the signature collection of Donald Trump’s fashion business. Nevertheless, we lost benefits of Generalised System of Preferences (duty-free access) to the US market in 2013 as a result of a number of shattering incidents like Rana Plaza tragedy and Tazreen Fashions factory fire. Trump’s election campaign and vehement criticism on outsourcing of jobs were mostly poised at Mexico and China, yet it is unlikely that anything might change regarding the trade with Bangladesh anytime soon. As a core oppose of the climate change issues, a Trump presidency might add some salt in the wounds of an ailing Bangladesh who are one of the worst victims of climate change.
Furthermore, the core point of the Trump campaign was the promise to deport millions of undocumented immigrants (many of whom are Bangladeshi), and Trump expressed support for extreme vetting of Muslims entering the US; after the election, the immigration issue for Bangladeshi citizens as well as the US-resident Bangladeshis are looming into uncertainty.
As for the global Muslim community, an openly Islamophobic Trump presidency may help to perpetuate the narrative of radical Muslims and makes it hard for mainstream Muslims to prevent extremism and violent radicalization. Hate crimes, religious and racial profiling along with acts of terrorism and subsequent repercussions may rise.
For the Muslim-majority countries, the reaction of their leadership will be pragmatic; especially for those leaders who need to be seen by their citizens as anti-US, Donald Trump is the perfect president for them. The world might see the hurling of openly expressed negative rhetoric between US and a leader of a Muslim-majority country like we saw with Bush presidency. As a proved megalomaniac person, the personal egos of Trump and the national interests of the US might clash at some points. This could trigger pro-Trump media coverage in few Muslim majority countries with authoritarian rule that want to be seen as pro-US. The polarization in the Muslim world fueled by Russia will possibly be intensified.
Unfortunately for Muslim minorities living in the US and other Western countries, presidency of Donald Trump is a lose-lose scenario. The rise of anti-Muslim sentiment propelled by the far right white supremacist groups are getting visible through a number of reported street violence incidents. The election rhetoric of banning illegal immigrants and imposing compulsory registration for the Muslims might come into reality; especially the probable cabinet of President Trump has already accommodated some prominent Islamophobe warmonger persons.
However, things might not be that black or white as it seems from the distance. Trump is a political novice. In the next few months or so, Trump will be educated by countless information sessions and reports prepared and delivered by seasoned officials in the state department. This may bring Trump a huge reality check regarding the gravity and complexity of government. He will quickly discover that it’s not always possible for a president to immediately implement whatever he likes.
Nevertheless, it’s been clear for some time that Donald Trump is partial to vitriolic rhetoric, and Muslims as well as the minorities of the US do have important reasons to worry about President Trump. This journey of the next four years will be uncertain, unpredictable and, most importantly, very interesting.