An Assessment of the US Elections and Trump's Victory

by Nastassja Biles, Mihail Iotov and Cristian Tracci

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Left to right: President Pavoncello, Dr. Andrew Spannaus, Professor Harris and Helen Viola

On Wednesday, November 30, the Guarini Institute for Public Affairs and the International Relations Society presented the panel discussion “An Assessment of the US Elections”. Moderated by JCU Professor Michael Driessen, the panel featured Dr. Andrew Spannaus, a renowned journalist and author of the book Perché vince Trump (“Why Trump Wins, Mimesis), JCU President Franco Pavoncello, Professor Pamela Harris, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at JCU and Helen Viola, a journalist for RAI.

Dr. Spannaus opened the discussion with his analysis of the reasons for Trump’s victory: the state of the economy, which has suffered for decades with Obama doing little to address it; foreign policy, meaning that the American public is tired of constant war; and Hillary Clinton, who was the wrong candidate, mistrusted by many, too close to the establishment, and damaged by the FBI investigation.

Professor Harris agreed that Trump’s rejection of the establishment helped him win. She then expressed her fear regarding Trump’s claims about women, immigrants and so on. However, she stressed the strength of US institutions and the hope that Congress can keep Trump in check.

President Pavoncello spoke next, talking about the low turnout of the elections. According to Dr. Pavoncello, the electorate was not very convinced by the arguments of either candidate. Hillary Clinton failed to capture a majority of women voters. Trump, on the other hand, received more Hispanic votes than Romney did in 2012, despite his controversial and potentially harmful policies for the Hispanic population. Overall, the so-called white vote for Trump did not materialize, and there was a lower turnout for black and Latino voters, contrary to predictions. Issues related to immigration, including the threat of terrorism as well as the fear of the loss of identity also played a role in the Trump victory.

Hillary Clinton, Pavoncello continued, lost the election because of key losses in Pennsylvania and Michigan. Moreover, there was the unprecedented intrusion of the FBI in the elections which demonstrated an increased institutional willingness to interfere.

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Left to right: President Pavoncello, Dr. Andrew Spannaus, Professor Harris and Helen Viola

Helen Viola examined Trump’s love-hate relationship with the media. In her opinion, he used bad publicity to his advantage, which gave him a huge amount of free coverage. She described the relationship as that between an addict and heroin, with the media and Trump being either the addict or the heroin, depending on the observer. As a result, Trump spent almost nothing on advertising compared to other candidates.

Dr. Spannaus pointed out that some of Trump’s advisers have very clear strategies, such as Steve Bannon who argues that Wall Street has overcome any moral constraint and that capitalism should therefore be reformed. However, Trump is having a hard time finding people who agree with him. On social security, for example, he is at odds with his own party because he is not a conservative. Not being a politician, however, Trump does not owe anyone and might be able to impose his will more easily. The key areas of Trump’s presidency, Spannaus continued, are certainly immigration, identity, and the way identity politics works.

Agreeing with Spannaus, Professor Harris emphasized how inequality becomes a concern when phenomena like immigration threaten to destabilize the status quo. She then expressed her surprise at the fact that even though many do not identify with feminism, Trump’s disrespectful statements and comments about women did not seem to cost him many votes.

President Pavoncello countered that Trump will change his attitude towards women once he becomes president. He basically took advantage of a sense of discontent that some were externalizing. Moreover, Pavoncello continued, it is interesting that the working class has shifted from the Democratic to the Republican Party. We are not in trouble because of Trump, Pavoncello said. On the contrary, he became President because we are in trouble.

In conclusion, Dr. Spannaus said that the Western world has been in trouble since the 1960s due to deregulation policies, the increasing role of finance, and the lack of industrial policies. Trump, he continued, is not the cause of these issues, but rather the symptom.