The northeastern state of Massachusetts is getting colder and yet in many ways the temperature is rising. The source of the heat: a country coming to terms with the outcomes of a divisive election.
This is home, yet I am an outsider. I am a black South African in a mostly white American state. I am a centre-right conservative based in a starkly liberal part of the US.
Not too long ago, an angry electorate plugged their ears to reason, ignored the fact that their chosen candidate lacked experience, integrity and the backing of the so-called experts, and voted that candidate into power in an anti-establishment frenzy.
Am I describing the December 2007 Polokwane ejection of president Thabo Mbeki, or November 2016’s Trump vs Clinton race ?
Replace the notion of a human candidate being elected and I could even be describing Brexit.
In the US, all the famous pundits and polls got it wrong. Many were spelling the beginning of the end of the Republican Party because of the bull in the china shop that is Donald Trump. Just like the audience of a Harry Houdini performance, we were left gasping upon the victory of Trump and the Republicans in the US senate and house of representatives.
Victory snatched from the jaws of defeat!
To understand this, we need to go back to Massachusetts. Despite autumn setting in, I observed a rare natural phenomenon: the blossoming of Trump flowers.
These blooms flourished only on election day, having been dormant for the primary and election campaign season. These flowers (Trump signs pegged in lawns and pinned on trees) were revealed late by people who were embarrassed to be seen as Trump supportersbefore that inauspicious day. But why the shame?
Many of these supporters had been shamed into oblivion. US liberal media and talking heads were the experts — until election day.
Having an opinion that does not fall into their view of what is acceptable could see you labelled a racist , misogynist, xenophobe or homophobe. Sometimes these labels are as important as calling a rabid creature "rabid", b ut other times they are just weapons of shame.
Trump hired a fiendishly clever campaign strategist who correctly noticed that the disaffected were ignored and even ridiculed by mainstream liberals and conservatives alike. T hey built a coalition of the "forgotten":
• Alleged xenophobes and racists;
• Alleged m isogynists;
• Alleged i solationists;
• Disillusioned Americans who are none of the above but have seen their employment and earning levels stagnate or retreat; and
• Evangelical and other Christians, who are none of the above but have seen their arguments against abortion and other liberal ideals push them out of reasonable discussion for having a dissenting opinion.
Most media outlets and pollsters focused on the sensational first three categories and ignored the latter two. It’s easier to create the myth that Trump was "propelled to his presidency by the noncollege-educated white male" (fact: 53% of white women voted for Trump) than to listen, in a nonjudgmental way, to people who are different to you and who may have arguments that make your skin crawl.
Moral of the story: true democracy will often surprise complacent elites. The majority of the free press was asleep on the job; it needs to be open to diverse opinions in newsrooms or its opinions will be less trusted and therefore less relevant.
There is real anger out there and shaming will fuel the fire rather than douse it.
For the crowd; just like "Polokwane", the catharsis from anger is temporary, as one then has to live with the consequences of one’s choices made under its intoxication.
America is not all of a sudden more racist than it was in 2008 and 2012 when it elected Barack Obama as its first African-American president.
The prominence of ideologies such as liberalism, conservatism, populism and nationalism appear to wax and wane like the tide, even in a mature democracy.
SA elites would do well to listen to the voiceless, before the inaudible becomes an irresistible din.
• Musikavanhu is the CEO of One Stone Global. He is based in Boston in the US