I want to avoid all possible misunderstandings so I'll go straight to the point: I believe Donald Trump's victory was the effect of an irreversible decline of representative democracy as a viable system of government.
What leads me to this conclusion is not my antipathy towards the campaign that led him to victory, nor my fears of what a Trump presidency will look like. Trump doesn't symbolize a crisis of representative democracy because he's a "sinister" or worrying choice for the top job, but rather because of the kind of candidate he was. True, he ran as a Republican, and with the (partial) support of the party, but he was in fact a candidate who broke the mold.
Most of his policy plans look like they're straight out of the bartender's joke book, and say what the everyman might think under the "right" circumstances. Say the neighbor upstairs starts playing loud mariachi music. The average Joe goes: "These damn Mexicans, why don't they stay in their own country?" And Trump responds: "Let's build a wall!"
Everybody laughs and approves, and it becomes part of his policy plan. This is not to even mention how he speaks about women. Trump can be aggressive and vulgar, but he's not a man of conviction. And even if he ends up doing only a fraction of what he has promised, I'd rather have somebody else as president than a specialist in off-color jokes, if only to avoid the risk that he might do whatever gets a reaction from people sitting at the bar.
But let me come back to my question: How did Trump win the support of half the American citizenry?
A Trump piñata — Photo: David Bro/ZUMA
The answer starts with the fact that the presidency wasn't the only election on the ballot on Nov. 8. In several states, people were also asked to vote on various proposed pieces of legislation. In some cases, the choice for the presidency seems to correspond to these referendum results. In the mostly Democratic states of California, Nevada and Massachusetts, Clinton won, while a majority of voters approved the legalization of recreational marijuana — an expected outcome from Democratic voters. In other words, if the decision had been left to the states, the Democratic elected representatives would, presumably, also have approved the legalization of marijuana.
Out of the box
But the same California rejected another initiative, that to repeal the death penalty. This implies that at least part of those who chose to vote for Hillary Clinton and for the legalization of recreational marijuana also voted to maintain the death penalty. Here, if it had been up to the state legislators, the result would have been different: They probably would have banned the death penalty.
In short, the referendum results reveal that the will of the voters wouldn't be respected adequately if they simply elected representatives from one party or another.
Similarly, in Brazil, you could be in favor of the death penalty and opposed to gun control, and be happy with the few representatives who are advocates of self-defense. Unless you're also for the legalization of marijuana, the decriminalization of abortion and for gay marriage, in which case you won't find your match anywhere.
People can be conservative on the economy without being conservative regarding social issues. And vice versa.
What these U.S. referendums and election results show is that voters are no longer eager to identify with a single set of ideas from a candidate, least of all from a party, Democratic or Republican.
Perhaps it's now time for our democracies to evolve towards a system in which voters would be permanently consulted on concrete issues, without asking them to choose representatives, whose monolithicity and coherence will always appear imperfect to an electorate that can be complex and impossible to categorize.
Since the 1960s, our individuality has grown to take on greater importance than the values parties and organized groups can ever manage to embody. This trend has quietly continued over time, but it took Trump's candidacy to expose it to the world.
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