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U of T experts on U.S. election: “The United States is a deeply fragmented nation”

Republican president-elect Donald Trump gives a thumbs up to the crowd during his acceptance speech at the New York Hilton Midtown in the early morning of November 9, 2016 in New York City. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Republican president-elect Donald Trump gives a thumbs up to the crowd during his acceptance speech at the New York Hilton Midtown in the early morning of November 9, 2016 in New York City. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Real estate developer and reality TV star Donald Trump has been elected as the next president of the United States, following a divisive 16-month campaign.

U of T News will be updating this article throughout the day with insights from experts from across a variety of disciplines.

We begin with history and international relations professor Robert Bothwell of the Faculty of Arts & Science. He spoke with U of T News reporter Terry Lavender about the effect of the election on Canada-US relations.

What can we expect after Trump’s victory?

It’s going to propel someone with absolutely no government experience into the leadership of the most powerful and richest nation on Earth. And the people who surround him are not exactly people who give me confidence. I think the Americans are in for a rough four years. Not just because of that, but because of Trump’s policies and his statements are so divisive. So that’s not going to make for a very happy country to the south of us.

Has Trump paid much attention to Canada in the past?

He has obviously some acquaintance with Canada because of the Trump Tower here in Toronto, and his grandfather was a brothel keeper in the Yukon. He doesn’t lump us in with the Mexicans and he may not understand that NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement] includes Canada as well as Mexico. That said, fiddling with NAFTA will affect us, and if NAFTA is actually scrapped, which I kind of doubt, then that will impact on us, because our exports will be affected just as much as the Mexicans.

Where we will also be affected is NATO. Trump may very well move closer to his friend Vladimir Putin. That will have a very big effect on us. More generally, Trump is not exactly the kind of leader who will inspire respect around the world and there isn’t very much that can be done about that. He is what he is. And people have watched pretty closely. It will really be the first time in my lifetime that the United States has been led by a clown.

What advice would you give Prime Minister Justin Trudeau?

The best advice would be to lie low. Don’t attract his attention. If you do, there’s no telling what will happen. You can’t predict what he’ll do or what he’ll say. I think Canada’s best strategy is to say very little, and do less. The initiative will come from Trump.

U of T News reporter Noreen Ahmed-Ullah spoke with Professor Sylvia Bashevkin, an expert in political science at the Faculty of Arts & Science, a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the author of Women, Power, Politics: The Hidden Story of Canada’s Unfinished Democracy and other books. Here’s what Bashevkin had to say this morning about the defeat of Hillary Clinton:

“Back in 2009, I published a book whose main thesis was that ‘women plus power equals discomfort.’ It shows how the leadership styles, personal appearances and private lives of women in politics are often seen as deficient, including by female voters and journalists – no matter the shortcomings of the men they run against.”

“Unfortunately, the argument resonates very clearly with the results of the 2016 US presidential election. There seemed to be no limit to the criticisms leveled against Hillary Rodham Clinton and a great deal of willingness to give Donald Trump the benefit of the doubt.”

“The consequences of Clinton’s loss for the prospects of a woman candidate for US president in the near future are far from encouraging. After a man loses an election, hardly anyone says ‘it’s the last time we nominate a guy for that job.’ But for a woman, the discomfort equation means she is held up as Exhibit A for why men hold the levers of power.”

Professor Ronald Pruessen of the Faculty of Arts & Science and  the Centre for the Study of the United States at the Munk School of Global Affairs spoke with writer Daviel Lazure Vieira.

The Republican president-elect is someone you’ve described as a unique candidate

Not since the 1940s did we have such an outsider enter the political arena. It says something about the nature of politics today that a high profile figure of the world of entertainment and reality TV like Trump could clinch the Republican nomination. Even Reagan, who was an actor, had political experience – not least as governor of California. Trump had nothing like that. He was facing the first woman nominated as candidate of a major political party. It’s a feature that has attracted remarkably little attention, but it’s still worth noting.

How did we get here?

You have a society under great stress. We are dealing with major political and economic difficulties which carry all sorts of emotional and social consequences – gun violence, racial tensions, divisive attitudes towards immigrants. You’d have to go back to 1968 to find the same kind of intensity in American politics. The problems to which America is confronted are endemic issues that go beyond its own borders. It’s worse than it’s ever been. There was a time when things seemed to be better due to the increasing size of the middle class. But now, partly due to global movements, deregulation in the financial sector, the U.S. tax system and so on, you see rising social, economic and political inequalities that fuel intransigence. I don’t find it difficult to imagine that there will be a crisis moment when these tensions will become explosive.

What might be the immediate outcome of a Trump presidency? 

We may expect something really quite ugly following Trump’s win. In fact, the ugly has already happened: you have such a large number of key figures within the Republican Party who have held their noses while endorsing Trump. It might get worse and you can expect others to follow suit. We had signals of this shift before, like the emergence of the Tea Party. But even if it’s not totally new, there was something distinctly more intense going on this time around.

The ground has constantly shifted within the U.S. political system, with new leadership coming along to replace the old one. Like in any democracy, American parties experience huge moments of turmoil and passion, followed by respite. American voters have short memories; they are notoriously fickle in terms of their loyalties.

Ironically, this election could see either very dramatic changes in the U.S. or almost no changes at all – as citizens heave a sigh of relief and get back to their normal lives (as much as that’s possible given the problems the country is facing).

We’ve seen polarized and polarizing arguments during this campaign – does that end now?

There are a few things that I found particularly concerning during this campaign. With 24/7 news channels, competing media conglomerates, and the Internet, there’s an amazing capacity for manipulation and misinformation. The amount of blatantly false or distorted information that has circulated online in the past few months is astonishing, especially when you have demagogues who are anxious to exploit this environment. Trump is a stunning example of this, but virtually every other Republican rival was very similar in terms of their readiness to manipulate information – he just did it better, which is a pretty dubious prize.

How can a victorious Trump regain the confidence of a very large number of Americans who don’t share the same views?

I don’t think it’s going to happen. These profound divisions are built into American society; they have existed for decades. Whether it’s Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Bush, or Obama, no one has figured out how to make them disappear. The United States is a deeply fragmented nation; it’s the result of the incredible regional diversity you find from coast-to-coast, which produces a lot of cultural and economic differences. We’ve seen, however, an increasingly dysfunctional political system in recent years, with one party controlling the White House, the other Congress. It’s becoming more and more difficult for the government, and particularly for the executive branch, to deal effectively with the issues confronting America. We see the rise of extreme partisan views and a rejection of bipartisan solutions, especially among obstructionist Republicans, which makes it hard to address these challenges. The nature of the problems is such that it’s likely to be more of the same.