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US Elections 2016: An Odd Lesson in Democracy

Experiencing frustration and disappointment on how Trump has been normalized despite the danger to democracy

Hillary Clinton Donald Trump

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton during their presidential town hall debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, October 9, 2016. 8 (photo REUTERS/Rick Wilking)

I am a Moroccan journalist advocating the cause of women and human rights globally. I am familiar with European nationalism, but Trumpism is different, and I could not fathom the normalization of Trump’s ideas. By electing Hillary and defeating bigotry, the US will riaffirm its founding values, and prove that there is hope for a positive evolution

As a UN Correspondent, humanist, and global citizen, my reaction to this election has gone through several phases: surprise gave way to deep concern, and in between, I experienced denial, frustration, and disappointment.

I am familiar with European nationalism, but Trumpism feels slightly different. In France for instance, the media keeps a philosophical distance from its nationalist candidate, Marine LePen; I don’t find that distance here. The very fact that Trump is a viable, mainstream candidate is disturbing. While I respect and fully embrace the robust history of political disagreement and free speech in the United States, I could not fathom the normalization of Trump’s ideas.

Legally, you are free to speak as long as you don’t incite violence, specifically, to “incite an immediate breach of the peace”. I am very surprised that there has not been legal action to stop Trump, who from my perspective, clearly has advocated what the Supreme Court has deemed “the use of force” against immigrants, women, LGBTQ, and others. He also freely bragged about sexually assaulting women. More recently, a decision of an Ohio judge to restraining order against Trump, his team and his supporters who were harrassing voters is a step towards that kind of legal intervention, but it feels like too little too late.

The banality and ubiquity of Trumpist ideas have prevailed: his inflammatory rhetoric should be nowhere, but instead, it is everywhere, all the time. Something irreversible has happened. A Pandora’s box of unabashed racism has been opened, and a large part of the American electorate now feels validated to revel in their xenophobia.

I’m reminded of Stefan Zweig, who wrote, in The World of Yesterday, with bitter regret, and longing for the Austrian civilization of the years before the world wars; a world in which Hitler, and mass political violence, were inconceivable. He addressed the decades of social evolution it took for society to develop the tolerant man and to achieve civilization. He described the subsequent security and stability that was ultimately taken for granted. To Zweig, the atrocities of the war and totalitarianism had made an entire generation “more skeptical about a possible moral improvement of mankind”.

Yet, I believe that by electing Hillary Clinton and defeating bigotry, violence, and paranoia, the US will affirm its founding values, and in a deeper sense, prove, contra Zweig and his time, that there is hope for a moral Darwinism, a positive evolution of values: from regressive to progressive.

A beacon of hope came from the nation’s First Lady, Michelle Obama. Her strong speeches addressed the unease felt by many. At her acclaimed New Hampshire campaign speech she said: “This isn’t about politics. It’s about basic human decency. It’s about right and wrong.”

I am an advocate for women empowerment, yet I don’t believe in positive discrimination when it comes to such levels of leadership. I have been covering the United Nations Secretary General election. Several diplomats and NGOs pushed for the election of a woman, which I applaud, yet the best candidate ended up being a man, Antonio Guterres. In the same token, irregardless of her gender, Hillary is the best candidate. According to a New York Times poll, voters choose the President based on their party, not on the gender of their Presidential nominee: women vote for the Democratic party before voting for Hillary.

I am disappointed that Hillary has not captured the inspirational movement led by Barack Obama or Bernie Sanders, but my disappointment has not given way to fear (yet). I still see mechanisms of democracy and change operating in this country, and Hillary has proven herself to be, if nothing else, a highly qualified and intelligent shepherd of those institutions.

Watching this election campaign has been an odd lesson in democracy; a system at its limits, where the values of freedom and tolerance are in peril. Yet the most experienced and lead candidate, Hillary, knows how to protect those same principles. I also place my faith in the minorities who continuously defend their rights, and the ultra connected global youth who experience otherness in a very progressive way.

Salima Yacouby SoussaneSalima Yacoubi Soussane is a New York and United Nations Correspondent participating in advancing the cause of women globally, with a focus on women empowerment and human rights. She covers Maroccan and African related topics as well, specifically economic and developmental issues. She writes in French and English and has collaborated with The Guardian, MTV, A Woman’s Thing, Diptyk Magazine, Telquel and H24info.com. She lives in New York, and tweets @salimay.

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