By now, every astute Singaporean should be aware that the attendance at our opposition rallies and the angry voices on social media are no indication of the electoral votes on polling day. Nevertheless, most of us had no idea that the same applies to election polls in America. Early this morning, while having breakfast at Harbourfront, I had a hunch that things were not going well for Hillary Clinton when early results started coming in on my mobile app.
Sure of a Clinton victory, I dismissed that as just a scary start. I was quite certain that with all his blunders, scandals and obnoxious turpitude, there was no way any reasonable American would vote for him. But as the results started to trickle in, Trump’s momentum seemed unstoppable. There was a point when Clinton almost caught up with him, but Trump took Florida and widened the lead.
Many voters interviewed on camera aired their surprise and concerns. America needed to change, but not with Donald Trump at the helm. That’s like going to plastic surgeon with no credentials. You’re unlikely to be happy with the changes he makes to your face. Like millions of Americans and foreign observers, I was shocked when the map turned red all over and it became clearer and clearer that this buffoon was going to win.
I was nearly speechless with disgust and disbelief towards the late afternoon here in Singapore when Hillary Clinton conceded. Make no mistake, I’m not a fan of Hillary Clinton, but I would much rather have her as president than someone with as little skill, knowledge, decency and integrity as Donald Trump. On my way home from work, I started to brood and reflect. Claims from Trumpkins who “predicted” his victory all along started trickling in.
From Kirk Wagar, US ambassador to Singapore and a Democrat to boot:
America, we have learned a lot and we will be just fine. Our republic is designed for gradual change, not the rapid lurching that can sometimes occur in parliamentary systems. We have been divided before and we come together every single time and we have been better for it.
We talk to people who agree with us, we watch news that skew a way we are comfortable with, we follow Twitter feeds that validate our beliefs and we block people on Facebook that challenge our views. This has to stop.
There are a couple of cliches that I use more than I should, but they seem fitting. One is “if you have a yes man that works for you, one of you is irrelevant.” and the other is “if you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.” We need to get to know all of America, not just the parts that are easy for us understand.
What happened to the Democrats today was incredibly similar to what happened to the Republicans in 2012. The Romney campaign was sure that based on what they were looking at and the people they were talking to, it was over. The shock they felt was real and they felt that they lived in an alternative universe, as many of my friends and family do today.
I was a baby lawyer for Gore in the 2000 recount. I endured a disastrous election night in 2002 where 10 Senators or candidates I had worked for, not just lost, but get crushed. When I got on the plane on election day 2004 after reading the exit polls, which had not been discredited yet, I was euphoric only to have the most brutal election night of my life. And you know what? We survived.
Here are my requests.
Number 1, do not assume ill motives of those you disagree with.
Number 2, reach out to folks who believe that this is the best direction for American and learn what you don’t know and
Number 3, keep pushing, in an open, respectful manner for the inclusive America you believe in.
I firmly believe that what all Americans want is a fairer and more just society. Find the common ground to move us forward. You may be surprised to find we have much much more in common than not. Let’s get to know all of America together to continue to make us our best selves.
Respect. Empower. Include. is not just a GOTV slogan.
It is a way of life and we ain’t done yet.
So to people on both sides of tonight’s election, let’s keep perfecting our Union.
Is that what Americans are like? Let’s go back a bit. When Mr George Yeo announced the arrival of the information superhighway in Singapore back in the early 1990s, I was one of the early adopters. I got an account with Pacific Internet which included a dialup modem with some telephone wires and a disk to install the Netscape browser. I started surfing and instantly got hooked. Within days, I made many “penpals” all over the world. I discovered a new, exciting world out there. For the first time, I had access to information with the click of a mouse. Without the need to make overseas calls, I was able to get valuable updates from people on the ground. But most of all, the internet was interactive. I was particularly interested in discussion forums and usenet and it didn’t surprise me that majority of users were Americans. It provided me with an opportunity to learn more about America outside TV sitcoms and Hollywood movies.
When I interacted with netizens from America, I discovered that regardless of whether they’re residing in Thailand, Singapore or America, they seemed to adopt the same core values and culture. Every American I got to know online was against censorship. Every one of them was against almost any form of government control vis-a-vis guns and drugs. Every one of them upheld Democracy and freedom of speech. Every one of them would pounce on any hint of “racism” or “sexism”. Their sensitivity towards politically incorrect statements was staggering. When you suggest that certain groups of underperforming individuals are left behind on the road to progress because of certain cultural attributes, you are called a racist. When a Singaporean friend made a remark that “even the girls could do it”, an anal-retentive American (male) accused him of “sexism” and showed his disgust in no uncertain terms. I was thinking … what a proud and principled people.
Then, there was this time when China decided to open up a few spots in Tibet to foreign tourists. I asked if anyone would be interested in joining me on a trip there. Almost instantly, I had a bunch of “freedom fighters” and Tiananmen enthusiasts pounce on me as if I had insulted their god. I tried to correct their one-sided views of China. The daily grind in China doesn’t even come close to what Richard Gere told us in Red Corner. They thought I was the ignorant one. They insisted that they would fight to their death, my right to say what I please, but in practice, they were really trying to stop me from educating them. To them, the Chinese government is evil and the people they throw in jail or send before a firing squad are all angels with a noble political cause.
While I believed that these folks took freedom, Democracy, racism and sexism very seriously, I was struck by how ignorant and simplistic their views and concepts were. Well into the 21st century, some Americans I encountered online thought that China was still a backward country ruled by Red Guards. If only they knew that even back then, many Chinese people had been leading far more happening lives than theirs. The Americans I knew struck me as righteous and principled people, more than a little comfortable with their ignorance.
More evidence of this ignorance and “simplicity” was demonstrated in the War on Terror and the so-called Axis of Evil. Many who have watched Rambo fight alongside the Mujaheedeen against the Soviets on the big screen (was that Rambo 3?) failed to see that part of the problem arose from their participation in these “righteous” causes. Can one root out terrorists and terrorism by attacking Iraq and Afghanistan, causing the loss of thousands of innocent lives? Or will it only make matters worse?
When Donald Trump let loose his anti-Muslim rhetoric, a friend of mine remarked that Trump was the blunt and courageous guy saying things that many Americans dare not say for fear of sounding racist or politically incorrect. Did the same apply to Trump’s view of the minorities? Did it also apply to his locker room banter and other “fantasies” vis-a-vis the female form? What about making arguments with fabricated numbers and data? What about not paying taxes and boasting about it? What about promising things without a concrete plan or timeline? To an observer like me, ordinary Americans would want to put Donald Trump on a turntable and pelt him with rotten eggs and tomatoes. Voting for him to hold the highest office in the land would be unimaginable.
With the American “core values” in mind, Donald Trump probably epitomised everything that the average decent American would speak out against. But then, from interviews with folks at Trump’s rallies, the more honest Trumpkins said that they like him because he talks like them. Something should have struck me and prepared me for a Trump victory. The real average American, while trying to project his core values, is really just another prejudiced, impulsive and myopic simpleton who doesn’t let the facts get in the way of his opinions. Hillary is too intellectual, too well-prepared and too articulate and eloquent; so much so that she’s able to play with words and talk herself out of trouble. Trumpkins who turn up at his rallies and the closet Trumpkins who turn up at Clinton’s rallies can see how wholesome her image is, but they also think that Trump is more likeable because he is simply being himself. Like some of his Chinese supporters say, Trump is a 真小人. He presents himself as a buffoon and that’s the real Trump. Many working and even some middle class Americans are just like him in real life. Clinton, on the other hand, is a 伪君子 or a crook pretending to be a lady (and his hence more dangerous). I tend to see Trump as Dong Zhuo and Clinton as a female version of Liu Bei. Of course Liu was a hypocrite, but given a choice, I would definitely choose Liu Bei over Dong Zhuo.
Voting is secret. The closet Trumpkins (who might turn up at Clinton’s rallies to enjoy a few digs at Trump) know that. You don’t have to make a public and official statement explaining why you choose a buffoon to be your president. Nobody needs to know how you really feel or think. This makes me wonder. Were Americans really that disgusted with Donald Trump’s boasting about having his way with women? Were those who denied that it’s locker room banter hiding the truth somewhere? Would they not like to behave like Donald Trump if they were as rich and influential? Well, what you see or hear may not be what you get. America’s strongly held core values are declared by the majority and espoused by only a small minority.
Reasoning it out this way takes some bitterness out of this unpleasant outcome, but I just hate it when the bad guys win. Some say it’s the Brexit effect – when working class folks feel that their voices are not being heard and their interests not looked after, they “vote for change”. But this is different. The UK’s new PM does not promote war against “radical Islam”. She does not insult minorities, toy around with women and she certainly won’t be building any walls any time soon. We’re talking about Donald Trump as commander-in-chief of the world’s most powerful armed forces here. He holds the codes to unlock America’s nuclear arsenal! Are you sure you’ll like the change? I seriously doubt it, but the biggest winner has to be …
© Chan Joon Yee