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Promise of change, but in the wrong direction

Dec 07,2016 - Last updated at Dec 07,2016

Three relatively recent US presidents have campaigned and won the top job promising “change” and reform.

The first two were men of vision, politicians experienced in the ways of Washington; the third is a rank outsider who promises to “drain the swamp” created by corruption, lobbyists and dealmakers who dominate the capital and US domestic and foreign policy.

Democrat John F. Kennedy was elected US president on November 8, 1960, defeating outgoing vice president Richard Nixon, a Republican, by 112,827 votes at the popular level and 303 to 219 in the Electoral College. 

Kennedy, a senator from Massachusetts, was the first Roman Catholic to win the presidency. He campaigned on a platform of change and in the run-up to polling day made plans for one of his most enduring achievements, the Peace Corps, by canvassing students at elite universities.

He promised progress on civil rights for African-Americans, a “New Frontier” policy for domestic development and advancement in the US space programme. 

Kennedy was young, 43 years old, the youngest to be elected president, handsome and blessed with a beautiful wife and two photogenic children. 

His time in office was, however, cut short by his assassination in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963. His tragic death disrupted a promising presidency.

His approval rating of 70 per cent is the highest ever achieved by a US president. He was as well loved abroad as at home.

Democrat Barack Obama was the first African-American to be elected to the presidency.

Like Kennedy he was young, 47, a state senator and dedicated to change. He promised to secure economic recovery after the Great Recession of 2008, withdraw US forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, provide healthcare for poorer citizens and promote arms control.

Obama secured serious campaign funding by asking for small donations from ordinary citizens who responded massively.

On November 8, 2008, Obama defeated Republican John McCain, garnering 365 Electoral College votes to McCain’s 173. Obama won 9.5 million votes more than McCain and 69.5 million overall, the highest number ever won by a presidential candidate.

Like Kennedy, Obama had an attractive wife and two vote-getting children.

Obama won a second term in office on November 6, 2012, defeating former Massachusetts governor, Republican Mitt Romney, by winning both the popular vote and the Electoral College vote, 332 to 206. 

However, Obama’s share of the popular vote fell to 65.9 million in comparison to Romney’s 60.9 million.

Obama’s drawing power fell significantly because he could not deliver on most of his campaign promises due to Republican opposition in Congress, opposition not only to Obama’s modest policies but to the man himself. 

During both Obama’s terms in office, hardline Republicans questioned his personal legitimacy, claiming he was not born in the US although he presented his birth certificate issued in the state of Hawaii.

Among the claque of “birthers”, as this group was called, was Donald Trump, the outsider who won the election of November 8, 2016, in a flurry of promises of change.

Unlike either Kennedy or Obama, Trump 70, was not attractive or, three times married, a family man.

Trump could be called a “revisionist”, a man who seeks to revise the progressive policies of presidents who have gone before, or a retrograde, a man who seeks to go back in time, cancel what he and his constituents do not like.

His campaign slogan was “Make America Great Again”, a fantasy, because the country cannot regain an imagined past by negating progress made over the past 66 years.

In the November 8, 2016, election, Republican Trump took a projected 306 Electoral College votes in comparison to 232 for his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, the first woman to enter the presidential race as a candidate for one of the two major parties.

However, Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2 million ballots. Indeed, she won almost as many votes as Obama in the 2012 race. 

Although Clinton conceded defeat shortly after the projected Electoral College tallies were made, she, the Democratic Party and Green Party candidate Jill Stein are challenging the count in three states: Wisconsin, where Trump won by only 22,177 votes, Michigan, where he won by 10,704 votes, and Pennsylvania, where his majority was 70,638.

If a recount gives all three states to Clinton — an unlikely prospect — she could win the election.

During the campaign, Trump appealed not to the best instincts of US voters — as did Kennedy and Obama — but to the basest and most hateful attitudes of certain sectors of the populace.

He appealed to racists by promising to build a wall along the US border with Mexico to keep out Hispanic migrants, and to make Mexico pay for it.

He said he would promptly deport 2 million Hispanics out of the 11 million “illegals” now living in the US.

Trump said he would temporarily ban the entry of Muslims to the US.

He pledged to bring exported manufacturing jobs back to the US by imposing tariffs on goods made in Mexico and China. 

He said he would repeal Obama’s healthcare legislation that benefited the poor and renegotiate the agreement for the dismantling of Tehran’s nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of sanctions on Iran.

He committed himself to cut taxes on industry, the rich and ordinary folk (with the main beneficiaries being industry and the rich).

He also said he would withdraw the US from climate change agreements.

All these pledges are unrealistic and any effort to implement them, particularly on climate change, could be disastrous.

Analysts argue that voters did not cast their ballots for Trump because of his empty promises, flagrant lies and rhetorical flourishes, but simply because he, like Kennedy and Obama, could be an agent for “change” although retrograde change, change in the wrong direction, meant to recapture a mythical “Great America” that never existed, a US where constructive change was given impetus by Kennedy and Obama.

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