Jean-Éric Branaa is one of the leading French specialists in American sociopolitical issues. A lecturer at Paris 2-Assas University, media commentator and Fulbright grant recipient, he is the author of numerous works, including Hillary, une présidente des Etats-Unis (2015) and Qui veut la peau du Parti républicain? L’incroyable Donald Trump (2016). His most recent publication is a novel, American Touch, in which a député for French citizens in North America and a rookie journalist observe today’s world while imagining the world of tomorrow, against the backdrop of the American and French primaries.
“Donald Trump kept repeating that America is in a bad way. My view is that this is a country in despair.”
“I had planned to talk to you about the first woman President of the United States. I’m going to have to talk about the blond New Yorker instead.” Like many of the speakers at the 8th Forum de la Haute Horlogerie, held November 9th at IMD in Lausanne, Jean-Eric Branaa had some urgent rewriting to do. Barely an hour before taking the stage, the American media were announcing what few had imagined possible just weeks before: Donald Trump had been elected 45th President of the United States. A lecturer at Paris 2-Assas University and a leading French specialist on American sociopolitical questions, Branaa took it all in his stride. He is, after all, the only author to have written a biography of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
“This isn’t how I usually begin, but I’ll start by telling you how I spent my evening…” Until 1am Swiss time, despite such a close-run race, the American media were showing no signs of alarm. Then at 2am, the first bomb dropped: Virginia, home turf of Hillary Clinton’s running mate Tim Kaine, looked set to swing to the Republicans. “Donald Trump stopped campaigning there a month ago!” marvelled Branaa [the Democrats ultimately won]. Fifteen minutes later, Trump secured victory in North Carolina, stomping ground of the current Vice President Joe Biden. Another quarter of an hour and it was lights out for Clinton in Florida, where it was later revealed that 29% of Hispanics and 8% of African-Americans had voted Trump. As the minutes ticked by, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and New Hampshire, all battleground states, gave their electoral college votes to the future president.
“What exactly happened?” asked Jean-Eric Branaa. American voters didn’t want Hillary Clinton as their president, that much was clear, but there is more to it than that. Donald Trump didn’t only incite voters to repudiate his rival; he also urged them to reject the establishment and the political status quo. None of which can hide the fact – “It pains me to say it, but it’s true” – that many voters adhere to the Republican’s message. His plain speaking and brutish theories devoid of any political strategy hit home. “Donald Trump showed he didn’t have the answer to everything, that he wasn’t a superman.”
The Hispanic and African-American vote is another issue to come out of these elections. “Why did Hispanics vote massively Republican in certain states, after Donald Trump called them drug dealers and rapists? Why did African-Americans vote Trump after he said they were worse off today than at any other time in their history? Maybe they can hope for something better, when the post-racial society Barack Obama promised never saw daylight?”
There are some positive aspects worth noting. Many had predicted rioting had Donald Trump lost. “Now that he’s won, Hillary Clinton’s supporters are downcast but haven’t taken to the streets in protest, which might have been the case if Trump had been forced to concede victory,” commented Jean-Eric Branaa. While Republican supporters may hate Hillary Clinton, the reverse is not true. This prompted the French expert to speculate that among the 1,200 people the new president will appoint to his administration between now and January 20th, there will of course be Republicans, but also people from civil society and perhaps even Democrats. As Trump told Americans time and again, “I’m not a politician!” So is this a “happy ending” for all?
Jean-Eric Branaa believes Americans can come together, even after such a virulent campaign. “Trump always said America was in a bad way. He’s right, and we didn’t listen to him enough.” Despite the 230,000 jobs created each month, despite the ever-growing number of billionaires, the middle class feel left out while the social gulf continues to widen. “It’s the American dream that anyone can become rich. That a small businessman can make a fortune out of two dollars. This is what Trump is promising; that he will make America great again.” Evidently, voters believe he can.
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