Experts point to out-of-touch elite, angry working class as reasons for shock US election result

Mr Trump's election rhetoric may not translate to governance when he is placed in a team, says Ambassador-at-Large for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Tommy Koh. 

Mr Donald Trump's shock victory over Mrs Hillary Clinton is an indictment of how out of touch the American elite is with the rest of the country, seasoned election watchers here said yesterday.

His path to the White House was also paved with the widespread discontent of working-class America, which felt it had reaped none of the benefits of globalisation but all of its consequences, they added.

"It shows you how out of touch America's elite is, and Hillary, unfortunately, represents the elites of America," said Professor Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

"The 1 per cent she works with has benefited so much from globalisation, but they don't understand how that same globalisation has made life difficult for a lot of people in the working class, who haven't seen their lives improve, and there's been no empathy for them."

Agreeing, former ambassador to the United States Chan Heng Chee said Mr Trump managed to tap into this deep-seated feeling among many in the white working class, to an extent underestimated by many election watchers.

"The message for me from this election is that there is a whole group of people who are left behind, who want radical, major change in America," said Professor Chan, who chairs the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities.

"One commentator said this is a 'whitelash' in America. Put another way, it's to make America white again... and this message drove him to victory."

The big upset - most polls had until the final day predicted a Clinton win - means that there will be much introspection by the Democratic Party in the days and months to come.

But an immediate lesson that the world can take from this election is the need for inclusive politics, said Prof Chan. Added Prof Mahbubani: "The big lesson is: Don't take the people for granted, listen carefully to what they are saying.

"The elites in America assumed that they knew more than the people of America what was better for them, and we shouldn't make the same mistake."

With Mr Trump becoming president-elect, the question is now about which of his campaign promises will become reality.

He will likely set his sights on abolishing Obamacare and relooking security arrangements, Prof Chan said, adding that the odds of passing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact are virtually zero.

"The TPP is dead, and he won't revive it," she said.

"He was against it, and Hillary Clinton was against it; America is not very trade-friendly at this point."

LEFT-BEHIND GROUP

The message for me from this election is that there is a whole group of people who are left behind, who want radical, major change in America.

PROF CHAN HENG CHEE, former Ambassador to the United States


RHETORIC MAY NOT BECOME POLICY

Having lived more than 20 years in America, the lesson I've learnt is that campaign rhetoric is campaign rhetoric; it doesn't necessarily translate into policy.

PROF TOMMY KOH, Ambassador-at-Large

But Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh said he holds out hope that, like Mr Ronald Reagan before him, Mr Trump will be able to govern from the centre and "surround himself with experienced and competent people", even though he ran a very right-leaning campaign.

"Having lived more than 20 years in America, the lesson I've learnt is that campaign rhetoric is campaign rhetoric; it doesn't necessarily translate into policy," said Prof Koh, who is rector of Tembusu College at the National University of Singapore.

"Once you are put in the seat of government, it makes you sober, it makes you much more thoughtful, rational and careful.

"I'm hoping that President Trump will be a very different person than candidate Trump."

Added Prof Mahbubani: "You can make very loud campaign promises, and then you ignore them. It's an honourable American tradition."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 10, 2016, with the headline 'Experts point to out-of-touch elite, angry working class as reasons for shock result'. Print Edition | Subscribe