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The Deception of the 2016 U.S. Elections

When I was asked to write an article on the 2016 presidential election for the December edition of The Angler, I was pleased. As a North-American Master student who likes to read, write and teach, this is a very nice opportunity. When I was informed that the theme of the issue would be ‘Deception Dissected’, I was even more content. The concept of deception perfectly fits with the unexpected road to and outcome of the election, and I was looking forward to writing about it. Hoping that this issue of The Angler will be just as successful as the previous ones, I thank the entire team for publishing my article.

The World in Shock
“Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception”. This quote, often attributed to the late fifteenth century Italian diplomat and historian Niccolò Machiavelli, has recently taken on a whole new meaning. In the build-up to the U.S. presidential election, deception was the veil that covered not only the two presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, but the entire world. When in the night of November 8th, 2016, Trump came out as the winner of the election and was chosen as the next president of the United States, the entire world was in shock. The entire world, minus roughly half the population of America. In a world that is so divided, the outcome of the election had made everyone united. Many shared the same thought: this cannot be happening. Fear and questions about the future arose, uncertainty about what would happen next occupied people’s minds, but the main feeling that controlled the public was the feeling of deception. America had deceived everyone. The nation that always so strongly believes in the power of democracy, that stands for equality and for freedom, had just elected a president that is perceived to contradict many of its core values.Accusations such as racist, sexist and bigot are circulating, because of Trump’s extremely harsh and degrading utterances about women, Mexicans and many other specific individuals. Yet, many of the voting people in America evidently did not think of this as a problem and still decided he was worth the vote.

“Factcheckers, get to work” was what Clinton was heard saying a couple of times during the presidential debates. And they did. In the Second Presidential Debate, Trump argued that growth in the U.S. is “down to 1 percent” and that taxes in the U.S. are the “highest in the world” (NYT, Sep. 28, 2016). Fact checkers of the New York Times were quick to refute this claim, as the growth rate of the GDP has been, however disappointing, “more in the ballpark of 2 percent a year”, while most tax rates are in fact lower than in many other advanced countries. In that same debate, Trump argued that the U.S. had signed a “peace treaty” to end the civil war in Syria, while in fact only a temporary cease-fire had been considered, but not even signed. He also highly exaggerated the number over Syrians entering the country, claiming that number to be “hundreds of thousands”, while in fact, according to the fact checkers, “the Obama administration brought about 13,000 Syrian refugees into the country”. However, let us be honest: these fact checkers that Clinton has often called on, have also revealed that she has not always refrained from giving the truth a little twist. Independent experts have deemed Clinton’s assumption that her fiscal plan would not “add a penny to the debt”, a little too optimistic. She also claimed that Trump had “used undocumented workers to build the Trump Tower”. While it is true that he has used undocumented Polish workers to demolish the buildings that would make place for the Trump Tower, he did not use them to build the Tower itself. Still, Clinton does not appear on the NYT fact checkers website as often as Trump does – at least, not with a red WRONG sign next to a picture of her face.

The Polls
Let us go back to the weeks and months before that decisive night of November 8th. The different election polls always pointed to a likely victory for Clinton, even though they are not a hundred per cent accurate. Citizens who would vote or voted for Trump could say they voted for Clinton out of fear of being shamed. This is not surprising with all the commotion around him and his intemperate verdicts. People could get uncomfortable and may have decided to hide their preference for a variety of reasons. Also, even if people speak up about who they will vote for, it does not naturally result in actual voting. In addition, the different population groups may not all be equally represented in these polls, which might give a distorted image of reality. The polls did give some valuable insights, but they have been deceiving as well. The world anticipated Clinton to be the winner of the election, because the outcome of the polls gave people a reason to believe so. On the day of the presidential election, the New York Times website kept the people up to date with a live presidential forecast in the form of an odometer that would indicate the chance of Clinton and Trump winning the presidency (NYT, Nov 9, 2016). Every minute the arrow could swift back or forth, depending on the incoming results of the different (swing) states. And so it did! Before the first results came in, Clinton had an 82 per cent chance of winning. This stayed more or less the same for a few hours. However, then, Trump could add more and more states to his name and his chance of winning the presidency increased by the minute. From 02:30 am until 06:00 am his chances skyrocketed from around 20 to 95 per cent. Even though it is safe to say that the NYT indicator is quite accurate, seeing the arrow shift did not automatically make people’s expectations shift as well. This time it was not the indicator that was deceiving, but it was the people who were deceiving themselves. The simple thought that Trump would win and become the next president was too surreal for many. It just could not happen. Yet it did.

Electoral Vote vs. Popular Vote
A couple of days after it was announced that Trump had won the presidential election, it turned out that not he, but Clinton had won the popular vote. In the U.S. political system, there is the electoral vote and the popular vote. The former is won if a candidate has 270 out of 538 electoral votes. By contrast, the candidate who has won the popular vote is the one who has received the most votes out of all the American citizens who voted. Thus, out of all the votes given to the presidential candidates, Clinton received the most. For many weeks, millions of ballots had not been counted yet and Clinton’s share of the popular vote kept increasing. It is unusual that the winner of the presidential election loses the popular vote. From the first presidential election in 1788 (when George Washington was elected to serve as the first president of the U.S.) up until the recent one in 2016 – the 58th election – it had only happened five times before. The last time was in the year 2000 when George W. Bush and Al Gore competed for the presidency. With a mandatory recount in the state Florida after it became evident that there was only a difference of 537 votes, the Supreme Court eventually assigned the state Florida to Bush, resulting in his victory. A great deal of suspicion and critique arose in the aftermath of the election outcome which stirred an outburst in the news media. Now, sixteen years later, history unfolds in the same way. Is this the inherently deceptive nature of U.S. politics? That is a question hard to answer, but one that will probably remain alive for a long period of time.

What next?
The question that many people within and outside of the U.S. ask themselves now, is: what next? Donald Trump has been inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. Will he pursue everything that he promised to do if he were to be elected president? Many people did not take Trump seriously throughout his campaign: he was so often caught lying and uttering bold expressions that people doubted whether all of his words could be believed. The world did not anticipate on Trump becoming the next president, yet he is. The people did not expect that someone whose expressions hint at racism and sexism, among other things, would make it this far. Yet, approximately half of the country applauds him. Could Trump – against many people’s expectations – turn out to be a better leader than most of us hold possible? Or are we awaiting another deception? After facing the deception of the election polls, the political system, and the U.S. in general, should we still take a leap of faith? Maybe we should just expect the unexpected.

By Chantal Girgis

Works Cited

NYT. “Fact Checks of the 2016 Election.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 18 Nov. 2015. Web. 19 Nov. 2016. .

NYT. “Live Presidential Forecast.” N.p., 9 Nov. 2016. Web. 20 Nov. 2016. .