'Shocking and frightening': Web Summit attendees react to Donald Trumps election win

It sounds like a bad political novel, but it’s real, writes Michael Moynihan in Lisbon

'Shocking and frightening': Web Summit attendees react to Donald Trumps election win

It was hardly surprising that Ross Barkan looked stunned by the US presidential election results at the Web Summit this week.

Staying up all night to track the results was only one part of it. Mr Barkan resigned as national political reporter for the New York Observer earlier this year because of the newspaper’s close ties to Donald Trump, whose son-in-law owns it .

“It’s stunning, shocking,” said Mr Barkan. “I always thought the election would be close, but the idea of Trump actually winning and becoming president, that’s something very few people in America or the world saw coming. He’s so unlike anyone who’s ever become president, so that’s a shock at all. Never been an elected official, never served in the military, never served in anyone’s cabinet — he’s a total outsider, so for someone to come in completely from the outside, to storm in and become president... it’s shocking for a lot of people. And frightening, too.”

Bradley Tusk, who managed Michael Bloomberg’s successful campaign for mayor of New York in 2009, broke Hillary Clinton’s defeat into five separate areas. “First, people are pissed off everywhere, we know that,” he said on the Banter Stage at the Web Summit. “We saw that with Brexit in the UK, a lot of people are disaffected. “There’s a higher global standard of living than ever, but the pie is being squeezed, and you have guys in Indiana seeing their jobs go to India. There’s enough of those guys to lead to more people voting for Trump.

“The second reason relates to the the media, and how it missed this. I mean the mainstream, elite, liberal, New York City-run media. That’s what I mean. That echo chamber of Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and Hollywood. The sense that they talk to each other, they know what’s best... that’s so patronising that it alienates people even more.

“Third, Hillary is a historically flawed candidate for two reasons. We broke away from England because our view was we wanted to pick someone to be in charge, not accept someone who was born to be in charge. Any time there’s a ‘it’s my turn’ candidate for president in the US — Bob Dole, John McCain, John Kerry, Al Gore... there’s almost always a my turn candidate, and they usually lose.

“The second part — when you play by your own rules by 20 or 30 years and benefit hugely from the system, that pisses people off. Bernie Sanders didn’t achieve much in Congress. It’s not as if he’s an exceptional human being. But he had beliefs and he wasn’t corrupt, and a lot of Democrats said ‘yeah’ to that.

“Fourth, people voted for [Libertarian candidate] Gary Johnson, and statistically some of the people who voted for Trump would usually have voted Democrat. That changed. Last, there’s a measure of sexism in there. We’ve never had a female president and she loses, it’s a surprise — to say sexism was a determining factor is probably not true, but saying sexism wasn’t a factor in the election is also probably not true.”

Mr Barkan echoed Mr Tusk on the liberal media. “I’d agree with that to an extent. A lot of the media establishment were disconnected from the voters. Political officials and parties have been disconnected from voters too — the Republican establishment was not in favour of Donald Trump, remember, and very few members of that establishment rallied around him.”

Mr Barkan didn’t want to predict what Mr Trump might do in his first 100 days in office, a traditionally significant period for a new president. “I don’t want to guess because he’s so unpredictable. That’s something you can say about Donald Trump, that he changes his mind constantly. He lies constantly.

“On a silver lining basis, maybe he won’t do all the more vile or disastrous things he’s promised. We don’t know. He’s fairly unstable and his temperament changes constantly. Guessing based on his word... his word isn’t always fact.”

Mr Barkan acknowledged the fear in Lisbon: “I think the reaction here seems to be as frightened as in America — maybe more so given what America does affects the world. Everyone I’ve met is asking ‘what’s happened’, it’s like waking up from a bad dream except the dream is real. It’s happened. Donald Trump is going to be president and I can’t believe I’m saying those words. It sounds like a bad political novel, but it’s here.

“Much as we like to hate him, he has tremendous political retail skills. He’s a member of the elite but whatever about wealth, it’s also about your ability to relate. Hillary has no ability to relate to ordinary people but her husband, who went to the same schools, had that skill. George W Bush, who went to Harvard and so on, another member of the elite — he could interact with anyone he met in a regular way. In a different way Trump has that ability too, even though he lives in a three-storey marble house within this tower in Manhattan. Will he put those gold letters spelling TRUMP in the White House? He’s probably thinking, ‘could I get away with that’?”

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