Lessons Maltese Politicians Can Learn From Trump
Time to start thinking about the implications
Politics changed dramatically since the 1990s and early 2000s. Trump's election, just a few months after the Brexit vote, confirms that voters are no longer so easily seduced by the polished centrist politicians like Tony Blair and Hillary Clinton. Instead, voters on both sides of the Atlantic seem to be more taken in by politicians who have the edge of authenticity. That's one thing Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn and even Greek's Syriza party all seem to have in common. Whether they're left or right, they're unashamedly a bit extreme and unafraid of being themselves even when the mainstream media insists they should do otherwise.
So where does that leave Malta? How will our politicians react to Trump's victory? How will it change their plans for 2018? It's probably best not to fall into the US election trap of trying to make predictions. Instead, let's just reflect on some options.
1. It's all about generating as much content as possible
When you're trying to convince 200 million Americans to vote for you, especially in such distracting times, you need to stand out. You need to make headlines upon headlines until everyone knows your name and that you're running for President. And in today's 24/7 content-driven media world, sometimes you've got to say some crazy shit for people to take notice. Trump took this to an extreme, probably believing that there's no such thing as bad publicity. In Malta, you'd need to tone it down slightly.
Lesson to local politicians: Say and do interesting things. Otherwise you won't get the headlines, you won't get our attention and you won't get our votes.
2. We live in a post-PC world
Political correctness may have been all the rage in the past decades but today there's a backlash against PC culture. Today we crave reality and authenticity over perfection and correctness. When people heard Donald Trump's famous pussy-grab recording, we were horrified. But our horror dissipated so quickly. I suspect it's because we all know that in today's world it's all too easy to be recorded saying some crazy shit you don't actually mean.
Lesson to local politicians: Don't use illicit recordings to catch your enemies saying something stupid. Challenge each other on ideas instead.
3. If there's a scandal every day, the scandals will be ignored
Another symptom of the content-driven world is that stories come and go. When every story is pushed with the same amount of effort it becomes difficult for voters to distinguish between the ones that really matter from the ones that we need for a slow news day. The PN has a lot to learn on this count. If you've called for the Prime Minister to resign over four or five other scandals, how can the same call on a scandal like Panama leave any impact?
Lesson to local politicians: Pick your battles. Don't bombard us with one scandal after another because we'll stop paying attention.
4. The economy (and personal gain from it) trumps everything else
When all is said and done, voters will always vote for the person they have more faith in improving their personal lot. Yesterday's vote could be read as an anti-immigrant vote. But when even the immigrants are voting for the anti-immigration candidate it's clear that this has nothing to do with race and everything to do with jobs and economic hardship. As soon as jobs are hit, salaries dwindle and costs rise out of control, we quickly demand change. And when we have two options to choose from, we're more likely to go for the one that seems they're hungry to deliver economically above all else.
Lesson to local politicians: Show that you are able and willing to attract investment that leaves money in people's pockets.
5. People are bored of old-style politicians
The great majority of people around the world seem to feel disenfranchised. It's like the old mould of what we thought a politician should say or do is gone. Instead we like outsiders, people who challenge the way it's always been done, even when this is unrefined or imperfect.
Lesson to local politicians: Take out the old, bring in the new. And that means quirky not just young.
6. Positive campaigns always win
This is a controversial one. Most people would discount Trump as having been a misogynistic, xenophobic and generally negative campaigner. But while this may have been true of him during the Republican race, it all changed once he got head-to-head with Hillary Clinton. Suddenly he became self-deprecating and light, while the Clinton campaign fell into the trap of scaremongering. In the end, Donald Trump was selling hope of a new style of politics and Hillary Clinton was selling fear.
Lesson to local politicians: Be confident and positive. People are mistrusting of fearmongers.
7. Good PR can turn around bad candidates
Donald Trump's PR campaign will be studied for decades to come and won't be appropriately synthesised in this article. But there is something to be said for the fact that a seemingly ludicrous candidate was able to go all the way in such a long, complicated and important electoral race. His ability to keep people interested and reinvent himself according to the electoral needs of the moment must be studied and appreciated for what they were: good fucking PR. Big soundbites will counter complicated stats and expert facts almost every time.
Lesson to local politicians: You can go from being laughed at to being hated to being liked to being elected. Just be conscious of what you need to be at the time.
8. Polls are polls
Everyone's criticising pollsters for not predicting an accurate outcome but polls are polls. If people don't admit to their voting intentions polls won't work. That being said, the polls did show the massive momentum gained by Trump in the past couple of weeks, so they weren't all wrong.
Lesson to local politicians: Go beyond what the polls are saying.
9. Traditional media can be totally out of touch
Just because you follow the news everyday, write about it in detail and know all the players involved, doesn't mean you know how the public out there is receiving and reacting to the news. In the case of Trump, the traditional media seemed unable to understand why he was striking a chord with so many people. It's probably because they were so caught up in the day-to-day and chasing one headline after another. There wasn't much time to dissect things and actually think.
Lesson to local politicians: You can win an election even when the entire media establishment doesn't like you. Focus on your own media platforms instead of arguing with editors about how they should write about you.
10. Let's get our vote-counting shit together
The US counted 200 million votes in a couple of hours. We take days sometimes to count a couple of hundreds of thousands.
Lessons to local politicians: Introduce electronic voting asap.