Date
11 December 2016
The election defeat of Hillary Clinton, someone often seen as the embodiment of meritocracy, serves as a wakeup call for mainstream political elites. Photo: AFP
The election defeat of Hillary Clinton, someone often seen as the embodiment of meritocracy, serves as a wakeup call for mainstream political elites. Photo: AFP

US election offers lesson for the meritocracy

After the shock US presidential election result, many mainstream political analysts have referred to the Donald Trump victory as a case of “triumph of populism over meritocracy”.

There has also been much talk that the Trump win is a sign that the world is entering a more turbulent, unpredictable and polarized era.

While the debate over how exactly Trump managed to pull off the biggest election upset in US history continues, I believe his victory over Hillary Clinton, someone often seen as the embodiment of meritocracy, may serve as a wake-up call for the mainstream political elites that have been dominating the political scene in Washington for decades.

As Hillary Clinton is gone from the political centerstage, also gone is the heyday of meritocrats in US politics.

Meritocracy might not be a bad thing in itself, as long as it remains in touch with popular sentiment and is regarded by the public as a social institution they can rely on to improve their lives.

The problem, however, is that the meritocracy in the US has been increasingly getting out of touch with the political reality and the common concerns of the average American people in recent years.

In other words, they have been living in their own bubble without even noticing it themselves. As a result, they are increasingly losing touch with what is actually going on in society, and the ideas they have been pitching can no longer resonate with the general public, and hence their fading popularity.

For example, even though it is true that the US economy has been slowly recovering under President Obama, the vast majority of average American families just don’t feel they have got the fair shake and been able to share the fruits of that recovery.

There is a feeling that most of the economic benefits have gone into the pockets of the vested interests and members of the political establishment.

Worse still, the political elites in Washington are simply too complacent to gauge the strength of the public grievances and discontent.

To these social elites, globalization is an irreversible tide. And as the people who have benefited most from that tide, all they need to do is to ride with that tide.

To make things worse, they have taken for granted that the American public are supposed to share the same view, when in fact they don’t.

Moreover, while the meritocrats are having no problem with their increasing obsession with political correctness such as liberalism, pluralism and welcoming refugees with open arms, many average Americans, particularly whites, just see it as sheer hypocrisy.

Besides, many of them are getting increasingly dismayed at the fact that their freedom of speaking their mind has been deprived by these political elites in the name of promoting political correctness.

To many average Americans, the political establishment which has been monopolizing the moral high ground and dictating social agenda represents a form of tyranny which should be cast aside.

This partly explains the outcome of the recent election.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 16

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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RC

Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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