The liberal project: blind-sided

President-elect Donald Trump.

Jake Holman lies bleeding, dying on the bank of the Yangtze River. His Chinese friend is dead, shot by Holman to end his brutal torture at the hands of the Kuomintang.

Holman’s newly found love has escaped, but tragically, he will never join her.

“I was home… what happened… what the hell happened?” he gasps, then he dies.

The last words of the tragic hero of the 1966 film The Sand Pebbles, magnificently portrayed by the late Steve McQueen, epitomises the confused hand-wringing of the liberal democratic project since Donald Trump seized the Oval Office.

Commentator after commentator has clothed themselves in sackcloth and ash, indulged in self-flagellation and more, in an attempt to come to terms with what happened, but the central theme of the narrative is: “How the hell did we not see this coming?”

From odds of 50:1 against when he announced his candidacy on June 16 last year at Trump Tower in New York City, Donald Trump’s campaign was marked by controversy, blatant lies, misogyny, sexism, racism, appalling locker room banter, three campaign managers, a Republican Establishment that wanted nothing to do with him, and not inconsiderable difficulty in pinning down a vice-presidential running mate, yet he still managed to beat Hilary Clinton into second place on the night.

But the signs were there, long before The Orange Menace announced his candidacy.

The seeds were sewn way back in 2008, when the world’s economy collapsed, tough times became the new normal, and the discontent of the hard-hit middle class accreted into a grotesque, white-hot anger over the next eight years.

When Brexit happened, only a few short months ago, that too was predictable, and precisely the same question was asked: “How the hell did we not see this coming?”

The shock of Brexit was explained away by characterising those who voted Leave as insular, bigoted, racist, narrow-minded, parochial and downright selfish.

Donald Trump’s victory was attributed to similar sentiments among those who voted for him, but added to that list was sexist, misogynistic, white, old, and ill-educated.

Granted, one of the reasons Mr Trump had the support of so many deeply conservative Americans, was because he was prepared to – and did – say so many of the things they have thought in private for years, but were too afraid to say in public.

But that does not mean that everybody who voted for him is a racist.

Rather, as a Washington lobbyist friend of mine said to me the day after the election: “I don’t think there are 60 million bigots in the States, but I think there are 59 million angry voters who believe they have been left behind in the American dream. There are 240 million Americans of voting age, but only half actually voted. Turnout was high, but that’s still pathetic.

“Regardless, the left has grossly miscalculated the priorities of the majority of Americans.

“They were angry, and they spoke yesterday.”

Which, without putting too fine a point on it, is pretty much what happened with Brexit.

That Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton were the two most disliked presidential candidates in American political history is by now a matter of public record, but the narrative which unfolded during the primaries, and in the actual campaign once they’d been nominated, was that no matter who the Democrats fielded, Donald Trump could never win.

This makes the Democratic National Committee’s support of Hilary Clinton against Bernie Sanders in the primaries, anything but abstruse.

She was seen as easier to manage and more aligned to Democratic Establishment thinking than was Bernie Sanders who, in his own way, was as much of an outlier to the Democrats, as was Donald Trump to the GOP.

The Brexit vote happened because a majority of British people who bothered to vote in the referendum, were angry. They wanted change, and they wanted to teach the mainstream British political establishment a lesson.

Donald Trump swept to power because a majority of Americans who bothered to vote in the presidential election, were angry. They wanted change, and they wanted to teach the Washington political establishment a lesson.

The tragedy for both, is that the vehicles voters chose to effect the change they so desperately seek, will inevitably not deliver.