For the third time this year, the world has awoken to an election result that leaves many people shocked. Donald Trump, who has spent less than half of the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, has capitalised on free media, the allure of a good show, and sheer anger to win the Presidential election. He will now become the 45th President of the United States at a time when the US and the world faces immense political and economic challenges.
A man who has no governing experience, and was reportedly denied access to his Twitter account, never mind nuclear launch codes, now has to build a team which can grapple with crisis in the Middle East, tensions in the South China Sea and Eastern Europe, a low rate of growth in the US, fraying infrastructure, a burgeoning national debt and huge problems with US health and social care systems, not to mention racial tensions which have broken into outright violence in the past couple of years.
This is quite a challenge. But these problems, which are not limited to the list above, would not have automatically been solved by the election of Clinton, who is also deeply unpopular and would have faced entrenched attitudes both at home and abroad.
Trump’s attitude towards immigration has been frankly outrageous, and ignores the wider benefits for the economy. However, the people who feel it doesn’t benefit them have obviously voted in massive numbers, and polling failed to pick these people up, much like they failed to do with Brexit. The benefits of trade are enormous, but Trump has capitalised on the fact that people feel like it doesn’t benefit them. Working out how to resolve these problems is something that will become pressing not just in the US but across the western world. Clinton failed to counter this narrative, and indeed played into it to draw in Sanders supporters. She relied upon other peoples coalitions and did not build her own.
We now face big challenges to global trade and cooperation. Making China poorer will not make America richer. Although there is a great deal of uncertainty about Trump and his attitude towards more nuanced aspects of foreign and domestic policy, he will have access, if people are willing to work for him, to the entire Republican policy and think tank pool. This could mean that the eventual policies that he produces are not as “bad” (of course, they are bad if you are a democrat, but they might not be off the wall mad) as we might think at the moment.
Trump has a massive ego, and perhaps the way to pitch to him that abandoning NATO and NAFTA is a bad idea is to talk to his ego. “Mr Trump, not only will this fail to make America great again, but you will look bad if you do this, and your reputation will suffer”. This is not comforting for those of us who want a little more restraint on the most important office in the world, but there is the limiting factor of the constitution, and the other two branches of the Government, and the political bridges that may not be built with the legislature may also limit his remit.
Donald Trump will not become President until January, so the immediate falls in the stock markets may well reflect what happened after the Brexit vote, and recover before too long and then reflect what we later know. Trump’s policies will have to be fleshed out before January 20th, and in the meantime the arguments should continue made for the policies which has made the world a much richer and better place.
The SOAS Policy Forum is hosting an event on this very topic next Monday, the 14th, at 17:30 in B104, the SOAS Main Building.