IAIN WRIGHT: World watches with anxiety

Yesterday people woke up to the truly historic news that Donald Trump has won the US presidential election.

Thursday, 10th November 2016, 12:15 pm
Updated Wednesday, 16th November 2016, 3:23 pm
Donald Trump is now President-Elect of the United States of America.

Eight years ago American voters put Barack Obama, with his optimistic slogans of “Hope” and “Yes we Can”, into the White House. This year the victorious candidate was elected after running one of the most paranoid and negative campaigns in US history.

Trump painted a dark portrait of Americans as victims of numerous foreign conspiracies in which US politicians were deeply complicit, putting himself forward as the only man who could foil them.

He variously promised to build a wall to keep Mexicans out, ban people from entering the US if they happen to follow the Muslim faith and place a heavy tariff on Chinese imports out of fear that America is somehow being exploited by its easy access to cheap Chinese products.

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There is a deep irony that Donald Trump, championing people who are not privileged and who feel left behind by the forces of globalisation, had an extraordinarily privileged background, was set up in business by his multimillionaire father who had to bail Donald out several times after his businesses failed and who has become richer on the back of globalisation.

Yet Mr Trump’s anti-globalisation rhetoric has clearly found a receptive audience amongst millions of Americans who feel angry and bewildered at a country and a world that seems to be moving in an unfamiliar direction at a fast pace.

The same sentiments undoubtedly played a part in securing a Brexit vote in Britain.

Again, there’s an irony that the people who led the leave campaign and spoke of anger with privilege - Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage - were both educated at public schools and, in the case of Farage, got very rich by working as a city trader.

Whilst the United States as a whole is much better off because of globalisation it is also true to say there will always unavoidably be winners and losers.

Not enough has been done to compensate the losers over the years and this has, unfortunately, allowed Mr Trump to convince many that all globalisation means for them is the destruction of traditional industries and the emboldening of dangerous foreign enemies, while greater and greater benefits accrue to a privileged elite.

What, then, might the impact of his Presidency on the world be, given what we know about Donald Trump’s views and temperament?

Putting a reckless, volatile man with little grasp of economic policy in charge of the wellbeing of the world’s most important economy was never going to be good news for the rest of us.

Doing so at a time of great economic uncertainty could be disastrous. His hostility toward China and other major US trading partners, extreme policy positions that seem to alter with every new speech and his lack of any detailed economic plans have quite justifiably raised fears of a new global recession. When America sneezes, we all catch a cold.

In terms of foreign policy, US Presidents are less constrained by Congress and the constitution than in domestic matters. There may be little to stop President Trump from making good on his promises to fundamentally re-align US foreign policy, abandoning the nuclear deal with Iran, scrapping proposed trade treaties, weakening or abandoning the US commitment to the defence of Western allies in Asia-Pacific like Japan and South Korea. In terms of NATO, the backdrop to peace and stability in Western Europe since the Second World War now lies in tatters. That is a very dangerous place to be in light of an expansionist Russia.

Much depends on whether Trump the President of the United States will be the same person as Trump the paranoid, immigrant-baiting candidate. The new President must realise that real politics is necessarily about consultation and compromise; a Presidency cannot be run through bombast and vitriol. On the other hand, having already won the Presidency with an outrageous campaign, he may well conclude there is no reason to moderate himself now. Whatever happens, the whole world will be watching with some degree of anxiety.