So America has delivered the second political earthquake of the year after our own excitement at the end of June. As we survey the turmoil in the markets and pick through the wreckage left by political pundits and pollsters once again crashing and burning, are there any positives at all? Surprisingly enough, given my passionate wish for a Clinton victory (or at least for a Trump defeat), I can see a few.
The first thing is that President Trump will have to get real in domestic terms at least. Congress may be Republican, but it is not Trumpite. And while his stunning win will give him some leeway to pursue mad schemes, that will only go so far. The wall will become beefed up border security – though how much more resource can be thrown at the Rio Grande is questionable, and the defeat of Sheriff Arpaio is an interesting side story – and a renewed effort to deport or ‘crack down on’ undocumented migrants. Economic policies will be moderated by legislators and the markets. I don’t actually think the way he will act in the United States will be far outside the mainstream, although what he says will sometimes feel very extreme. Fingers crossed.
In foreign policy, though, it will be a different matter. With the White House and Congress in Republican hands the climate is definitely not now in safe hands, and more immediately Trump’s statements during the election about NATO and Syria have been troubling. In Syria it seems likely that Russia and Assad will have a freer hand, and may well work hand in glove with the US in going after IS. Bad news for the ‘moderate’ rebel groups and for many civilians. And countries in Eastern Europe will be anxious today, just as Russia will be emboldened. That sense of insecurity and the President’s unpredictability will trouble allies and roil stocks and currency markets potentially for a long period of time.
Trade will also suffer under President Trump. Don’t expect any big multilateral deals soon (sorry TPP and TTIP), which will be bad news for world economic growth, of course. But for the UK at least this could present an opportunity, given that we now look unlikely to be ‘back of the queue’ for a new trade regime post-Brexit. That is good news in its own right but even better news for what it means for our negotiations with the EU.
If we go into the Brexit discussions with our European friends with the prospect of a US trade deal in our back pocket we clearly have a stronger hand. If the eastern members of the EU are worried and want our defence and security support, not to mention our influence over the US, we clearly have a stronger hand. If voters in France, Germany, the Netherlands and elsewhere look likely to follow the Anglo Saxon trend and vote against the Establishment and against the Union, we clearly have a stronger hand. Whether Theresa May and David Davis have the ability to utilise that strength is an open question, but the prospects of us doing a good deal have definitely gone up overnight.
So these are reasons for optimism, but they are very limited: this is in no way a good result for anyone. This victory exposes and exacerbates all of the issues with the fraying fabric of society in America. Trump has questioned the independence of the judiciary, the media and undermined the institutions of democracy. He has called for his opponent to be locked up, flirting with Fascism as he did so. Most seriously and disgracefully of all, Trump has denigrated women, Hispanics and Muslims – in fact pretty much every minority group – and he has still been elected. What does that say to Americans about the attitudes of significant numbers of their fellow citizens? The US continues to be a country at war with itself, and the hostilities have just intensified. That’s not good for anyone.