US presidential election 2016

The triumph of Donald Trump

Well, well, well, the big league political shocker of this year is not Brexit, but the improbable triumph of Donald Trump in the US presidential election.

What kind of president will he be? Will he turn out to be a surprisingly ‘normal’ politician, or will Donald Trump be Donald Trump? Will he become a president in the mould of Ronald Reagan? Will he get impeached? Will he start a war, and not just on Twitter? No one knows at the moment.

Now, I have to be honest, I am pretty petrified by the prospects of the upcoming Trump presidency, as someone living outside of the US, and whose main concerns are his geopolitical decision-making abilities and policies. In order to assuage my feeling of rather dark anxiety, I have set the bar pretty low: I would consider Mr Trump’s time in office as a success, if he does not start World War III. If he doesn’t do too much at all, and four (or eight if he is re-elected) years pass by quietly, then that would be a roaring success. The president-elect seems to behave as if he is the chairperson of the Vladimir Putin appreciation society in the US, so a Cold War conflagration in the form of a head-on confrontation between the USA and Russia looks a remote prospect. China – however Mr Trump pronounces it – might be another matter, since the issues of trade, economy, and jobs tie into the US relationship with China. May you live in interesting times, as an apocryphal Chinese curse would say.

I am no political scientist, but I generally believe voters decide on domestic issues, the primacy of domestic policy, as it were, as opposed to the primacy of foreign policy. Relationship with other countries become an issue when they touch domestic concerns, as mentioned with regard to China. Issues such as the economy, fiscal policies, immigration, and social values are the things that determine how people vote. The election campaign was not really dominated by concrete issues and policies, but more on the personalities and broad, general narratives. It would be interesting to see if Mr Trump will really give massive tax cuts to the rich, repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, build a great wall along the border with Mexico, round up and deport undocumented migrants, ban Muslims from entering the US, tear up existing trade deals, reduce US commitments abroad, appoint socially conservative judges to the Supreme Court with the explicit intent of overturning Roe v. Wade, etc, that he variously mentioned during the campaign.

As the Republicans control the White House (though perhaps the occupant is only nominally and not ideologically Republican), the Senate, and the House, there are no or fewer impediments to implementing policies. Will the Republicans in the Congress, many of whom had not endorsed Mr Trump, in any way attempt to cajole the president to go down a different path from what his instincts tell him, or prove themselves to be willing implementers of the policies? They are forced to make decisions and be co-authors of the policies, which is harder than just block, block, block, and it would already be weighing in the minds of those who will have to seek re-election in the 2018 mid-term elections.

In any case, hopefully Mr Trump will surround himself with reasonable experts who can stop him from doing something truly terrifying or stupid. His cabinet would be important and perhaps signal how he intends to act: for example, who is going to be the Secretary of State? As many establishment Republicans had not endorsed him or been very lukewarm in supporting him, the pool of talent might not be as big as it could or ought to be. Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich are some of the big names who might be rewarded with cabinet positions for their forceful support for Mr Trump. Perhaps Chris Christie, another prominent supporter of Mr Trump, could be appointed to oversee infrastructure projects, as he seems to know a thing or two about bridges.

It is said that people get the politicians they deserve. In 2016, in America, you say racist and misogynistic things and get fired from a TV programme, but you can be elected to the presidency. Somehow, I feel that Americans had deserved a better choice than the two major-party candidates offered to them. Interesting times ahead indeed, not just for the US, but also for the rest of the world.