J Boima Rogers – March 2016
We are once more facing the election of the next US President and it is as fascinating and entertaining as always. There are two reasons why this election is very important not just for US citizens who actually have the vote but also for billions of us around the world. The US is a major and in many cases, the dominant force with regards to its military, economy, currency, source and destination of investment, technology, popular culture and political leverage. The world is also much more connected than ever before and so developments in one part, particularly in a country such as the US, have a direct and significant effect on all corners of the globe. We outside the US are watching bemused but also concerned about the candidates and their policies. The concerns do not only relate to foreign but also domestic policies which often have effects on the rest of the world. As of now the field is still quite crowded particularly in the Republican Party. Of particular interest are the Republican front runners who are advocating policies that may see a dramatic change in how the US deals with the rest of the world. This note will look closely at what a Donald Trump Presidency will mean for those of us without the vote. Can we do anything to influence the campaign, no and yes.
At the moment although the election is still wide open we are seeing certain trends emerging. While Hilary Clinton is leading the Democratic pack significantly a Bernie Sanders nomination is still a possibility. His recent win in Michigan demonstrates the challenge Hilary Clinton faces. This is a state where the demographics and Sanders voting record, namely, his opposition to the auto bail out, in a state with a significant auto industry, would have suggested a win for Mrs Clinton. Another point in favour of Sanders is that the Primaries are very much a tribal affair in which candidates do their utmost to appeal to the party faithful by highlighting their credentials with regards to party principles. Members of the incumbent administration, which Hilary Clinton served for most of Obama’s two terms, are particularly vulnerable because they would have had to compromise on pledges made in campaigns if they are to get bills through Congress. This was very much the case with the Obama administration which faced one of the stiffest opposition any Democratic President has ever faced from his Republican opponents who controlled the House of Representatives after his first two years and the Senate in much of his second term. Mr Sanders does not have this baggage and can therefore position himself as a true unblemished elder of the tribe. If Sanders were to win the Democratic nomination then we will definitely see a Republican President because the US as a whole is just not ready for the type of policies Sanders proposing.
If Hilary Clinton wins the Democratic Primary, Trump will face a more formidable opponent with a significant and wide cross section of the White vote and the overwhelming majority of the non-White electorate who Trump does not appeal to or has insulted. Given the fact that Trump appeals almost exclusively to White voters he needs over 70 of that segment to win. Hilary Clinton will only need to take a third of that vote to win the election and she is much better placed than Sanders with regards to Blue Collar and southern White voters.
The Republican nomination is still a crowded field but Donald Trump and Ted Cruz appear to be pulling ahead of the pack, something that is alarming the Republican establishment. Pledges of support and glowing tributes from Governor Christie and Dr Carson, former candidates, are a huge boost to Mr Trump. A Republican win will see a significant change in US policies and in particular, if either of the two front runners wins, this shift will be seismic because both of them are on the fringes of the party, with Cruz at the centre of Tea Party revolt and Trump as a right wing maverick populist.
Donald Trump at the Whitehouse will be a game changer not just for the US but for the rest of the world. While his rise has been described as a policy free campaign, there have been snippets, which as is typical with the man, have been very effective soundbites from this entertainer. A review of some of these policies shows how concerned the world should be.
As would be expected from a Republican candidate he has stated that he will implement huge tax cuts, two thirds of which will go to the top richest 20% of the population. That reputable organisation and the Conservative Committee for Responsible Budget (CCRB) have both indicated that this will see a huge increase in the budget deficit, largely as, in keeping with his populist credentials, he has indicated that he will leave the Medicare and Social Security budgets untouched. According to CCRB his policies will add between US$11.7 and 15.1 trillion to the national debt, doubling it if the top range is attained. He could of course remedy the situation by a steep reduction in current spending, by more than three quarters. If, in keeping with his populist image he does not reduce current spending and instead decides to borrow from the market, it will result in pressures that will keep interest rates high around the world as America sucks in funds from abroad, depriving other countries of such funds and increasing their borrowing costs. This will be very damaging for low and middle income countries. These tax cuts will not translate into significant increases in consumer spending the key driver of US economic growth, as the rich will tend to keep the savings, a trend that was demonstrated when applied by President Bush. Another policy of his is to ramp up duties on Chinese imports by 45% and other countries that cheat in trade as he puts it. If this were to happen, the Chinese and other countries that Trump will target are likely to do the same on US exports. Both policies will seriously impair world trade and economic growth at a time when the world economic outlook ranges from anaemic to bleak.
Trump’s foreign policies are disconcerting. Starting with America’s allies, he wants Japan, South Korea, Germany and Saudi Arabia to pay for US protection. In Europe with Russia’s aggressive moves in the East this will be of great concern; interestingly, he is an admirer of Putin who he considers to be a strong leader. In the Middle East this is likely to unravel the coalition against ISIL that the Saudi’s are part of. In the Far East this will encourage China to accelerate its aggressive behaviour towards its neighbours in territorial and other disputes. He will build a huge wall on the Mexican border that the Mexicans would be asked to fund, institute mass deportation and tear up the NAAFTA free trade agreement with that country. He will reinstate waterboarding torture and “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding”. He will tear up the recent Iran agreement that world powers worked so hard to negotiate to prevent that country from developing nuclear weapons. He has declared that he is “totally pro- Israel”. And, he will ban on all Muslims from entering the US. These policies are likely to exersabate the turmoil in the Middle East, encourage recruitment and embolden ISIL and other terrorists around the world. He will increase the US nuclear arsenal, triggering an arms race with Russia, China and other nuclear powers.
A Trump win is bad news for the environment because has stated that he is opposed to the recent climate deal that world leaders painstakingly negotiated. He would like to see increased use of coal in the US, unravelling much of Obama’s efforts to steer the US towards cleaner energy.
Trump’s success has been viewed with alarm by his party and other observers in the US and abroad, prompting former Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney to denounce him. A letter signed by sixty prominent Republicans stated that he “swings from isolationism to military adventurism within the space of one sentence”. Thomas Wight, a scholar at the Brookings Institute has noted that Trump’s world view “ makes a great leap backward in history, embracing antiquated notions of power that haven’t been present since before the second world war.” But Glenn Greenwald noted in a brilliant paper in The Intercept that Trump’s policies are not anathema to the US mainstream but are indeed an uncomfortable reflection of mainstream thinking and policies. The attitude towards the use of torture for example, has not been repudiated by mainstream Republicans.
The Republican Party created a climate that has given rise to its two leading candidates. In particular, they completely rejected all overtures that Obama made to the party to develop policies based purely on the needs and benefits of the country and the world. Recent reports have shown that Republican lawmakers were instructed from day one to oppose everything that the President proposed irrespective of their merits.
Can Trump be trumped? At this stage anything is possible but as things stand the Trump bandwagon is growing and a Trump Presidency is a very likely possibility. If Hilary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination she will have a very good chance. The Republican establishment would love to see somebody who is more of a mainstream type. Unfortunately for them the only other candidate that is offering any significant challenge to Trump, Ted Cruz, is another arch-conservative maverick that they are uncomfortable with.
What can the non-US public without the vote but who will be affected by the decision of the US electorate do? In short, not much, because not only do we not have the vote but efforts to influence the elections could rally support to Trump. However we can have some influence even though it will be a minor role. The foreign media can highlight the pitfalls, inconsistencies and consequences of Trump’s policies which will be picked up by US citizens in and outside the country. Practically the whole world has relatives in America and we should highlight these issues to our US relatives. Many companies have subsidiaries in the US who can alert their employees to the dangers to the US and world economy as well as provide funding to candidates. And we should hope that reason and logic will prevail among the US electorate to make them realise that electing a rational President is in the whole world’s interest.
J Boima Rogers is Principal Consultant at Media and Event Management Oxford (MEMO) www.oxfordmemo.co.uk