Trumps triumphs against the odds: Now come the really tough challenges

There will be many explanations offered in the days to come for the surprise victory of Donald Trump: here are a few.

Trump was much more eloquent than Hillary Clinton. He came across as comfortable with himself, whereas Hillary Clinton appeared anxious at times. He felt he could allow himself to be spontaneous, whereas she did not.

People listened to him, partly because they did not know what he was going to say next.  He did not worry about what the media described as “gaffes”, or worse. His electorate made allowances for him, because they felt he was authentic. Authenticity is very much in the eye of the beholder, and if people like what they hear, they will consider the speaker “authentic”.

But the Trump victory was about more than a livelier personality and better rhetoric. My own sense is that it was primarily a cultural, rather than a narrowly economic, statement that the Trump supporters were making.

A majority of Americans are anxious about the pace of change, and about the fact that the familiar world, in which they grew up,  is disappearing.  Americans felt that, by voting for Trump, they were taking back their own country. In a sense, they felt he would return them to an imagined past, in which they would be more comfortable.

Trump supporters no longer felt in full control of their future.  They felt that traditional institutions, such as trade unions, could no longer protect them from the forces of automation and immigration, or allay their worries about the  affordability of entitlement programmes. These factors explain the Trump gains in states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Donald Trump appealed to American nationalism, a nationalism that provides Americans with a sense of belonging and mutual security in an uncertain world. This nationalistic surge is not confined to America. English nationalism is behind the Brexit vote. Nationalism is likely to play a part in the French Presidential election, with potentially disastrous results for the European Union.

Trump’s victory also was a rebellion by those who had not had the benefit of a college education, and resented being patronised and told how to think by those who had. This resentment has been aggravated by the prohibitive cost of college education in the United States, which has shut so many people out of the “American Dream”.

It is much harder to start poor, and become wealthy, in the United States today, than it was 50 years ago. Trump explicitly sought to appeal to this discontent. He was able to do this simply by repeatedly  attacking elites, but without putting forward specific policies that would increase social mobility.

Trump’s agenda

Applying his policies in practice will be the real challenge for Donald Trump as President. If he implements 45% tariffs on imports from China and 35% on  Mexico, this will start a trade war. US corporations that have invested in supply chains involving these two countries will face major disruption. The likely abandonment of the Trans Pacific and Transatlantic trade and investment deals will slow the growth of world trade, which has already been weakened by the slowing of the Chinese economy. This is bound to have negative effects on European exporting nations, like Germany.

He will not get Mexico to pay for the wall, so it may never be built.  The status of illegal immigrants in the United States will not improve, but I doubt if we will see mass deportations. The present situation is deeply unfair, and an affront to the rule of law, but it will probably continue.

On the other hand, his commitment to invest heavily in the tired infrastructure of the United States will give a boost to global economic growth.

His tax cuts for richer Americans will not do much for growth because the better off people are, the more likely are they to save, rather than spend.

He has the power to implement his policies. He will not have many excuses .He will not be able to blame a hostile Congress for blocking him, because Republicans have a majority in both Houses of Congress.

He promised to repeal, and replace, the Obama health insurance programme, which is proving to be more costly than expected. Repealing it will be easy, but replacing it will be really difficult.

Whatever system of paying for healthcare is chosen, the costs seem to be rising inexorably. This is because people are living longer, and expecting, or are being recommended ever more complicated treatments.  I think this will be Donald Trump’s hardest domestic policy challenge.

The most difficult thing to assess is President Trump’s foreign policy. Clearly he will be looking for allies of the United States to pay more for their own defence. But previous Presidents did the same. His trade policies will work against this. A trade war will weaken the ability of allies to pay more for their own defence.

In a way, thanks to fracking and the increase it has made in US domestic energy supplies, the US is much more independent of the rest of the world than it used to be.  An early sign will come when President Trump has to make a decision on his policy on the war in Syria.  If he decides to ally himself with Putin, he will put himself on a collision course with Saudi Arabia. This could draw Turkey into the conflict because of its strong opposition to Assad.

Donald Trump has raised so many expectations that may be impossible for him to live up to them. Populism in power may not be as popular as populism on the campaign trail. Only if that disenchantment happens will the democratic world return to evidence-based politics.

DNAttitudes
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