Not for the first time this year, we find ourselves observing the politics of shock reverberating all around us. As outside observers, I suppose that if we were to be completely honest with ourselves and in expressing opinion on the matter, many of us would have preferred to have had neither of the Republican or Democrat candidates on offer but, disappointed though many are and fearful of what the future holds for America and the rest of us, because of what occurred from the trouncing that Hillary Clinton yesterday, we are where we are and we must learn to live with president elect, Donald Trump.
So how good or bad might the next few months and years be? Right now I suppose that if we thought that the Brexit vote produced a real shock this pales into insignificance compared to what happened in the US overnight. In terms of shocks, that’s probably it for this year but remember, with leadership elections due in France and Germany next year, best not to hold your breath in regard of other possible shocks to come next year.
The takeaway message from what occurred in the US last night is that in this media led world there remains a craving for political change. One has observed for some considerable time that there was amongst voters on both side of the pond a boredom of the conventional and a craving for anything that appears able to promise something completely different.
Actions speak louder than words of course and we have observed Donald Trump promising much during his campaign. But the reality is that even with Republicans controlling the ‘Hill’ Trump will in my view struggle to effect that much change apart from in foreign policy. So while I am not suggesting that we should ignore the many threats he made during the campaign such as his seeming dislike and lack of understanding about NATO, his desire to see US allies increase their spending on defense and take on more of the burden, his wish to break down existing trade agreements that do not favour the USA, his dislike of immigration and the harder line that in respect of religious freedoms.
Neither would I wish to ignore ‘Trumpeconomics’ and the fear that to achieve his promise of growth and infrastructure spend can only mean that the US debt ceiling will once again have to rise. All are some of these fears are real but one thing that I believe did end last night is the abuse of rhetoric that underlies the fear that most of us have in relation to Donald Trump.
Lacking in government experience he may well be but be under no illusion that the future President Trump will effect an amount of change on the American system. But just as past presidents have found, he will face plenty of obstacles to progress and hostages to fortune. He will need to bring a resistant press and media on-side and he will also need to win friends abroad. Quite rightly Donald Trump talks about the need for national reconciliation today but as always, charity begins at home meaning that to move forward just one-inch he will first need to reconcile his relations with members of his own Republican Party and that, for all the right reasons at the time, those who chose to walk away from supporting their own candidate. That will take time and to achieve of course and there is no guarantee that it will even happen. He may well be blocked by his own party in Congress and why is it that, although likely weakened, I expect President Obama’s healthcare legacy to be more than alive. Moreover, Donald Trump must prove and prove again that he can and will be a responsible leader.
Yes, it is right that we should be alarmed at his lack of experience in geo-politics and on the international stage. To have as ‘leader’ of the free world someone we regard as a loose cannon in your midst and one that has little understanding of diplomacy should and will remain a concern until and if he proves himself otherwise. That said, ‘Defense’ has just found itself a new friend and not only would I anticipate a larger than currently called for rise in the FY17 defense budget occurring I also foresee a positive change in attitude toward spending on defense equipment.
Assuming that Senator John McCain remains chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee for another term defense should be one of the winners from a Trump presidency. US industry could eventually benefit too if trade agreements are tightening in favour of the US or scrapped altogether. Forget any agreement between the US and EU!
So there we are, a few first thoughts. I had expected Hillary Clinton to squeak home but to find herself as a president with no power to change. I was wrong.
Along with another 1,800 guests, I spent most of last night at the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, London. This was a truly remarkable and hugely enjoyable event with politicians, diplomats, industrialists, ex-pats and many other professionals young and old mingling freely with old friends, colleagues and well known media personalities. A really great event this was and I was delighted to be invited to such an auspicious and enjoyable occasion.
During a short speech given just after midnight, the US Ambassador to Britain, Matthew Barzan, talked of the importance of need for reconciliation. He was right to do this and I hope that is what we see occurring right across America. Yes, like many, I was shocked by what occurred in a country that I both love and have visited more times than any other during my life. Yes, I too dislike the politics of fear and the unknown and of how this presidential campaign was fought but now we must get on and face whatever implications emerge from the decision that US voters have confirmed.
But, as already hinted, on reflection do I really believe that many of the ideas and rhetoric put forward by Mr Trump during this dreadful campaign will become reality? No I do not. Do I believe that a ‘wall’ will be built to keep the Mexicans out? No, even with a Republican President and Republicans controlling the House of Representatives and the Senate, I just do not imagine Congress going along with that.
Back to the economy, and today markets all over the world have taken a tumble along with the dollar on fears that the US might go into recession and take the rest of the world with it. Really! OK, so whilst I readily expect to see a period of lower growth in the US for a while, I am not about to make the same mistake that many economists and commentators here in the UK made following the Brexit vote, suggesting that we would very soon move into a recession. In regard to what follows in the USA, the word recession is in my view once again being abused.
From the tone of this piece today you will see that, just as Donald Trump has himself called for, I believe that reconciliation is a priority. We also need to remind ourselves in the weeks and months ahead that the Democrats lost not just because many Americans dislike Hillary Clinton and do not trust her but moreover, because America craved change and sought a new order and they rejected what to many of them appeared to be decades of politics without transparency. In terms of geo-politics, Americans have seemingly also rejected President Obama’s politics of stability, a flawed policy that in their eyes has allowed resurgent and aggressive Russia to remerge as a challenger to US supremacy. Fearing Chinese ambitions too, they sought someone who they believe might better stand up to would-be enemies and aggressors and those that would challenge the US.
We will all have to learn to live with Donald Trump – we have no other choice. He is of course no Ronald Reagan and let us hope that neither is he a George W Bush! Let us hope too that he is able to create the huge amount of reconciliation required to rebuild the politics of trust.
CHW (London 9th November 2016)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785