Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election is historical. Without any political experience, in defiance of the political establishment and the mainstream media, relying mostly on his own political instincts, he beat all the odds. Change is indeed coming to Washington, however, whether his presidency will be truly transformational remains to be seen. Here are my top 7 takeaways:
The most important dividing lines in the election were urban – rural, rich – poor and racial contrasts. Note that from the top ten richest states per capita only two went for Trump (rarely populated Alaska and North Dakota, rich because of petrol-industry), while he won all of the ten poorest states except for Maine. There are scores of indicators pointing at the economic hardships of rural America, here I would like to point to just one: while between 2002-2006 50 percent of the new jobs that were created in the US were dispersed throughout 120 counties– out of the 3143 -, between 2010 - 2014 the same figure dropped to 73 counties in and around only a handful of major cities, mostly in blue states.
Although the democrats lost, the American electoral map is changing: none-white votes, especially the Latino ones will matter more and more. The problem for the Clinton campaign was that the democrats forgot about their traditional hinterland: rural – industrial America, “the rustbelt”, populated mostly still by working class-whites. The democrat’s agenda of too much focus on minorities and liberal social issues has failed, and will fail again if more attention will not be given to the economic inequalities between classes and regions all across the board.
Trump will seek to balance between his radical right base and the republican establishment. Without the first he will lose popular support, without the latter he cannot govern. His first appointments and his backtracking on some major policy issues confirm this dual approach. However, with so conflicting ideas and world views in the White House, we can expect intensified conflicts to come within the Trump administration and the Republicans.
It will not be the end of America’s global engagement, but expect change. To potential adversaries such as China and Russia, the glass is half full, half empty: likely less American ‘World policing’, less scrutiny on human rights, but more problems on trade and arms buildup. There could be deeper cooperation with Russia on certain issues, but no one should set high hopes on a successful Reset 2.0. There is one thing Donald Trump likes better than making good deals: win. And the list of issues for potential conflict with President Putin or with China is long. As for NATO, it will not be dissolved, but if Europeans will not deliver much more on defense, instead of the other organization in Brussels, it will be just another organization.
Trump’s election does not mean much good for multilateralism, for trade liberalization, for arms control, for fighting climate change, for open door on migration – signature issues of the Obama presidency. Many of these issues will spark strong debates with European partners. A Trump administration might be good news for parties striving to gain back powers from Brussels into purely national hands. But how far would this nationalist wave go in terms of European disintegration? And what would this mean for Europe’s power structure and for small European countries? Complex questions with highly uncertain answers.
The success of Trump’s presidency will be measured primarily on how he tackles economic inequality, the urban-rural dived in American society, its budget deficit, the challenges of illegal immigration and terrorism. If President Trump would succeed in making progress on some of these issues, that would make America stronger, but the foundation of the transatlantic Alliance stronger.