Donald Trump may have swept to power as an outsider anti-establishment figure, Charlie Shandil writes, but will his policies do anything to deliver to those voters who backed him because they feel they have been left behind?
On the morning of 9 November 2016, Hillary Clinton called Donald J Trump to congratulate him on his victory and on becoming the 45th President of the United States of America. On this day, the world witnessed one of the most significant shifts in late modernity, solidifying the call from a silent majority to be heard: a call that protectionism is in and globalisation is out. For at least the next four years, the world will call Donald J Trump the President of the United States.
While the Trump presidency has dumbfounded many political pundits who predicted a Clinton win, recent events in the West such as Brexit in Britain and the rise of One Nation in Australia were all signposts on the way to a Trump victory. However, while many outside of the United States assume that Trump won the presidency by corralling right wing voters, this is not the whole story. While conservative and extreme groups such as the National Rifle Association and Klu Klux Klan both endorsed the Trump campaign, these organisations are typically Republican Party-aligned anyway.
What’s interesting, however, is that when compared to the Mitt Romney campaign in 2012, Black and Hispanic votes actually increased for the Republican Party in 2016. Furthermore, with respect to gender, while the largest vote for Trump was 72 per cent in the ‘white non-college men’ category, a close second was within the ‘white non-college women’ category at 62 per cent. As such, this election was not an indication that the majority of people in the United States are sexist and/or racist. Rather, it was a vote against the establishment that has created a great class division, the like of which is beyond anything we’ve witnessed in recent times.
There is no doubt that globalisation is creating division in the West, and in doing so creating a class of citizens on the receiving end of its sharper effects who then drive an anti-globalisation agenda. Despite this, globalisation has undoubtedly benefited mankind – the division of labour it brings has enabled countries to enter markets previously unimaginable, consumers have reaped the benefits from economies of scale, a reduction in monopoly profits has driven world-first innovations, and it has allowed some of the world’s poorest countries to achieve accelerated economic growth.
However, while the benefits of globalisation have been broadly beneficial, it has not benefited the West as much as it could have, and many voters believe the establishment are to blame. The US vote was not just a call from blue collar workers whose jobs have been taken to cheaper markets. It was also a call from those who have felt the impacts of an unemployment rate which since the 1970s has sat at 6.35 per cent, compared to 4.63 per cent in the pre-1970 era. Comparatively, China’s unemployment rate has remained stagnant at around 3.27 per cent. This shift towards an anti-globalisation agenda in the West stems from anger: an angry electorate that looks at the rise of surplus in the east and intertwines it with the rise of deficit in the West.
Taking the numbers at face value, this anger appears somewhat justified. One of the key benefits of globalisation has been the facilitation of trade. However, currently the US balance of trade is a deficit of over US$36 Billion. Similarly, the United Kingdom’s balance of trade is a deficit of GB£5.2 Billion and Australia’s is over AU$1.2 Billion. Comparing this to the east, China, one of the greatest beneficiaries of globalisation, has reported a trade surplus of over US$49 Billion. While it can be argued that in aggregate globalisation has had a positive effect on the world, clearly the West is trailing behind, and their citizens, many of whom are feeling the pinch, are blaming the establishment.
We know that Trump won this vote on class – a vote by people who were disaffected by politicians at the behold of lobbyist and interest groups, and tired of a system that kept pushing inequality further and further; a system where the rich became richer while the poor have remained in poverty. However, while the American people have voted against the establishment, so far there isn’t much ‘anti-establishment’ about Trump at all.
Firstly, one of Trump’s key policies is tax cuts, the majority of which will be enjoyed by the top 1 per cent. This ‘trickle-down economics’ has been Republican Party policy for many years, even though extensive research has debunked claims that cutting the top tax rate leads to economic growth, income growth, wage growth or, as Trump claims, job creation. Secondly, Trump’s Transition Team is not dissimilar to any other Republican administration.
So far, the only thing that is anti-establishment about Trump is that he will be the first President who has not served in elected office or in the military or as a diplomat.
In any case, with thousands taking to the streets to take part in anti-Trump protests, the biggest challenge for Trump now will be to unite the United States, because, in the words of the 44th President, “That’s what the country needs – a sense of unity; a sense of inclusion; a respect for our institutions, our way of life, rule of law; and a respect for each other. I hope that he maintains that spirit throughout this transition, and I certainly hope that’s how his presidency has a chance to begin.” For the sake of the world, we all hope for the same.
From heartland of Democratic-country in Boston, Massachusetts, within the gates of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, this article was written on 12 November 2016 in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 US Presidential Election.