Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Business Recorder Editorial Nov 9, 2016

Trumped! After one of the most acerbic, bruising electoral campaigns in the US’s history, in which the personalities of the rival candidates were centre-stage and policy debate conspicuous by its absence, maverick candidate Donald Trump’s surprise defeat of Hillary Clinton upended all the pollsters, pundits and forecasters who were predicting a Clinton victory almost till the last minute. In the event, the ‘anti-establishment’ candidate, as Trump was labelled, has upset the political apple cart in spectacular fashion. At the time of writing these lines, Trump had 278 electoral college votes to Hillary’s 218, a clear victory even when some states’ results were still pending. For a candidate to be elected president requires 270 electoral college votes. Hillary finally acknowledged the inevitable and conceded defeat in a telephone call to Trump to congratulate him. The crucial factor in Trump’s upset was his winning a majority of the swing states, while traditionally Republican states voted solidly for him. Also, the high turnout failed to help Hillary, as most analysts had predicted. Eight of the 13 hotly contested states went to Trump. Incomplete but representative statistics show he garnered 51 percent of the male vote, a surprising 42 percent of the female (given his misogynist statements during the campaign), 40 percent of the 18-44 years old vote, 53 percent of the over 45 years old, 29 percent of the Hispanic (again surprising given his anti-minorities, anti-immigrant rhetoric), 53 percent of the white but only six percent of the black vote. The last, dubbed a ‘whitelash’ against a black president (Obama) and immigration (blamed in Trump’s campaign rhetoric as responsible for taking white working people’s jobs away from them), trumped the logic that minorities, ethnic and religious (especially Muslims), and women would deny a Trump win. The white working class (pejoratively dubbed ‘rednecks’) proved a big and crucial supporter of the Donald. Interestingly, given the peculiarities of the US presidential system in which candidates have to win on a state to state basis, the popular vote that elects the electoral college had a very narrow margin: 47.7 percent for Trump as against 47.5 percent for Hillary. To add salt to the Democrats’ wounds, the Republicans simultaneously retained control of both houses of Congress, an outcome that will make Trump’s task of bringing about the changes he promised that much easier. Obama’s legislative legacy, particularly healthcare, will probably be rolled back. The vacant seat on the Supreme Court, which Obama was unable to fill for a year because of the Republican-controlled Congress’ resistance, will see a conservative elevated, tipping the court’s balance in a definitely right wing direction. In a significant parallel with the Brexit referendum in the UK, at the heart of the US’s clear swing to the right after eight years of the Obama presidency was globalisation and its concomitant effects. Free global trade tipped the odds against the developed countries, including the US, not the least because cheaper labour and other inputs made manufacturing in the developed world more attractive and shifted industrial jobs out of countries such as the US to the developing world, of which China has shown the most spectacular results, becoming in no time the leading manufacturing workshop and exporter of the world. With no prospects of employment in sight, since they did not have the skill sets required for the high tech industry left on US soil, it should therefore come as no surprise that the blue collar class vented its rage and frustration against the establishment status quo and in favour of a candidate who at least rhetorically promised a reversal of the effects of globalisation such as free trade (NAFTA in the American hemisphere, similar accords the world over), shifting of manufacturing jobs abroad, and stemming the tide of immigrants (legal and illegal) blamed for stealing white jobs by being prepared to work for a relative pittance. The promised high turnout, women, youth and college educated vote proved inadequate to overcome the momentum generated by Trump’s populist rhetoric that touched a chord on the raw nerves of the unemployed and unemployable. Divisive as Trump’s campaign was, he has tried to soften the blow by sounding presidential in his first speech after being declared president-elect. He promised to be a president for all Americans. The markets, usually a good initial indicator of economic perceptions, reversed their early skittishness to stabilise after Trump’s attempt to soothe jangled nerves. Nevertheless, the US people as a whole and the world wait with bated breath the playing out of Trump’s term, wondering how and to what extent he will retreat from his most extreme and outrageous campaign statements. For Pakistan too the new president-elect’s stunning and unexpected victory poses real challenges, given US suspicions about Pakistan’s role in harbouring terrorists of all descriptions on its soil. All the more reason perhaps for getting our foreign policy house in order, starting with the appointment of a fulltime foreign minister.

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