The Orange One has landed in the White House with all the grace of an elephant crashing through a china shop. His progress has been marked by deafening quarrels with the intelligence agencies, the media and assorted other critics including Meryl Streep and Saturday Night Live, but this is the Donald Trump so many people love and many more hate. The difference this time is that he is the President of the United States of America and, like it or not, everyone has to listen when he opens his mouth. What he does with his office is far from clear, given his addiction to “alternate facts”; the only thing certain is that he will Make America Great Again.
Trump will have a profound effect on the near future of the planet by virtue of his position as the world’s most powerful individual. For instance, his rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership derails a plan to lower non-tariff and tariff barriers to trade among four of the most powerful economies as well as several emerging ones. Prima facie it is a blow at global trade flows, but beyond that it signals that the tide is turning against globalisation. Coupled with his promise to bring back jobs lost to Mexico and other neighbours under the North American Free Trade Agreement it could mean a return to mercantilism, with every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost.
It is not clear if this approach will make America great again or even restore jobs lost in the rust belt states but the retreat of manufacturing from Mexico, Guatemala, the Philippines, Vietnam and other countries will definitely affect their fortunes, encourage protectionism up and down the line and overturn the WTO regime. Globalisation has pulled more people out of poverty than any other programme in the last century. Disrupting it would be a devastating blow at that process. The real objection to protectionism is that it may not protect anything at all as automation and robotisation are reaching new levels of sophistication and could decimate entire professions and careers. Those lost jobs may never be found again. On environment, everyone concerned by global warming must feel a sense of despair looking at the disproportionate representation of oil interests in the cabinet. Even China’s reassurance may not be enough.
Trump’s love affair with Russia’s Vladimir Putin shows no sign of wavering after his election and there is every indication that he will continue to warm to Europe’s greatest dictator. With the profoundly nativist turn in European Union politics and the socialists in disarray, France, Italy, and Germany are poised to move farther right than at any time in the last half century. Racism is at new levels across the EU and public ire seems to be directed mostly at “radical Islam” and Chinese and, by extension, third world manufacturing. A Trump presidency could be the catalyst that produces an “Us and Them” faceoff with the US and the EU on one side, “radical Islam” as one enemy and China as the other. And if China is to be read as code for emerging economies to which jobs have been outsourced from the developed countries, Trump could find himself presiding over a more extreme version of Samuel Huntington’s clash of civilisations.
This, to be sure, is a remote possibility, but perhaps no more remote than a Donald Trump victory at this time last year. It cannot be ruled out because the right is not in a conciliatory mood and is eager to find scapegoats for the mess it has made of the world economy in the period leading up to and beyond the Great Recession. The “Yellow Peril” is a handy substitute for mea culpa but the passions it arouses could spin out of control if the analogy is pushed too far. Even the best case scenario will see a marked increase in hostility to Muslims as the war on terror escalates to new levels; defeating it is Trump’s top priority.
For India a Trump presidency might present more challenge than opportunity as work permits for IT professionals will get harder to obtain. With the crackdown on outsourcing and tough new rules likely about employing locals, Indian software companies will have to look elsewhere for jobs. And with protectionism on its agenda the new administration’s policies are likely to prolong the economic slowdown. It could turn really ugly if Trump’s China-baiting escalates into a trade war as the resultant disruptions could push the world into a second recession. The matter is far from settled as common sense could break out even at this late date but it does seem certain that we are going to be cursed with interesting times.
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