Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Thoughts on Trump: policy, geopolitics, ideology


These are short, sketchy and incomplete. I had to write some ideas down. Time will tell how far they are right.

Policy:
  1. The media – which, yes, leans Democrat – focused on Trump's personality, which was indeed a massive minus. However, Trump won because of his protectionist and isolationist policies, despite his personality. We know little about these, partly because the media didn't report them very well, partly because many were made up on the fly and are not serious.
  2. But Trump will do what he says in some respects. He will protect existing industries; prevent immigration, increase deportations; and spend money on stimulus policies – which were the first point of his victory speech, not migration or the border wall. Stimulus policy is Keynesianism, but pursued too late, at a point in the cycle where it will be procyclical not countercyclical. Also, although the US could probably do with some public investment, the money is unlikely to be well spent: Republicans are less competent at public investment than Democrats. Expect a short-term boom, followed by the bills coming due. At that point, Trump may try to undermine the Federal Reserve and print money.
  3. So, expect further long-term decline in the US economy. The US may now have entered the cycle of populism that parts of Latin America went through in the last century.
  4. Also expect the legislature to continue its slide towards irrelevance. Trump is pushy and strong-willed; he will build on Bush II and Obama's rule by executive decree. Political systems always have a demand for political decisions; if one institution can't supply this demand, others will take its place.
  5. Trump's policies have more continuity with Obama than is obvious. Obama pivoted towards Asia (i.e. away from Europe) before being forced back by events. Trump continues this with his attitude to NATO. The pendulum has also been moving away from free trade for a while. Obama has deported many illegal immigrants and this will increase.
Geopolitics:
  1. The logic of the situation, post-Brexit, is likely to push Britain, the US and Russia closer and away from Germany. France might also slip away from Germany if Le Pen is indeed elected. This is more with respect to trade than in terms of conflict, but the border between these is not solid. This situation is pretty sad, given that Germany is a liberal democracy and Russia is run by Putin who poisons UK citizens on the streets of London, but I think strong forces are pushing for it. If France does fall to Le Pen, then we can probably predict the end of the Euro in the next ten years. Geopolitically Europe might then look as if the twentieth century hadn't happened.
  2. I cannot imagine Russia will not try to play more in Eastern Europe. Trump has made the terrible mistake here of publicly announcing his weakness of will. It is hard to see Europe stepping into the breach to defend, say, Latvia.
  3. I'm not clear what will happen with respect to China. Will the US try to split Russia from China, Nixon's ploy in reverse? Or could Trump become a wholly owned local subsidiary of the Authoritarian International, à la Berlusconi?
Ideology:
  1. What's Left? Not much. The radical Left has a discredited economic programme, plus cultural politics that electorates hate (internationalism, multiculturalism....)The moderate Left has an economic programme that made people richer, but increased inequality and left bitter losers...  plus the same cultural politics that electorates hate, except also it is tied to their disliked internationalist economic programme. (Key campaign moment: the leaked Clinton speech which supposedly revealed her desire for open borders.)
  2. This is another step in the divorce between liberalism and democracy. For example, Trump has promised to torture terror suspects. I see no reason to dismiss this or to assume he will be prevented by the US's checks and balances: Bush wasn't. It's time to admit that democratic tyranny is a real possibility. It may even be that liberals – in the straightforward sense of people committed to human rights and civil freedoms – will need to organize and struggle politically against some democratic regimes. Maybe Tim Garton Ash can lead the first Liberal International.
  3. Democracy itself is more threatened by the elites who are disgusted by Trump and horrified by Brexit than it is by Trump's authoritarian tendencies. If Trump's policies fail, then expect a further round of middle-class disillusionment with democracy.
  4. Democracy has already become somewhat hollowed out. We are far from the days in the 1970s when Lord Hailsham could warn of "elective tyranny". Now, government decisions can be challenged in court, even in areas of "high politics" such as Brexit; much policy, including monetary policy, is delegated to unelected bureaucrats; at local level in the UK, non-democratic bodies get a lot done. Actually existing resistance to democracy, driven by people who have money to lose, currently focuses on these rival centres of power. But institutions need coordination by the political centre. If that centre loses authority, different institutions start serving their own constituencies rather than the national interest. In newer, marginal democracies, expect anti-democrats to push for non-democratic political institutions and take steps away from democracy. In established democracies, expect continued institutional sclerosis.