When the UK voted for Brexit I felt just as I felt the day my father died. https://richardswsmith.wordpress.com/2016/06/24/i-went-to-be-a-european-and-woke-up-a-little-englander/ I was about to write that I don’t feel so badly about Trump being elected, Brexit having prepared me. But now I think that I do feel as bad. The election of Trump creates huge uncertainty, and I can understand that if you feel that your world has gone badly wrong then huge uncertainty may be welcome: “Things are so bad that anything will be better.” But there’s a high chance that things will be worse–particularly and ironically for the people who elected him.
I think back on a column in the FT by Janan Ganesh pointing out when Theresa May was elected that she followed Cameron, Brown, Blair, and Major in arguing that she would govern for all the people and reduce inequalities. They failed, and, Ganesh argued, she will fail. In a globalised world politicians simply don’t have the power they need. May is going to try and achieve her vision by being a leader in world trade, whereas Trump says he’s going to try the opposite. Protectionism won’t work, but is hugely tempting. And when it fails? That could be when things turn very nasty.
It’s a human failing, one that may destroy us, to overestimate the impact of the short term and underestimate the impact of the long term.
Perhaps the most important of Trump’s three pluses will be his repudiation of climate change. This is the slow change that will destroy us as a species and make the world unlivable for our children and grandchildren. Trump had big support in coal mining areas, and from his point of view backing off on carbon reduction and promoting the coal industry will be an easy win.
The next plus that will affect Americans more than the rest of us will be the undoing of Obamacare. This might prove too complicated and hard for a man with a short attention span, but it could be that the US will return to being alone among developed nations in having millions of uninsured.
The third plus–and the first for most commentators–might be trade and the effect on the economy, but I’d opt for some hard to define cultural shift. Will Trump’s election legitimise political, verbal, and even physical attacks on minorities as Brexit has done? Will women be “put back in their box”? If, as Simon Schama argues, the election was more to do with race than economics, then will civil rights be thrown into reverse? Might it soon be impossible to get an abortion? Might the law be made subservient to the executive, so eroding the checks and balances of the US system? Might Trump become impatient with a Congress that blocks his plans, the people’s plans? Trump was elected with a promise to shake up Washington. Will that shake up make things better or worse?
A combination of Trump’s election, little sleep, and a rough board meeting are leaving me shaken. But perhaps I foresaw this in some way as yesterday I ordered a kilogram of live whelks. I’m going now to walk across the common in the rain to collect them. The rain, green, and whelks will restore me.