Donald Trump’s victory ‘turned politics on its head’
WASHINGTON - Speaker of the US House of Representatives Paul Ryan, the most powerful Republican in Washington, said it best: Donald Trump “turned politics on its head”.
Defying the predictions of pollsters and pundits, Trump was elected president of the United States on November 8th. Trump won the electoral college vote by at least 290 to 232 (some states have not yet certified their outcomes but 270 ensures victory). He did so by winning four heavily populated states — Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida — that most polls indicated would be won by Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Clinton won the popular vote — 47.7% to 47.5% — making Trump the second person in the past 16 years to be elected without winning the popular vote. Republican George W. Bush lost the popular vote to Democrat Al Gore in 2000. An estimated 56% of Americans eligible to vote did so.
Analysts are frantically trying to explain why and how Trump won. One can point to isolated facts. For example, if African Americans had turned out in the same numbers as they did in 2008 and 2012, Clinton would have won. These facts, however, do not explain the election’s deep significance.
In many ways, Trump’s victory was Brexit, Act II, in which Americans joined the British in rejecting open trade, open borders and people who look different or pray differently. Act III of this drama takes place in France in April and May.
Trump was gracious in victory. He praised Clinton instead of calling her a “loser” as he did his defeated Republican primary opponents. Clinton and US President Barack Obama were equally magnanimous in defeat and said they would help Trump unite the country. Despite the nice words, the United States is entering a period of political turbulence unseen in modern times.
The world is watching, too, for the most part nervously, and with good reason: Trump has talked flippantly about using nuclear weapons, questioned enduring US alliances such as NATO, threatened trade wars with China and Mexico, proposed banning Muslims from entering the United States, promised to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, questioned whether he would maintain the nuclear deal with Iran and pledged to pull out of a host of multilateral agreements, including the Paris climate accords.
Compounding the anxiety is uncertainty about who Trump will appoint to important executive branch positions. Presidents make about 4,000 appointments or nominations — from cabinet members to White House staff. Only a small number are subject to congressional confirmation.
Trump, however, has alienated much of his own party and many prominent Republican foreign policy experts refused to endorse him or publicly declared their support for Clinton.
So, if seasoned Republican foreign policy experts are shunned, where will Trump turn to fill such critical jobs as secretaries of State and Defense, national security adviser and important ambassadorships?
The few foreign policy advisers who Trump mentioned during the campaign were either unknown or on the fringes of policy circles. “National security is hard to do well with first-rate people. It’s almost impossible to do well with third-rate people,” said Kori Schake, a research fellow at Stanford University and former US State Department official under president George W. Bush.
Trump’s principal campaign adviser on Middle East policy is Walid Phares, a former adviser to Lebanese warlord Samir Geagea. Phares, who immigrated to the United States in the 1980s, claims that Islamists inside US borders seek to impose sharia law on Americans. In 2012 he accused the Obama administration of “partnering” with the Muslim Brotherhood.
While many around the world view the outcome of the US election with concern, at least two leaders — Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu — ostensibly have reason to cheer Trump’s victory.
Throughout the campaign, Trump had nice things to say about Putin, to the point that Clinton accused the New York billionaire of being “Putin’s puppet”. However, some mainstream foreign policy experts agree with Trump’s general proposition that Washington and Moscow should work more closely in Syria to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS). Partnering more closely with Russia has potential complications: Moscow is allied with Tehran in its support for Syrian President Bashar Assad and Trump has made strong anti-Iranian statements.
In Israel, many on the right say that Trump will not push the Jewish state to halt settlement expansion and has no interest in pursuing a US-mediated negotiation process. Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem is icing on the cake.
The Arab Gulf states have reasons to be happy with Trump’s election (he is anti-Iran and will not lecture them on human rights and democracy) as well as cause for concern (he regularly mentions Saudi Arabia when complaining about US allies that do not “pay their way”).
US politics have, without doubt, been “turned on its head” by Trump’s stunning election. It is yet to be seen whether his election will turn the world on its head.