The Election of 2016 and Its Implications

Asian markets are tumbling.

The U.S. presidential election of 2016 was decidedly one for the history books.  Although 2016 is certainly not 1860, which led to the U.S. Civil War, it was a dirty, brutal and personalized campaign that tapped into the angst of a voting public angry with widening socio-economic disparities, sub-par economic growth and a dysfunctional Washington. 

Why did Donald Trump, the Republican candidate, win?

1. Public frustration with Washington’s corruption and its seeming ineffectiveness in addressing the country’s major problems.  Clinton was clearly seen as more of a Washington insider than Trump, who has never held an elected political office before.

2. The ongoing whiff of corruption that surrounded Democratic contender Hillary Clinton (not that Trump is a saint), related to her emails and the finances of the Clinton Foundation. Past Clinton “scandals” did not help.

3. The intervention of the FBI and WikiLeaks into the electoral process via disclosing embarrassing emails, which only maintained attention on Clinton’s email scandal. Furthermore, having her name associated with former Congressman Anthony Weiner (with his sexting scandal) obviously did not help Clinton in the last days of the campaign.

4. The growing divisions in U.S. society, especially along an urban-rural divide. One thing that gave Trump an appeal to many living in rural areas was that he appeared to listen to them and mocked the political correctness that many found stifling.   

5. The Democrats underestimated Trump.  As General Colin Powell stated: “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”  This was certainly the case of Clinton with Trump.

6. The appeal of a strongman leader. The last reflects a major paradigm change in global politics — the rise of strongman leaders, who offer simple solutions to complex problems. Considering the scope of U.S. problems and the challenging nature of international relations, Trump’s “tough guy” persona was a point of attraction to some voters. There are certainly echoes of this in other countries.

What next?  A Trump victory was not expected by global markets or political leaders in many other countries (many of whom have been critical of the Republican leader now president-elect).  The next week is likely to see an unwinding of the “Clinton trade” (risk on) in global debt and equity markets, downward pressure on oil prices, and a further pounding of the Mexican peso. 

Investors find a Trump victory unsettling from the standpoint that during the campaign he was anti-trade, opened up the possibility of negotiating the U.S. debt, and wants to overhaul of the U.S. alliance system around the world (such as with NATO). The last time the U.S. embraced protectionist trade policies in a major fashion was the 1930s, in the form of the Smoot-Hawley Tariffs. U.S. protectionism was a major cause of the deepening of the global Depression. The extent of the market downdraft will depend on Trump’s acceptance speech, his comments on policy matters before he gets into the White House and who he appoints to his cabinet. 

The major challenge in the days ahead will be to find a way to reunite the country after the election.  In many regards, this may be an impossible process, considering the bad blood between Democrats and Republicans since 2008.  A dangerous development in U.S. politics is the destruction of the political center – the area where compromise and dialogue are reached and policies can move forward. 

The U.S. sovereign ratings are Aaa/AA+/AAA, with a stable outlook.  The policy format of the incoming Trump administration will no doubt be carefully examined, in particular on its debt management and trade policies. 

For American politics to become more workable, President Trump will have to demonstrate an ability to lead, but also work within a constitutional system that he might find constraining.  As he moves to “drain the swamp”, Trump will have to make the transition from candidate to elected official and from someone who is critical of Congress to a leader who will have to find the means to work with it.  For their part, both the Republican Party (which held on to both the Congress and Senate) and Democratic Party will have to adjust to a President who has not emerged from their ranks.  A new Washington looms on the horizon – hopefully it works.

Dr. Scott B. MacDonald
The Global Economic Doctor

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