I’ve never been less glad to be right about something than I have turned out to be about Trump winning. I, like many of you, are sitting here in a daze, shocked by another terrible election result (something that has become a very familiar feeling). But let’s try and take a deep breath and figure out what this actually means for the western world as objectively as possible.
I look first to Trump’s victory speech. It was atypical of him and was notably absent of any of his usual rhetoric. As opposed to saying he was going to have Clinton put on show trial, he told the New York crowd that “we owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country”. No mention of expelling the immigrants or the Muslim ban. In regards to those two points, this was almost certainly thought about beforehand, as these are two things that are unlikely to actually happen. Trying to get rid of every illegal immigrant in America would require a massive increase in law enforcement as well as a total logistical nightmare. The Muslim ban isn’t possible without repealing portions of the constitution.
But who knows? One theme that seems to be emerging is the American Right becoming protectionist – and openly big state to boot. Trump seems to have his eye on borrowing a lot of money for infrastructure projects that will theoretically create jobs. Sounds weirdly like Jeremy Corbyn.
In fact, that’s the real trick here: if there is a Republican presidency that is anti-free trade and pro-infrastructure spending, the only thing separating him from the hard left is his anti-immigration stuff. I’ve read enough stuff on both sides of the Atlantic in the past few weeks from outlets of the Left that have been along the lines of, yeah, Trump is awful and all of that but at least he’s anti-TTIP, right? The emerging fault line throughout western politics is between nationalism and internationalism – weirdly, the very old conservative v liberal schism.
Speaking of which, liberalism has never been so imperilled in the west since the close of the war. And yet, such a crisis could force it to become more defined. The flip side of this is that it appears we need to go through an era where people reject the old liberal centre and try things on the fringes for a while. The advantage of Trump being in charge is much like the only upside to Brexit: those who have railed long and hard against the establishment have become the new establishment and thus have been placed in a position in which they are expected to deliver on their promises. And man, they have promised a lot.
A more protectionist America will not deliver the country prosperity. Americans have decided they want to find that out the hard way.