What Lies Beyond the Next Election?
American commentator Helen Polly Horst looks to the future for DANTE and asks what will happen, whoever becomes the new U.S. president
You only know an election is getting to boiling point when the Terminator and the Man With No Name come publican Clint Eastwood called the present time “a sad time in history,” defined by “a pussy generation”. He defended some comments by Grand Old Party hopeful Donald Trump which have been seen as racist. “Everybody’s walking on eggshells. When I grew up, those things weren’t called racist,” Eastwood said. Meanwhile, the former governor of California, Arnold Schwarzeneg-ger, a man of even fewer words (onscreen anyway) but with no less firepower, pointedly warned about candidates ma-king “noise” and “outrageous statements” just to win atten-tion.
Most of us will already have Tuesday, November 8, 2016 in our diary. This presidential election is a watershed date in the history of the world. Yes, that is something said for many presidential votes. It is especially important for those who can vote, and I urge all who can to do so, not that not voting pre-cludes the right to comment after, as is sometimes suggested. Our current print issue is on sale in October and November, coming right in the crucial closing stages of the presidential race. The next issue will go on sale just as the result becomes clear: the choice of what used to be “the most powerful man in the world.”
Except for two things. First, this time the chosen one may be a woman, if Hillary Rodham Clinton becomes not just the first female candidate but also triumphs. Second, constraints on presidential power make the office less obviously powerful than it was. One of the most important factors is whether the same party controls presidency, senate and congress. If there are differences, the head of state has it tougher. Even then, most presidents have it harder in the last year of office, being perceived as a lame duck who can be safely ignored.
So much for predicting who will win. This much we know. Leaving aside libertarian and green outsiders in Gary John-son and Jill Stein respectively, the choice is the clearest cut in a generation. This is particularly true because of Republican candidate Trump, who has been branded the most right-wing of choices for the GOP in 100 years. While Trump, 70, ar-gues that he has huge business experience, he has been damaged by the number of ventures that have failed. He is also hurt by his off-the-cuff comments and especially his attitude towards women and non-Americans, which are seen as ignorant at best and discriminatory at worst. Could this man who thinks instinctively be trusted with his hand on the nuclear button?
On the Democrat side, Clinton, mindful of gaining as much support as possible, has positioned herself across her party much more fully. She turns 69 in October and has argued, relatively convincingly, that she is the most experienced can-didate. She was First Lady of Arkansas, eight years as First Lady, a two-time senator, and Secretary of State. That, ho-wever, does not necessarily make her the best qualified, of course. She has been damaged by her reputation as an in-sider and tarnished from sexual scandals that took the shine off her husband’s presidency. After FBI criticism of her email security, could she be trusted with the nuclear button either?Research from the Harvard School of Government points to a list of desirable qualities for a president: considerable business or public life experience, knowledge, intelligence, integrity and judgement among them. It suggests that there are at least 5,000 Americans who score highly in all of these using the most stringent of criteria. We are looking at those who have first-class degrees from the best universities, MBAs, fluency in several languages, have run blue-chip companies and served in senior elective offices. The one thing that both Trump and Clinton have in common is that they have rela-tively low approval ratings. An average of polls as DANTE went to press showed nearly 45% of respondents regarding not one but both candidates as fundamentally untrustworthy. One of the reasons why the new president has to hit the ground running is that Barack Obama’s second term showed the president, ac-cording to the Washington Insider re-search group, becoming a legislative lame duck within a year of being re-elected. As a result, many difficult de-cisions have been inevitably delayed and kicked into the long grass, espe-cially with insufficient budgets being available. Time after time, healthcare and welfare reforms have been wate-red down. Clinton vows to push ahead, while careful not to commit to higher taxes; Trump advocates a smaller fede-ral role and putting more emphasis on the free market.
One of the biggest issues facing either one will be the fight against terrorism. It can be imagined that a Trump pre-sidency will infuriate some opponents with his stance, widely portrayed as an-ti-Muslim. A Clinton presidency will not please those fundamentalists who think women should not be even allowed to drive cars, never mind run a country. They will gasp, “America is now so cor-rupt it even puts a woman in charge!” America is on the edge of international tensions such as those surrounding Syria, with the Russian intervention there. The instability in neighbouring Turkey, with its abortive coup and terror at-tacks, will need a firm stance at a time when the refugee crisis still spills across Europe. Ever since Vietnam, the U.S. has been wary of so-called “foreign adventures”, but it has persisted: in Iraq and Afghanistan most notably, but also Cambodia and Korea. Iran has been off-limits, though the possibly misguided second Iraq war may make the Tehran regime even more dangerous, nuclear weapons or no, especially being loca-ted so close to Israel, or within rocket range anyway. Time was when the U.S. was one of just two superpowers, the other being the U.S.S.R. Now the world perspective has changed. China has become a Trump rallying call and obsession; Clinton has also taken the country’s power on board and promi-ses a realistic engagement following the lines she and John Kerry have alre-ady formulated.
More alarming is the growing alliance of countries united by Muslim faith and anti-western sentiment, and the Islamic State itself. For many Americans, most of whom do not even have a passport, international issues may be less of a worry. A seminar at St Anthony’s Col-lege, Oxford, went through some of the issues recently. In short, Trump places security over concerns about privacy; Clinton values freedom but not at any expense of danger. Libertarians will have an increasingly hard time if terror attacks continue.
Meetings at the Royal Institute of Inter-national Affairs at Chatham House in London have endlessly debated the upshot. I am bound by “Chatham Hou-se rules” in using these meetings just for information and not direct quoting, with the sources having to stay anonymous. However, with the U.S. still acting like the world’s policeman, senior strate-gists have been debating how effective this is, both politically and financially. The country more often than not invo-kes the approval of the United Nations, which critics see as a U.S. sock-puppet. The common goal is to act where U.S. interest is at stake. The next president needs to formulate firmer rules on what has become known as the ‘“Obama doctrine”: that is, also act if direct allies are in danger, especially over oil supply (Israel, Middle East); and consider action if democracy and western values are at risk (Korea, Syria, Turkey).
Both candidates have focused on making America great again. In order to do this the U.S. needs to properly enga-ge with its closer neighbours. Mexico can be treated with distrust or it can made a closer ally, at all times watching immigration without building a wall. Canada needs to be respected even if it is like a 51st State in many ways. The spe-cial relationship with Britain should become stronger, not we-aker, as the country breaks away from the EU – now maybe, in a reversal of history, we have the 52nd State right there! The issue of trade is back open again, with the controversial trade pact with Europe on the verge of collapse, according to German officials. DANTE has already reported on the TTIP plans, which anyway have been thrown into chaos with Bre-xit. A sensible president would be less protectionist and more realistic. Germany’s economy minister Sigmar Gabriel says the deal ran into trouble over U.S. intransigence. The bro-adest-minded pact would tear down barriers across North America and Europe, but that may be too much to hope for. While the simplest solution for the next president is to kick it into the long grass, what an achievement if it were to be finalised! This would be what the U.K.’s new, improbable, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has termed “the Holy Grail” of trade pacts, much better than the European Union, howe-ver (if ever?) it survives.
At home, the new president will have a full in-tray. What to do about guns and the second amendment is one thing after a spate of shootings. The temptation, again, will be to do nothing, though federal action is still possible to urge states to tighten up on firearms possession, not to ban weapons, just be a little more controlled in the issuing of them.
The elephant in the room is the economy -‘It’s the economy, stupid!’ The dollar is not so obviously the de facto world cur-rency. At home, the U.S. has to face twin dangers of higher unemployment and recession worries. Free market or Keyne-sian growth? The answer isn’t a simple choice.
I leave you with the words of Joseph Nye of the Harvard Kennedy School: “Presidents will be better served by remem-bering their transactional predecessors’ observance of the credo ‘Above all, do no harm’ than by issuing stirring calls for transformational change.’” In other words, have that ‘vi-sion thing’ but above all go for careful end sentence at le-adership. It may be safer for us all. Good luck to the next leader of the free world, he or she. I have a feeling you are going to need it.