10 Nov 2016 14:20 IST

Trump signifies hope, not pessimism

He believes the best of America has slipped away in recent decades

Donald Trump has just been elected America’s 45th president. In so doing, he has defied all odds — a spirited fight from the well-oiled political machine of Hillary Clinton, strong opposition from members of his own party including several who openly revolted against him (such as Mitt Romney and the Bush family), a political/media elite which openly advocated for his defeat and even pollsters who got it all wrong.

Trump is a phenomenon in every way imaginable. He had no political experience before launching his campaign 18 months ago. He had the flimsiest of campaign organisations of any modern candidate in US history. He was the first politician to exploit social media by publicly tweeting things that no public figure could even dream of.

He forswore campaign contributions from the elite and invested his own millions demonstrating that he was beholden to no special interests. And up until a few months ago, he refused to use a teleprompter in his rallies relying instead on a few cue cards to deliver his message in a clear language that a sixth grader could understand.

Media gone wrong

The media refused to believe that he had real appeal, writing him off as someone whose long list of flaws would doom him. It went out of its way to negatively highlight his comments against Hispanic immigrants, Muslims, women, a physically challenged reporter and a Mexican judge. The press coverage against him was 95 per cent unfavourable. It is remarkable that he prevailed.

Trump was propelled to victory by large numbers of white working-class male voters without a college education largely in America’s smaller cities. They so trusted his “country-first” message that they ignored anything bad that was said about him. They understood that under Obama, who too ran on a platform of change, changes were for the worse.

They saw a domestic policy that was in tatters and a foreign policy which was inept to which they directly tied Clinton. Clinton’s efforts to make history and become America’s first woman president relied on building on Obama’s historic coalition of blacks, women and minorities, including Indian Americans.

But this failed miserably. In what was a turnout election, he turned out more of his supporters than she did. In many ways, Trump’s victory was a frame-by-frame replay of Brexit.

What’s for India?

Reaction to his victory was largely negative and swift. Futures markets and foreign bourses fell. The dollar lost ground against the yen. Financial markets do not like uncertainty and the only thing certain about a Trump presidency is that he is a complete unknown.

In his acceptance speech, Trump provided some clues as to what his priorities would be. “We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We're going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none, and we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.”

His words had a couple of positive takeaways for India. He said he would “call upon the best and brightest to leverage their tremendous talent for the benefit of all — it is going to happen.” He promised that his economic plan would double US growth, but that “he would also get along with all other nations willing to get along with us. We expect to have great, great relationships.”

Could this mean that under a Trump administration, the US would address the long-pending issues of fee hikes for H-1B and L1 visas - and the social security taxes collected from workers on such visas? Could a Trump Secretary of State be friendlier to India than John Kerry has been? At heart, Trump is a nationalist who really believes that the best of America has slipped away in recent decades and only by looking inward could he restore America to its greatness.

He has assailed many of America’s trade deals insisting that he would renegotiate and even revoke them. He has vowed to bring manufacturing jobs back to the US from both China and Japan by slapping tariffs on imports. He has promised to go after countries that manipulate currencies to alter the balance of trade. These campaign statements do not augur well for Indian exporters many of whom count the US as their largest market.

The question is, which Trump do we believe? The lifelong nationalist or the uniter from the acceptance speech?

The businessman

At heart, Trump is also a successful businessman with commercial interests around the world. This is a person who wrote a book called The Art of a Deal nearly 30 years ago. Trump, the businessman, regularly outsourced manufacturing of his various products for his worldwide resorts and hotels to foreign countries, including India.

Again, the question is which Trump will arrive in the Oval Office? The businessman or the nationalist who received 55 million votes from angry, disaffected Americans?

In the areas of security and foreign policy, Trump is likely to be a lot less interventionist than the hawkish Hillary Clinton. He has insisted that other rich nations like Saudi Arabia, Japan, Korea and the NATO countries would have to start ponying up their fair share of the costs when America’s military extends protection. A Trump administration will want to limit foreign aid to Pakistan - a definite plus for India. But Trump may also not want to confront China as much in the South China Sea - a negative for India.

Many of these questions will likely get answered in the coming weeks as Trump begins to name his cabinet. Would he reach out to other business people like him or hire established Republican officials from prior administrations? How will the Republican House and Senate bond with Trump now that he has won?

The only thing that we know is that the world awaits with bated breath.

(The writer is the managing director of Rao Advisors LLC, Texas)

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