Election over, Donald Trump must now change his tune
In his campaign, America’s president-elect insulted almost everyone including trade partners and allies in Asia; the onus is on him to repair the damage
A Republican in the White House is nothing unusual, but Donald Trump as president is to many unfathomable. The rancorous campaign he and Democratic rival Hillary Clinton waged for the highest office in the world’s most powerful country shocked and stunned, in the process damaging perceptions of politics, the American way and democracy. He stabbed at China, threatened to tear up alliances and denigrated minorities and women in his quest to beat the system he claimed was rigged against him. He has hard work ahead of him to mould America to fit his vision, but his priority has to be building trust, reassuring and repairing.
A political outsider with a taste for showbiz, Trump’s campaign was always going to be unconventional. He appealed to blue-collar white Americans, who felt betrayed by the establishment and left out of US-led globalisation. They voted for him in droves, encouraged by his pledges to check China’s rise through scrapping trade deals, to bring back lost industries and jobs and to control immigration. The rhetoric caused insult and injury and alarmed allies and partners who fear trade wars and broken pacts.
Trump markedly changed his tune in his acceptance speech. He spoke of the need for all Americans to work together and promised the US would “get along with all other nations”. Partnership, not conflict, was his solemn vow. With Republicans now holding the presidency and both houses of Congress, he has to resist the temptation to go back on his word.
America’s reputation at stake
The reputation of the US and its much-vaunted democracy have suffered a substantial blow from which recovery will take years, if at all. American economic, military and political might and the nation’s cultural influence are such that every presidential election is closely watched by foreign governments, particularly those that are rivals. The standards of political discourse, the low grade of the debates between Trump and Clinton and the shameful rhetoric and blatant hatred on show was an embarrassment no American could claim to be proud of. There has been a loss of respect and a ridiculing of the liberal democracy that American leaders have been so eager to export elsewhere. In its place are calls for an end to American self-importance and arrogance.
No US presidential election campaign in modern times has been as bitter or divisive. It has scarred families and friendships. Trump and some of his Republican supporters are largely to blame, their ignorance, racism and misogyny proving that standards of decency and fairness are still wanting in sectors of grass-roots American society. His attacks on Mexicans, Muslims, immigrants and other minorities unleashed prejudice that will not easily be calmed.
That a woman from a major US party was for the first time standing for president was a historic moment that should have been cause for celebration. But the significance was lost in the misogynistic outbursts from the Trump camp, each remark highlighting how much more needs to be done before women are treated equally and fairly.
Time to reassure the world
Campaigning among Republicans and Democrats to choose candidates caused chasms of hatred and distrust among ideological allies. Trump and Clinton both rounded with vitriol on their rivals for their party’s nomination, weakening their own positions of authority in the process. The way nominees are chosen has been put into question.
Clinton was hounded by her establishment links. There has been a backlash worldwide against the rich and powerful, institutions and the controlling grip of the political elite. Her time as first lady, a senator and secretary of state made her among the most qualified presidential candidates ever, but she was also a representative symbol of establishment rule.
For voters seeking change, as they have done in Britain by voting to leave the European Union, in Germany in opposing government policies on migration and in India, the Philippines and elsewhere by choosing populist leaders, Trump was a viable option, no matter what his flaws. Clinton was also tainted by scandals over her private use of email servers and the deaths of four Americans, including US ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, in attacks by Muslim militants in Benghazi in 2012, both while secretary of state. No wrongdoing was found after an FBI inquiry into the email case concluded in July. Why the matter was reviewed without action has still to be explained.
Trump and his aides have much work to do in laying out firm policies to lessen the uncertainty, particularly for trading partners in China and the rest of Asia, who preferred Clinton, and investors in shares and commodities. But their first order of business has to be healing the wounds their campaigning has caused. Overseas, allies and rivals alike have to be reassured that rhetoric was just that; in place of the jabs and accusations there has to be measured diplomacy. It is what Americans, Chinese and the world need to calm the doubts and fears.