A Trump Presidency begins

There has been much concern, both inside and outside America, at the result of the American election – but it is now a fact that has to be lived with.  It is time to look forward.  Many people were taken by surprise, but there were warning signs in the depth of feeling expressed by angry American voters and in Hillary Clinton’s failure to connect with them.  Donald Trump’s success came despite a campaign focus on personalities.  Both candidates were unpopular.

Donald Trump’s victory came from his handling of three key themes: anxiety over the loss of jobs to globalisation, resentment against a neoliberal political class that has placed the interests of rich people above those of everyone else, and latent racism in the so-called ‘alt-right’.  The election of a non-politician is a slap in the face for the political establishment.  Donald Trump presented his candidacy as self-financed and he was clearly distanced from the Republican Party (although he was its nominee).

He now needs a chance to deliver on some of the economic promises he made during the campaign.  His commitment to spend $500 billion on infrastructure would create jobs, but he might find that his ideas on protectionism would result in retaliation, inflation and ultimately a loss of jobs.

He needs to avoid some of the obvious dangers inherent in the racist passions that he awakened.  It is to be hoped that the very real risk of fascism can be averted.

Donald Trump cannot reform the political establishment, which needs to reform itself to regain legitimacy and support.  Congress is tainted by its dependence on wealthy donors, who have used their influence to become even richer – as described in Richard Hasen’s book, Plutocrats United.  If politicians want to recover their credibility, they need to reduce their dependence on political donations; they should completely change the rules on campaign financing.  And both political parties need to regenerate themselves and define policies which will be acceptable to the electorate.

Naomi Klein has articulated her vision for reforming the Democratic Party.   Her antipathy to neoliberalism – the unqualified supremacy of commercial interests – would gain the approval of those who have been damaged by it.  Mariana Mazzucato’s essay, on “why it’s time for progressives to rethink capitalism”, also has ideas on what can be done.  The party needs to recover the support of working people.

Republicans also need to find a way of recreating their badly-fragmented party, whilst improving the position of the poor.  For example, Milton Friedman’s libertarian vision of a flat tax combined with a ‘negative income tax’ would guarantee benefits for the poor whilst preserving an incentive to work; it would close many tax loopholes for the rich, would be transparently fair, and could be compatible with Trump’s promise to reduce corporation tax.  With a Republican Congress, Trump has a golden opportunity to transform America’s broken tax system.

The two parties cannot afford to ignore their loss of support.  They would naturally come up with different policies, but they should nevertheless be able to reach agreement on some necessary measures; American Presidents of both parties have historically increased the minimum wage, for example.  American voter anger must be addressed, to avoid a descent into chaos.

Hillary isn’t reaching people

Politicians ought to be better informed than the average person on the issues of the day, but that does not give them the right to despise the people they are elected to serve.  Many politicians are comparatively rich, well-educated and clever – but that puts them at risk of failing to understand how a lot of people think and how they live their lives.  No one can take good decisions on behalf of the population without having some degree of empathy towards it, and ordinary people understand that; they vote for politicians who seem to sympathise with them.  Hillary Clinton is in deep trouble by not seeming to relate to people and their problems, particularly after her unfortunate outburst that described many Americans as ‘a basket of deplorables’.

Nigel Farage understands this.  In an interview on the Fox Business Network, he drew the parallels between the American presidential election and Britain’s recent EU referendum.  Farage had been successful in persuading the British people to vote to leave the EU – a ‘Brexit’ – despite an enormous amount of authoritative advice to the contrary.  That advice had been given in a tone that seemed remote and unsympathetic, whereas he regularly appeared with a pint of beer in his hand and said things which resonated with many people.  The criticism he received from the mainstream media, for his attitude to immigration, seemed to prove that he understood the issues and that most politicians didn’t.

The similarities between Nigel Farage and Donald Trump are obvious, and the two men support each other.  Both are populists and are successful practitioners of what has been termed “post-truth politics”: reaching people’s emotions and reinforcing deep-seated prejudices.  Farage claimed that Hillary is “in for a big shock in this American campaign” – and he’s very probably right.  Hillary’s criticism of Donald Trump and his supporters was a big mistake; it just reinforced the impression that she was a member of the political elite who doesn’t understand how most people feel.

Hillary Clinton has a serious image problem.  As Farage said, “people are tired of being sneered at by out-of-touch political elites”.  Her only way of connecting with people at an emotional level is to appear statesmanlike and experienced; it is a big mistake to descend to the level of the Trump campaign and try to trade insults with him.  She should draw on Bernie Sanders’s success, acknowledging his influence so that she attracts his supporters, and propose measures that clearly address the concerns of angry American voters – as previously described on this website.

Angry American Voters

The 2016 American primary elections have revealed considerable popular discontent and resentment towards the political class.  Both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump got lots of support from angry anti-establishment voters.  Despite significant economic growth in the last few decades, many people suffer hardship whilst others prosper grotesquely.  There is a growing realisation that politicians, in seeking political donations, have aligned themselves to the interests of the wealthy – so many people blame the political establishment for their problems.  Others blame their problems on immigrants and globalisation.

Trump hasn’t been part of the political establishment.  He seems to be offering solutions to people’s problems: he has pledged to build a wall against Mexican immigrants and he has advocated protectionism as a way to defend jobs from foreign competition.  In reality, anti-immigrant rhetoric could result in hostility towards the millions of Hispanics and Muslims who are already well settled in America; this would lead to a rise in hate crimes – which rose 57% in Britain following the similar rhetoric used in the recent campaign to leave the EU.  And protectionism destroys jobs, as it did with America’s tariffs on Chinese steel.  Trump’s ‘solutions’ are unworkable and would not benefit people.

In a representative democracy people elect politicians to understand complex issues, to speak for them and to govern.   Populist politicians with siren voices, though, can lure people to follow paths to disaster – ignoring complex realities to seek apparently easy solutions.  Donald Trump is now in a strong position to win the American presidency, being seen as a strong and successful individual who financed his own election campaign and who offers to magically solve people’s problems.  The condemnation of senior politicians merely adds to his credibility as a champion of ordinary people.  Since Hillary Clinton is seen as part of the political establishment, supporters of Bernie Sanders might vote for Trump rather than for her.

The presidential election is now largely a contest between Trump and Clinton.  Neither candidate is hugely popular.  Trump has antagonised many voters with some of his more outlandish statements, but his anti-establishment stance and populist pledges might yet succeed in winning him the presidency.  Fortunately, though, the American political system was designed with checks and balances, so Congress could prevent some of the damage he might otherwise do – but he might not address any of the real problems either.

Since criticising Donald Trump just strengthens him in the current political climate, Hillary Clinton would do better to ignore him and focus instead on concrete measures to address people’s concerns.  Carefully-constructed arguments alone are not going to persuade people to support responsible politicians; positive messages need to be delivered with passion and emotional appeal. She might then win the Presidency, which would be the best outcome for America.

Even if she wins, though, her hands would be tied if Congress opposed every initiative.  What is also needed is for the politicians in Congress – whether Republican, Democrat or Independent – to be elected on more moderate and responsible platforms.  The recent political posturing, trying to score points off the other party, needs to be put aside.  The country needs politicians of all stripes to work together to fix some of the problems which have caused the popular discontent.  Otherwise there is a risk of American politics sinking into yet further disrepute.  Politicians need to tackle several issues:

At a minimum, they need to pledge to overhaul campaign financing to reduce the influence of money in politics – so that they are accountable to the population as a whole, rather than favouring wealthy donors.

They need to overhaul the tax code, so that the rich pay at least the same percentage tax as the middle classes.  The Active Financing Exception, which allows wealth to be hidden overseas to avoid paying tax, needs to be quashed.

Improved productivity is better than protectionism as a route to full employment, so wealthy people need to be incentivised to invest in real industries rather than hiding their money or speculating.

People need to be reminded of the benefits of free trade.  Protectionism increases consumer prices and costs jobs in the rest of the economy.

America is a nation of immigrants.  Immigration needs to be better managed, to streamline the legal way of entering the country; there would then be less incentive for people to try to enter illegally in future.  Border security needs to be tightened, but an amnesty is needed for some of those who came in illegally but who have contributed to American society for several years.

Poverty can be reduced with an increased minimum wage and some income support.

None of the measures suggested above is inherently exclusive to either Republican or Democrat values, although the two parties would place different emphases on them.  The American Constitution envisaged negotiation between the members of Congress to develop solutions for the benefit of the population as a whole.  Whoever becomes President, Congress should aim to constructively serve the American people and give them less cause for resentment.

The Impacts of Immigration

Immigration affects everyone’s lives and it can rapidly become a toxic issue.  It is driven by economic pressures or by humanitarian concerns: to take in refugees fleeing conflict or persecution.  In destination countries, the arrival of strangers for either reason is a sensitive matter but politicians should be concerned with managing the effects rather than trying to exploit people’s fears in order to win votes and gain power.  It warrants careful discussion of its economic, political, moral, legal and security aspects so that it can be appropriately managed to avoid practical problems and social tensions.

Some people from other countries are recruited by employers who need specific skills, but other economic migrants are job-seekers desiring a better life.  Refugees also need jobs.  If the economy can absorb all the immigrants without creating unemployment, as has been the case in both the UK and the US, the result is economic growth.  UK unemployment in May 2016 was the lowest for a decade, as a proportion of the working-age population, suggesting that immigrants hadn’t taken people’s jobs.

People’s other economic concerns about immigration include the perceptions that immigrants drive down wages and that they impose a financial burden on the economy.  These fears are rarely justified, since the minimum wage protects the lowest-paid and economic migrants have to go home if they fail to find work.  Free movement of labour, as with the flexibility within the EU or the US, enables large diverse economies to develop naturally and respond to changes in circumstances; it is an economic benefit, and constraints on immigration choke economic growth.

Politicians’ responsibilities include ensuring that housing, education and health services are all capable of accommodating the immigrants; they are equally accountable to both the immigrants and the native population.  If politicians complain about immigrants, they are acknowledging their own failures.  If they are not personally responsible for solving the problems, or don’t have control over the relevant agencies, it is worth asking why they are employed at all.  It is an admission of incompetence to complain about problems that they are paid to solve.

There may be moral and social concerns about immigrants – especially if they have different values – as is often the case with asylum-seekers; this is less of an issue with the economic migration within Europe, though, where all the member countries have signed up to the European Charter of Human Rights.  Immigrants change the character of the areas they live in.  Provided that they speak the language, behave in a socially acceptable fashion and obey the law, they don’t present a tangible threat to their neighbours.  They are entitled to freedom of belief, and should not be required to change their religion, but they may need to change some practices in order to comply with the host society’s laws, human rights and conceptions of how people should behave.  What may have been acceptable in their countries of origin might not be acceptable in the societies they have arrived in, but minorities can resolve contradictions in values and avoid giving offence.

There are moral reasons for people to behave well towards immigrants: all religions and common decency enjoin acceptable behaviour towards others.  People have only to ask themselves how they would act if they were in the same situation as the immigrants and how they would like to be treated.  Cultural pluralism is inevitable in today’s world and, for people of different cultures to live in harmony with each other, it is necessary to show respect towards those of different race, religion, ideology, gender, sexuality and nationality.  Some cultural groups, though, form tight clusters which diverge from the wider society and create tensions; the Cantle Report on Social Cohesion, which examined this problem, identified some remedies.  Needless to say, it is in immigrants’ own interests to try to fit into the host society.

Immigration has legal and security aspects, which differ between refugees and economic migrants.  Strictly speaking, refugees who are at risk in their native countries have no legal right to claim asylum in the country of their choice, although there is a collective international commitment to protect them; if their reasons for fleeing are found to be genuine, they cannot legally be returned to their countries of origin if they would be at risk of persecution.

With regard to economic migrants, countries in the European Economic Area have signed treaties that accept the free movement of labour as being a necessary feature of a single market, but sections 10 and 16 of the relevant EU directive prevent such migrants from being a drain on the benefit system of the destination country and section 22 of that directive allows restrictions “on grounds of public policy, public security or public health”.  Countries outside the EU are not legally committed to take in economic migrants.

Some immigrants are security threats, but so are some of the native population; a country’s security services have to be geared to protect the population against anyone who is a threat to others.  Background checks are needed on everyone who is entering a non-Schengen country, or is entering the Schengen zone from outside it; intelligence sharing is necessary to facilitate such checks.  Countries have the legal right to expel any immigrant who is a security threat, provided that the person concerned would not be placed in danger by repatriation.

Laying blame on peaceful immigrants is a risky tactic.  It can cause hostility towards minorities who have lived in the country for generations, potentially leading to uncontrollable violence.  Intolerance should be swiftly condemned, because it is all too easy to foment ethnic strife.  Politicians who complain about immigration are creating problems instead of solving them; they certainly shouldn’t be rewarded at the ballot box.

Party Positioning

Tactical Policy-Making: – As reported in The Guardian, “Ed Miliband has promised an immigration reform bill in the first few weeks of a new Labour government as he challenged the “false promises” of Ukip and the Conservatives on the campaign trail in Rochester and Strood.”

This is clearly a tactical attempt to gain political traction in a by-election and it doesn’t help to explain what Labour as a party stands for.  Voters need to know how to vote, both now and at the next General Election.

The Impact of Coalition Politics: – It appears that British politics is entering a period of uncertainty, and no party can guarantee to deliver its manifesto policies in a coalition.  Negotiation between the coalition partners will result in some compromises and some election ‘pledges’ will fall by the wayside.  Nick Clegg was forced to apologise for the Liberal Democrats’ ‘U-turn’ on university tuition fees, which was very costly in terms of the party’s political credibility and popularity, yet such occurrences will become more common if coalition politics becomes the norm.

Political parties must explain how they intend to negotiate: defining policies for the key issues that are perceived as important by the electorate, and listing their priorities for a prospective coalition agreement.  A recent YouGov / Prospect survey lists voter priorities, and some of these are itemised below.  After the election, coalition partners must be prepared to explain the outcome of the negotiations – listing the policies which had been sacrificed and those that survived.

Since no party will be able to deliver all its manifesto policies, voters will have to look towards what the party stands for.  None of Britain’s political parties (with the possible exception of the Green Party) has stated its core values and key policies in clear and concise terms.  The larger parties need to rectify this shortfall in their manifestos and election literature.

Core Values: – Most people don’t read election manifestos, but they are more likely to glance at single-page election leaflets – so parties should be able to describe their ideologies simply and concisely.  A good example comes from the Communist Manifesto:

“The immediate aim of the Communist is the same as that of all the other proletarian parties: formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat.”

This extract is admirably clear (although it is buried at the start of section II in a 20-page document), whatever one might think of its desirability as a political credo.  The major parties in today’s Britain do not currently show the same clarity.

Economic Policies: – Policies on tax and public spending should be spelt out in sufficient detail for the Office of Budget Responsibility to cost them, so that politicians don’t mislead the electorate about their impact on the deficit.

It would also be helpful if parties spelt out their philosophies on the following questions:

Who should bear the biggest burden of taxation in a time of austerity?

What are the policy objectives in setting the levels of benefits, and what criteria must claimants meet?

What are the party’s attitudes towards inequality and what its policies about redistribution of wealth?

How is economic growth to be delivered? What are party attitudes towards ‘middle-out’ versus ‘trickle-down’ policies (i.e. stimulating demand by ensuring that middle-income people have money in their pockets, as compared to a policy of letting the rich get richer in the belief that some of the benefits would trickle down to the rest of the economy)?

What is to be done to ensure the stability of banks and financial services?

Immigration: – This was rated as the most important issue for the voters who were polled in the survey.  Policies should be spelt out, along with clear statements about whether these are compatible with current EU rules.  This issue includes border controls, access to benefits, housing and employment for immigrants.

National Health Service: – Parties should include proposed levels of NHS spending in their economic proposals.  They should also state their attitudes towards providing customer choice and localisation of some services.

Energy Prices: – As this is an item of considerable concern to voters, parties should outline their proposals (if any).

Minimum Wage: – An increase in the minimum wage has the effect of reducing government spend on benefits but might have an impact on economic growth.  The Low Pay Commission is responsible for recommending minimum wage levels, so parties need to specify how and why they would deviate from its recommendations.  The Office of Budget Responsibility should calculate the net effect on the budget deficit.

Devolution: – Although some decisions will be taken before the next General Election, much will remain to be done after it. The survey showed that voters don’t regard it as a priority issue, and it appears that people prioritise equality of treatment over local autonomy for health and education, but devolution will profoundly affect the next government.  Parties should articulate their positions on the questions raised.

The Politics of Immigration

The political posturing on immigration in Britain isn’t based upon detailed analysis of what would be best for the population.  It is an example of the impact of pressure on politicians (6.4.6), which in this case can be summarised as balancing their need for popular support against the needs of business, with the media adding more heat than light to the discussion.

Impending elections are focussing politicians’ minds on their need for popular support – but what is popular seems to be more influenced by media reporting than by research findings.  A recent survey showed that 77% of the population want immigration to be reduced and that 47% believe that it is bad for the economy, reflecting the impact of popular newspapers which selectively report stories which put some immigrants in a bad light.  Stirring up popular indignation, against immigrants claiming benefits or committing crimes, sells newspapers – but it leaves a misleading impression that can wrongly be applied to all immigrants.  Academic research suggests that immigrants have benefited the economy – they contribute to economic growth and are less likely to claim benefits than are British citizens.

The government is delaying the publication of information which is favourable to immigrants.  It isn’t showing leadership.  It should explain the valuable contribution made by many immigrants, such as students who pay high tuition fees and the seasonal influx of people who pick fruit.  Targets for net immigration are mere posturing; they are unworkable.  Britain needs policies that allow beneficial immigration but prevent abuses.

The Conservative party is trying to match UKIP’s rhetoric because it fears losing support in the upcoming European elections in May.  It is more worried about keeping its own right wing satisfied than attending to what is best for the British people.

There are legitimate concerns about accommodating an increase in population – and there is already a need for more housing, irrespective of immigration.  It would be possible to reduce immigration, but the Office of Budget Responsibility (as quoted in The Economist) has forecast that the national debt would almost double over the next few decades if Britain shuts its doors.  In the words of The Economist:

“The country truly faces a fundamental choice. In the next few years it could lapse into isolation, or it could succeed in combining a smaller, more efficient state with a more open attitude to the rest of the world. So, Britain, which is it to be?”

Answering that question requires thorough analysis and mature political debate, not pre-electoral posturing.

Immigration Control

Immigration policy has become a political football on both sides of the Atlantic.  There are substantial popular concerns and politicians, who want to attract voters, respond by taking a populist stance.  The topic has become a matter of point-scoring instead of a review of what would be in the best interests of the population.

Britain and America experience different immigration pressures but they face the same list of problems, including border control, assimilation, benefits policy and the granting of citizenship.

Conservatives in both countries have attempted to restrict immigration in ways that are economically damaging and appear hostile.  For example, Jeff Jacoby’s article in The Boston Globe on 9 May 2010 criticised the 2010 Arizona immigration law as being “foolish, perverse, and repugnant to American interests and ideals”.  The British Conservative party saddled itself with an arbitrary target of reducing net immigration to 100,000 people a year (less than half the current figure); on 12 October 2012 The Economist described this as “The Tories’ barmiest policy” and noted that it is “creating red tape, stifling entrepreneurs and hobbling Britain”.

Republicans are now openly discussing the need for their party to espouse immigration reform as a policy, following their defeat in last November’s presidential election.  The New York Times published an analysis on 9 November 2012 which opened with this observation:

“After a presidential election in which Latino voters rewarded President Obama while punishing Republicans for their positions on immigration, Republican leaders and prominent conservatives moved quickly this week to shift to new ground, saying they could support some kind of legislation to fix illegal immigration.”

The five-member Growth and Opportunity Project of the Republican National Committee has now produced a report calling for “comprehensive immigration reform”.  The American Enterprise Institute reviewed this report in an article on 19 March 2013, entitled Republicans need to show support for Hispanic dreams.

Immigration reform is also now being actively discussed in Britain – but politicians are still trying to clamp down more tightly rather than addressing the issue as a whole.  The Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, made a speech on Friday 22 March which promised to reintroduce exit checks, without which no real control is possible, but the speech attracted headlines for other reasons.  The headline on a Guardian article was “Nick Clegg abandons illegal immigrant amnesty proposal” – a policy he is abandoning not because he thought it was wrong but because people think that it might encourage more illegal immigration. The headline on a BBC article was “Clegg backs ‘security bonds’ as he sets out immigration stance” – referring to the suggestion that some visitors might be asked to deposit a ‘security bond’ when they arrive in the country, redeemable when they leave; this has been criticised as unworkable.

David Cameron’s speech on 25 March talked about “what we are doing to get a grip on immigration into our country”.  He outlined a miscellany of proposals to close loopholes in the current system of immigration control and set a tone of aiming for competent administration whilst avoiding xenophobia.  This seems reasonable enough, if somewhat belated, though he said nothing about strengthening the UK Border Agency – which is reported to have a backlog in processing which would “take 24 years to clear” at the current rate of progress and which has lost track of tens of thousands of people who have applied for entry to Britain.

The politicians are focusing on trying to reduce the numbers of immigrants and reducing their welfare benefits and are paying insufficient attention to the problems of assimilation.  An article in Prospect magazine on 22 March, entitled What Clegg should have said about immigration, pointed out that “the question of integration—what happens when migrants actually arrive—was passed over and it has been neglected by policymakers, both under past governments and the present coalition”.  This need was also noted in the book Patterns of Power (6.7.4.1): immigrants who have arrived need somewhere to live and there will be an increased load on education and health services.  And it is important, both for the immigrants themselves and for the people around them, that they learn English quickly.

Welfare benefits are part of the larger issue of the rights and responsibilities of citizens, of long-term residents from other countries (sometimes referred to as ‘denizens’), and of short-term visitors.  These are a matter for political negotiation, as described in the book Patterns of Power (6.7.3).