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.