By Raymond E. Vickery, Jr.
The good news is that regardless of the outcome of the US presidential election, the Indo–US relations are likely to remain on an upward path. Both major parties view India favourably and support stronger Indo–US relations. Under either Trump or Clinton, the alignment of the strategic interests of the US and India is a verity that augurs for increased cooperation. However, Trump’s views on protectionism and international withdrawal and Clinton’s apparent need to backtrack on trade could be problematic in the implementation of this support.
The Republicans’ ‘Trump’ card
This is the most unusual US presidential election of the post-World War II era. The nominee of one of the two major parties, Donald Trump, initially gained recognition as the star of a ‘reality’ TV programme as well as business person. Trump has brought the techniques of reality TV to the campaign. Among these techniques is de-emphasising facts and thoughtful analysis in favour of emotion and invective to a degree rarely seen in American politics. These techniques have been highly successful in obtaining support based on personal denigration, anti-immigration, anti-Muslim, protectionism and international withdrawal.
The Trump slogan ‘America First’ has a history in pre-World War II isolationist politics. It was the slogan of those, who opposed the US coming to the aid of the Allies fighting Nazi Germany and imperial Japan. The slogan is aptly chosen from that perspective. Trump has cast doubt on the US treaty obligations to come to the aid of NATO members and allies Japan and South Korea. He advocates putting these obligations on a transaction basis that emphasises a perceived need for these countries to pay more to the US for their defence.
However, the question remains as to why Trump’s techniques have been so successful?
Root causes of the appeal of these techniques maybe attributed in large part to feelings of economic and personal insecurity among large portions of the middle class. Economic insecurity is in part a result of the overhang from the great recession of 2008–2010. Even though gains have been made in employment and the stock markets are booming, middle class incomes are just now returning to pre-recession levels. Further, the share of wealth owned by the top 1 percent has almost doubled since 1980. Manufacturing jobs have declined through a combination of transfer to overseas facilities and the impact of technology. Since citizens can vote against trade but not against technology, the tendency is to blame trade for the loss of manufacturing jobs.
Personal insecurity has been fanned by Trump’s portrayal of an America ruled by corruption and violence. ‘Law and Order’ is a Trump mantra, which some see as entailing personal protection from terrorist and criminal elements. Some white Americans associate these elements with non-whites and immigrants. Trump has encouraged this association as well as promoting the concept that he will protect Christians against those of other faiths and non-believers.
The Democrats’ Hillary-ous counter-attack
Clinton is a staunch foe of the free flow of firearms throughout the country. She indicates the Supreme Court was wrong in its decision to find a personal right to firearms and against certain restrictions on gun ownership. Her opposition to the National Rifle Association and other gun advocates has hardened the opposition of those who see unregulated gun ownership as a fundamental right.
Clinton also has emphasised her extensive experience as First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State, as well as her plans to increase the prosperity of the middle class by taxing the highest income earners and spending that money plus borrowed funds on infrastructure, education, health care and a variety of government programmes to benefit the middle class. However, at a time, when much of the populace clamours for change, her combination of experience and defence of programmes begun or advocated by President Obama is not as effective as might be expected.
Also unusual is that both major candidates have some of the highest negative ratings of any presidential candidates ever to run against each other.
This has brought about a sort of ‘immoral equivalency’ between the two candidates in the minds of many potential voters. Under these circumstances, Hillary Clinton’s experience and ability to lead major progress in the areas of women’s rights, personal safety, health care and economic stability seem to have little traction with these voters. Consequently, third party candidates may draw away enough voters to influence the outcome as they did in 2000, when Nader drew enough votes from Gore to give the race in Florida to Bush. Even though the Libertarian Party Candidate could not recognise the crisis in Aleppo or name a single foreign leader he admired, former New Mexico Governor Johnson continues to poll about 10 percent nationally in the presidential race.
Many of these voters believe that Hillary does not represent the change they seek but do not approve of Trump. However, it is important to recognise that under the American system of electing the President through an electoral college of states, the national popular vote totals are irrelevant. What matters are the ‘winner takes all’ outcomes in a small number of states that have large numbers of electoral votes and are relatively evenly divided politically. These so-called ‘battle ground’ states of Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Hampshire and Wisconsin will determine who is the next President.
The Indian prospects
Unfortunately, the US campaign reflects a rising tide of protectionism that will not be good for Indo–US relations. Particularly Trump with anti-foreigner, anti-immigrant rhetoric, his threats to pull out of international trade agreements and blaming the loss of US jobs on these agreements, would make it difficult for India to obtain H1-B visas and IT services access. For the first time, the Republican Party platform calls for a reduction in legal immigration to the US. The anti-trade rhetoric of Trump and Sanders has pushed Clinton away from her previous advocacy of trade deals. The US move to protectionism to some extent mirrors the mood in India that has insisted on local content and ‘buy Indian’ restrictions that have been particularly onerous in the solar power and IT hardware industries.
In the final analysis, the American democracy has faced worse crises than the presidential election of 2016 and has emerged stronger than before. The old adage that ‘democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others’ is about to be proven again.
Raymond E Vickery Jr. is a Global Fellow, Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars & Former Assistant Secretary of Commerce, Trade & Development.
Featured Image Credits: The Haitian Times