What does the Trump victory mean for us?

Before the Iraq war, Donald Rumsfeld famously said that the known ‘knowns’ he could plan for, the known ‘unknowns’ he could predict – it was the unknown ‘unknowns’ that scared him
The election of another Donald, Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States signals the end of a polarising, poll-defying political campaign and the beginning of a period of high anxiety and deep uncertainty for us all. The politics of populist cultural identity have never been stronger or more ascendant and the liberal consensus, which has dominated our domestic and international politics for the best part of 100 years, has never been weaker or more under attack.
The effects of this profound – perhaps historic shift – will be felt in every corner of the globe
Europe next?
Received wisdom suggests that Marine Le Pen and her fellow right wing anti-Europeans will benefit from the post-Trump public mood. But this is not a given. The tide of anti-European public sentiment on the continent receded after Brexit, as the cost Britain was paying for her decisions, became apparent. Caught between Trump isolationism to the west and Putin aggression to the east, the nations of the EU may find the appeal of unity stronger than that of disintegration. At least, in a rational world that ought to be so. Whether, after these recent convulsions, we still live in such a world, remains to be seen.
Europe’s instiutions
I have long believed that the integration project in the EU would not really gain momentum until the external threat to the Union was greater than our internal suspicion of the Brussels institutions. That moment arrived unannounced and unexpected, in the early hours of last Wednesday morning. The right reaction to the new isolation in which the EU finds itself, not least in terms of security, is to deepen its economic, political and defence institutional framework. Its is clear that this is where the EU’s leaders would like to go, as they attempt to mark a different course away from Anglo-Saxon isolationism and exceptionalism and towards European solidarity. But will their people allow them? The answer to that will come in next year’s European elections.
Post Trump, however, those who wish to defend and re-assert European liberal and democratic values at this moment of maximum danger, will have to understand that their current narrative has disastrously failed. They will need to completely reframe their arguments in favour of those that address, rather than ignore the people’s fears. This new script should combine a clear commitment to redistribution aimed at sharing the wealth of globalisation, with a better articulation of the necessities of internationalism (including trade and immigration) and a reformed view of government based around the empowered individual, rather than the powerful state.
Europe and Britain’s Security
Last Tuesday night also altered the entire geopolitical position in which Europe now finds itself. If Trump is true to his rhetoric, then the era of a US led a western coalition driving for free trade, a rule based world order and multilateral solutions to the world’s problems is, for the moment at least, over. Isolationism, protectionism and global relationships based on the exercise of power, rather than shared values, will be in the ascendancy. A rapprochement with Putin’s Russia looks very likely, at least in the initial phase of Trump’s Presidency. The implications of this for the security of Europe along its eastern littoral – from the Baltic states, through Ukraine, to the Balkans – are profound and worrying.
The challenges for Britain are no less dramatic. We are now, as a nation much, much more alone than we were on Tuesday night of last week. Then, outside the EU we could still rely on NATO for our security. Now, who do we rely on? Our choices are stark. Either snuggle close to Trump’s US in a near satrap relationship. Or find our way back to the EU. Pay your money and make your choice – one relationship will be deeply uncomfortable; the other very difficult to get to.
A new international cockpit of tension?
One other area where the Trump ascendancy will be strongly felt is the Pacific. Managing Western – and especially US – relations with China was always gong to be one of the key strategic challenges of our time. It just got a lot more difficult. If, again, Trump delivers on his rhetoric than a tariff fuelled trade war between the US and China looks highly likely. Europe has been the cockpit of global tension for the last 100 years. Is that unenviable reputation about to shift east to the Pacific?
The end of liberal interventionism may mean fewer little wars, but have we, in exchange, embarked on the long road to bigger ones?
The Global economy
If we are to see a move away from free trade towards protectionism, then the impacts on a still fragile global economy could be very damaging, China has its own internal economic problems, the EU stutters and the US recovery remains at best, weak. The world is not well placed for yet another economic shock.
The President and Washington
The answers to many of the questions thrown up by Trump’s election, depend on whether and to what extent, his ambitions will be tamed by the checks and balances in the US system. With the Republicans dominating both Houses of the Washington legislature he has, on the face of it, more domestic room for manoeuvre than any US President of recent times. Some suggest, hopefully, that this will be counterbalanced by fact that many of the Republicans elected with Trump, hold very different views to his. Trump was, after all elected, not because of the Republican Party, but despite it.
I am not sure how much weight can be deposited in this hope. It will be a brave Republican who stands up to a President of his own Party, who was elected on such a clear, resounding and personal popular mandate. One area, however where we might see push back from Congress, is on “Trumponomics”, as it is already being called. Trump is liberal on fiscal matters and hawkish (very) on trade. Most Washington Republicans are, by contrast, fiscal conservatives and trade liberals. It is here that the fireworks, if there are to be any, will be most likely to go off.
A final thought. If Trump enacts his words, then almost everything as we knew it changed in the early hours of last Wednesday morning. We may see the dim outlines of what is to come. But there is much more we cannot yet see. As Donald Rumsfeld might have said, when it comes to assessing what lies ahead, it is the unknown unknowns that should scare us.