Arbitror Answers: What Does a Trump Presidency Mean?
Five Arbitror contributors individually examine what Donald Trump's impending presidency means both domestically and abroad. Their topics of interest include the rural vote, U.S.-Southeast Asia relations, infrastructure, U.S.-Russia relations, and Congress.
Alex Kraemer: Trump and the Rural Vote
Having grown up in one of the many rural counties that went for Donald Trump, I was compelled to find out how could otherwise good and decent people vote for that man. To gain a deeper understanding, I interviewed three people: two who voted for Trump and one for Johnson. Initially, it seemed that their voting rationale had far more to do with Hillary Clinton than with Trump. One of my sources, MB, said that his vote for Trump was borne “more of anti-Clinton motivation,” though he said that he felt Trump would align more with his political position because Trump was the GOP nominee. MB later agreed that his vote was not exclusively an anti-Clinton vote. Another source, WP, who voted for Johnson, was concerned about Clinton’s integrity. My third source, BL, said that she loathed Trump, but voted for him because she was simply “scared of Hillary.”
However, this Clinton-centric rationale became less plausible once I started asking questions about Trump’s many prejudicial statements. When asked about Trump’s comments about immigration, WP said he was not “super worried” about it (though it was a concern). He was more worried by the prospect of Trump sitting down at a negotiating table with Russian President Vladimir Putin. WP did not appear particularly concerned about Trump’s statements regarding women, Muslims, Mexicans and other demographics. Unlike the indifference showed by WP, Trump’s rhetoric seemed to resonate with MB. He considers Trump’s many indiscretions “ridiculous” and believed Trump had a point about political correctness having run amok in our society. MB cited the example of recent controversies surrounding bathroom usage by transgender individuals—or in his words, “bathrooms for genderless people”—as one instance of excessive political correctness.
Ultimately, these interviews did not indicate that rural voters were a unified voting bloc, but there are definite similarities among the three people I interviewed. Their sentiments regarding Trump ran the gambit from outright hatred to half-hearted support; regarding Clinton, there was universal disdain. On the face of it, one could argue that this election was simply an extremely anti-establishment year. However, I would caution against this simplistic assessment. The anti-establishment versus establishment dichotomy of this election overlooks what Trump voters had to ignore in order to vote for the man; the degree of indifference I found towards Trump’s words and deeds is the most important part of this story, at least insofar as the rural vote is concerned. Perhaps prejudice did not motivate these Trump supporters, but their indifference to it certainly allowed them to cast their vote for him.
Matthew Wong: Trump and Southeast Asia
If the jitters in the stock markets and currencies of Southeast Asian economies portend the uncertainty and saturnine nature of U.S.-Southeast Asia relations under Donald Trump, then judging by Trump’s plans and rhetoric that prospect is not far off [Investors have been selling Southeast Asian stock and currencies, such as the Malaysian Ringgit and Philippine Peso, to reallocate capital back to the U.S. in anticipation for pro-business policies]. Although nothing concrete can be said of what the future holds for U.S.-Southeast Asia relations until Trump’s Asia policy and team are formed, U.S.-Southeast Asia relations will likely play less prominence in the Trump administration.
For many U.S.-Southeast Asia wonks, the Obama administration ushered an unprecedented boon in the relationship. No other president visited and engaged with Southeast Asia as much as President Obama. Obama has visited all but one Southeast Asian country, committed the U.S. in regional institutions and employed a comprehensive – commercial, political and military – approach in cultivating and strengthening bilateral relations with Southeast Asian countries. Of course, this refocusing on Southeast Asia (and Asia on a larger scale) did not occur in vacuum. Obama wanted to find bright spots in foreign policy [note the breakthrough with Myanmar] and noted the importance of Southeast Asia in commerce and its utility in engaging with China. Southeast Asian countries on the other hand welcomed U.S. attention to their region, though in varying degrees. The U.S. furnished some Southeast Asian countries with the ability to hedge against China and closer economic ties [Obama had lifted sanctions on Vietnam and most recently Myanmar]. Two parties essentially saw eye-to-eye in regards to the mutual benefits of the relationship [and by this I do not mean to categorize Southeast Asia as a monolithic entity, but rather when looking at their general orientation toward the U.S. Southeast Asia appear to be unified in their eagerness].
The Trump administration is likely to be doubtful of this beneficial relationship. He has said very little, if anything at all, on U.S.-Southeast Asia relations. The notion that Southeast Asia will be less prominent in the U.S. foreign policy radar is also due to the fact that Trump has stated his administration’s focus would be on the U.S. and in sorting out Syria and Iraq. Additionally, as a businessman executive, Trump’s style would be to focus on results and not process; and this means less diplomatic overtures and commitment to the region, given that Southeast Asian international relations and through its regional body ASEAN's [not this is not a typo Asian, but an acronym for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations] tendency to move cautiously slow. It is hard to imagine Trump finessing time, interest and adroitness to meet his Southeast Asian counterparts every year during the regional summits. As trivial the matter of attending summits may be, this ritual is a Southeast Asian test of resolve, commitment and trust of credible partners, including the U.S. Trump’s relegation of this importance will be interpreted by Southeast Asian countries as another bout of disinterest from the U.S [the U.S. has an erratic engagement cycle with Southeast Asia, as with any type of foreign relations]. As a result, Southeast Asian countries will have less of a choice than to engage with the permanent power in Asia, China more. The greatly improved U.S.-Southeast Asia relations and U.S. position in the Asia-Pacific, cultivated over eight years – will likely lay in the wayside.
In what reads like a terrible spark notes summary, Trump’s economic advisors recently released a ten-page plan to boost infrastructure investments. This white paper states that Trump will move to privatize infrastructure investments by incentivizing private investors with substantial tax credits on the equity portion of the investments.*
Without diving into the details of the plan, I think it is worthy of mention that the infrastructure plan reveals a fundamental flaw in how questions of economic policy have been approached for a long time; that is, purely ideologically. This belief is that privatizing is more efficient than government intervention. Even if we take for granted that privatization is more efficient than government intervention (it probably isn’t), we need to stop and ask whether private efforts will be the answer to what society needs. In this particular scenario, the answer seems to be a resounding “NO.”
We don’t need to look too far to answer why. From an investor’s perspective, infrastructure investments are almost never created equal. Let’s take building a toll-road and implementing a lead-free pipeline in Flint, Michigan for examples. The former provides investors with reliable streams of revenue, whereas the latter does not. In fact, it’s not outrageous to claim that these investors would invest in the former project regardless of the tax credits, simply by virtue of receiving a reliable return on their investment.
To put it simply, Trump’s plan is a case in point for what could go wrong with ideologically driven policies. At best, his plan addresses only a handful of the country’s infrastructure needs. But much more likely: this plan is nothing but a handout to wealthy, private investors.
Jessica Meyerzon: Trump and Russia
Donald Trump has won the U.S. presidential election and the world is now frightened. Well, everyone except Russian President Vladimir Putin. The bromance that began during Trump’s campaign seems to have blossomed. Russian social media sites are currently going wild. Many average citizens in Russia sincerely believe that U.S.-Russia relations will greatly improve now that Trump is the president-elect, and they think that a Clinton administration would have wreaked global chaos. Russian citizens like that Trump is questioning NATO’s relevance and has showered Putin with praise.
Putin and Trump spoke over the phone on November 14. In that phone call, Russia’s leader confirmed that Moscow is ready for the development of bilateral relations on the basis of equality, mutual respect, and non-interference in the other state’s internal affairs. Trump said that he will make sure two previously competing powers will be able to come together for constructive cooperation.
Many believe that Trump and Putin’s bromance will result in the United States’ withdrawal from Europe and embolden Putin to continue his campaign of territorial expansion into Soviet successor states. There’s a compelling narrative that this may not be the case, however. Several high ranking officials in Moscow have expressed concern over Trump’s unpredictably, thin-skinned nature, and propensity to flip-flop on issues. Russia will no longer be able to practice its trademark brinkmanship with the U.S., as it would risk Trump’s retaliation. This paints a very uncertain picture for U.S.-Russia relations heading into 2017.
Jordan Paul: Trump and Congress
With the election of Barack Obama in 2008, the Democratic Party doubled down on gains made in the 2006 midterms by solidifying their hold on both houses of Congress and winning the presidency. In the intervening years, Democrats were finally able to enact health care reform, something that had seemed like a pipe dream only a few election cycles prior. Although the Obama Administration is responsible for a number of accomplishments such as the Affordable Care Act, Congress was largely left out in the cold after the 2010 midterms. By using his executive powers, or the “pen and phone” approach, he took a wide range of actions on everything from the environment to protections for LGBT workers. Some of these actions generated a significant amount of controversy—perhaps most notably from Congress itself. With power returned wholly to the Republican Party, it would seem that the president and Congress could once again work together. As this election cycle has proven, however, nothing can be said definitively about Donald Trump.
Some of Trump’s plans, in particular those regarding infrastructure and the border wall, are already receiving criticism from the right, both from conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation and from members of Congress including Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas). It will be fascinating to watch the interaction between Trump, who is finding Democrats favoring some of his ideas more than Republicans, and Congress, which is presumably be hopeful to actually pass legislation now that there is a Republican president. Furthermore, Congress will face tremendous pressure to both pass Trump’s agenda and reign him in. It’s unclear whether Congress will use its newfound power to govern in the way that it has been dreaming of since Obama took office, or whether it will be more of the same infighting between the moderates and the Tea Party.
Regardless of the outcome of Trump’s presidency, Congress will be asserting far more power than any of us have seen in the recent past. Whether that is a good or bad thing remains to be seen.
The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of other Arbitror contributors or the views of Arbitror itself.
Photo: "Donald Trump" by Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0) for Flickr. Use of this photo is not endorsement from its creator.