After two weeks of Convention madness on both sides of America’s increasingly wide political divide, only one thing seems clear amongst the mess – this election is not a shoe-in for Hilary Clinton. After Trump’s raucous week at the RNC, ending with a doom-laden speech that played on the fears of Middle-America, the polls have tightened and the Billionaire is ahead in several swing states including (crucially) Florida and Ohio. Meanwhile, the leak of 20,000 emails between DNC officials revealing a concerted effort to scupper the rise of an insurgent Bernie Sanders during the primary season played to the image that many Americans share of political elites like Clinton using dirty tactics to further their own aspirations and vested interests.
All of this means that not just America but the world needs to seriously contemplate the ramifications of a possible Trump Presidency. Britain in particular, given its long standing special-relationship with the US and its need to forge a new place for itself in the world outside of the EU, should give its future ties with the White House serious thought if we are to a have Brexit and ‘make a success of it’ as Prime Minister Theresa May has promised.
Too often, when people think about foreign elections, they consider the best candidate to be the one they’d vote for if they had the chance. This might seem perfectly sensible – why would we want people to win elections if we wouldn’t vote for them ourselves? The few polls that ask British people about US politics show that overwhelmingly they would reject Trump for literally anyone else. The British also tend to see professional US politicians in a better light due to their glamorous electoral process, and so are less suspicious of candidates like Clinton and Obama than many voting Americans.
However, a good foreign affairs strategy involves seeking the best outcomes for furthering your own country’s interests. Sometimes, this means working with and supporting leaders whom our own electorate would find barely palatable. Western governments support abhorrent regimes such as the Saudi Royal Family in a way that on the face of it is morally dubious or objectionable, but on closer inspection can be seen to help promote a wider stability that will ultimately protect citizens at home.
So the British should not reject someone like Trump just because they object to his blatant narcissism, racism, misogyny, and fascistic tendencies. We need to reflect on how Clinton or Trump will strengthen or worsen the special-relationship in a way that is mutually advantageous to both countries. This country is going to need to hold onto its most powerful allies, and the US is the biggest. A free trade deal with the America would easily compensate for any loss in trade from leaving the EU Single Market due to the fact that Americans are more likely to be consumers of British goods than exporters like the Europeans have been.
Clinton spent many years laying the ground work for large multi-lateral trade deals with the EU (TTIP) and Asia (TPP), and would likely want to focus her efforts on ensuring the completion of those agreements. These would do little to help Britain, as its unclear whether TTIP could incorporate both the EU and Britain on its own. She would also likely prioritise these agreements over any post-Brexit bilateral trade deal with Britain, reiterating Obama’s assertion that we’d be ‘at the back of the queue’.
Donald Trump is, despite his lack of any clear ideological conviction, an isolationist. He sees new, emerging economies such as China as a threat to the working American, and offers as a solution the walls of protectionism rather than what is needed – a concerted effort to make America a more competitive nation in trade by increasing the productivity of its work force, making new trade partnerships, and dispensing inefficient industries in decline. This would, on the face of it, not provide anything glimmer of opportunity for Britain – we need trade deals and Trump rales against them, we need a global partner whilst Trump looks at outsiders with suspicion.
However, to say that Trump would apply his protectionist stance to Britain assumes too much about his world view. Trump is, as he says, ‘America-first’ – yet the America he envisions and wants back is one that had closer ties with the UK at a time of greater Anglo-American cooperation. Trump’s statements of admiration for Britain and his long business ties there, especially in Scotland, indicate a future leniency that will give Britain the upper-card in its negotiations with the EU. When Trump talks about foreigners, he really means the ones he doesn’t like – low-skilled Mexican immigrants, Middle Eastern Islamists and highly tactical Chinese officials. Britain is so wrapped up in the history of America that it is in many ways a part of the concept of ‘America’ that nostalgists like Trump hark back to.
Trump wouldn’t just want to help Britain for reasons of sentimentality. It is in his political interest to embolden nations that have voted for the radicalism that he in many ways is the bastion of. By creating a new, ‘greater’ Anglo-American alliance based on trade and military cooperation, Trump has the potential to create New World Order of former 20th Century Greats – working together intensely, with a suspicious eye on outsiders, but offering an encouraging hand to other nations willing to take the plunge into the New Geo-politic.
So the British should hold their noses and be ready to cooperate with Trump. Even though he will likely fail to do so in his own country, he might just be the man to Make Britain Great Again.