Trump’s win ushers in a more pragmatic period



YOU could almost hear and feel the voices of shock and despair both online and off, when news of Donald Trump leading the vote counts started to sink in during the recent US presidential election night (the next morning in East Asia). Almost right up to the eve of election, various polls and pundits were still pointing to a Hillary Clinton win, albeit with a close margin due to the resurrection and subsequent re-closure of the Email-gate investigation that had been plaguing her campaign.

Trump was leading from almost the time the first poll results were announced. When he narrowly won the popular vote in Florida, the tension truly intensified. The United States practices an indirect presidential election system whereby “electors” from each state (corresponding to the number of members that the state hasin Congress) officially elect the president, but most such electors are bound by a “winner-takes-all” principle, whereby the popular-vote winner in each state grabs all of that state’s electoral votes. Florida has a checkered voting history, mostly because of the electoral disputes there in 2000 which delayed the official results of the presidential election for a few weeks.

With Florida’s 25 electoral votes in his bag, Trump went full steam ahead. Clinton, despite winning the most populous state (and hence with the largest share of electoral votes) of California, could not undo Trump’s steamroller, and before midnight, most reputable news outlets were predicting a Trump win. I could feel that in most places around the world, and not just in the US, many people were flabbergasted at the prospect of a Trump presidential win. Their opinion was largely formed by Trump’s comparatively more off-the-cuff style of campaigning, with straight and often politically incorrect talk, such as building a high wall along the US-Mexican border to ward off would-be illegal immigrants, or restricting Muslim entry into the US to prevent acts of terrorism, to name a few.

This negative outcry wasprobably because Trump trailed Clinton in the overall popular vote, though maintaining a solid lead in electoral votes. Yet, nearly half of those who voted went for Trump, rendering many analysts scurrying for answers.

The answer lies perhaps in the electoral results maps. A look at the color distribution of US states won by either Trump (red) or Clinton (blue) would show that two coasts, east and west, of the continental US, plus some states around the Great Lakes, were painted solidly blue. The central and midwestern parts, together with the southern part of the US, however, were decidedly red. The elites of the coastal metropolises pride themselves in their liberal and progressive outlooks, and were more receptive of Clinton’s similar predisposition.

Those slightly less developed, “red” parts of the US, are typically inhabited by people whom the coastal elites dismissively call the “fly-over people” (the elites jet over their heads from coast to coast). Many of them are lower to middle class and are more conservative in their political persuasion. They embrace the so-called Protestant work ethic (that the best service to God is betterment of one’s own lot) perhaps a tad more. During economically sound periods, they are politely tolerant of the political dominance of the coastal liberal agenda which places more stress on social rather than economic concerns, such as more rights and privileges for minorities and more welfare for the hard-to-dos. When the economy is harsh, as is definitely the case nowadays in the US, they yearn for a return to the Golden Years, when conservative social values reigned supreme and only those who worked doubly hard would reap their just reward. To them, Clinton was countervailing to these longings, whereas Trump, with all his (hopefully fulfillable) promises of “making America great again” appeared to be more persuasive.

In any case, rumors of impending Apocalypse when Trump assumes the US presidency are of course greatly exaggerated. What we will see is, first of all, a more reclusive, isolationist America. Trump during the campaign and in his victory speech often stressed the importance of resuscitating the American economy and, in particular, rebuilding the dilapidated infrastructure. His will be a more inward-looking administration with less predilection to interfere with, or get involved in, troubles around the world, unless of course America is unduly provoked. Nevertheless, in his telephone conversation with President Park Geun-hye of Korea after his victory, Trump reassured the latter that the US would honor all its treaty alliance commitments, which presumably covers the Philippines as well. All these, paradoxically, would perhaps bring about a more stable macro-environment for this region and beyond.

Also, let us not forget, at the end of the day Trump is fundamentally a businessman, and businessmen are prone to cut deals. So, a more pragmatic US administration will be in place, perhaps emphasizing less those understandably controversial principles such as human rights, but more the plausibility of economic and other forms of cooperation, both bilaterally and multilaterally. So again, the paradox would be that the US under Trump will be less inclined to engage in free trade negotiations, but when it comes to international relations, more flexibility and hopefully positive results are foreseen.

The election of Donald Trump as the next US president is a foregone conclusion. The sooner countries and people of this region get used to his admittedly unconventional style of political governance, the better it will be for the prospect of healthy and productive relations with the US.


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