Three questions arising from a Trump win…
For those who stayed up – like me – or those who woke up to the result, the outcome of the US Presidential election poses any number of questions about politics, democracy, media and, crucially, the medium term prospects for the US and global economy. But bringing things a little more local to our experience here in Ireland three questions demand some further scrutiny.
- Despite it happening pretty much half the time, how come each time a Republican candidate wins the Presidency it seems to come as a shock to Irish people and, it seems, large sections of the Irish media?
- Second, how did a ‘good friend to Ireland’ candidate with the profile and experience of Hillary Clinton lose to a candidate with the profile and experience of Donald Trump?
- And thirdly, what – if any – impact will there be on the Irish economy and jobs as a result of a Trump Presidency?
Taken in order, it is the case that there have been ten Presidents elected since John F Kennedy was chosen in 1960 – Donald Trump is number eleven. Of those ten, five were Republican and five Democrat. Now my first childhood memory of a US election was a vague recollection of Reagan beating Carter in 1980. Even then, and over the course of his Presidency, the sense of his success here in Ireland was almost wholly framed around his acting past and his supposed intellectual shortcomings. Each subsequent Republican election was presented often unfairly in Ireland as anomalous and incomprehensible; ‘ridiculous’ Reagan once more, ‘unelectable’ Bush Snr, ‘illegitimate’ Bush Jnr (twice) and now the ‘impossible’ Donald Trump.
Irish voters tend to lean Democratic by 3 or 4 to 1 usually so few of the Presidents listed would have gotten many votes from an Irish electoral college but the point is that there are ALWAYS close to half of Americans who would. That means that in any election cycle a strong campaign or candidate can push up that core vote and get over the top and in to the White House. Our historical affinity with the Democratic Party blinds, in my experience, our media and by extension ourselves to the reality of this perspective of up to 50% of the US electorate at each election.
If you spend any extended time in the States or visit more widely than New York or California it quickly becomes apparent that there are many different stories and perspectives that we simply never hear enough about and, as a result, never understand the resulting voting habits. But one thing is clear; it shouldn’t be a surprise in Ireland when American voters choose a Republican every other time.
Second, and heavily linked to the first issue, how did a candidate like Clinton lose to a candidate like Trump? The point again is that what we see and hear on this side of the Atlantic about the candidates is not what Americans see and hear. And our historical context and understanding of the candidates is, as a result, skewed in a way that amplifies our false expectations about what US voters will or ‘should’ do. You see, US voters have 30 years or more, of history of up close perception of the two most recent candidates, plus a mountain of built up political prejudice based on the traditional 50/50 split in American politics. The question on Irish lips should be less about ‘how could anyone vote for X given their record/recent statements/policy?’ and more about ‘why is it that 45% of the US electorate will NEVER vote for candidate Y?’
These positions are pretty hard wired in to the voting public in the States and just because we tend not to see one side of the argument as often as the other it can’t be forgotten that both sides are usually trying to work up from that 45% base and squeeze extra votes from clearly identified swing groups.
Finally, the impact on our economy and jobs. The ESRI has already predicated that Brexit may cause our economy to shrink by almost 4% and our unemployment to jump by close to 2%. Now, from a US perspective throw in the ditching of potential free trade deals, the possible imposition of new tariffs and a promised reduction in US corporation taxes to 15% and the headache just got quite a bit bigger. Just like Brexit the actions and any impacts may take a number of years to manifest themselves clearly in an Irish context but suffice to say that our exporters face an even more challenging future and attracting FDI will have to rely even more on our track record and the talent of our workforce – which is the case in reality anyway – than tax offerings.
None of this will be felt today or tomorrow and how policy commitments in the US (and the UK) are actually followed through on will make all the difference. What is undoubtedly the case though is that there have been two major shocks to the enterprise universe Ireland operates in over the last five months and those two shocks create an uncertain new landscape which has very little obvious upside.
And on those upbeat thoughts we can all now go away and lie down in a dark room and take some deep breaths.