By Edwin O’Connell
Marking the end of one of the most divisive elections in recent political history, President Barack Obama addressed the United States (US) on Tuesday night and told American citizens to remember that “no matter what happens, the sun will rise in the morning and America will still be the greatest country on earth.”
The sun has risen, and beyond many people’s beliefs a racist, misogynist, xenophobic, ill-tempered businessman with no previous experience in public affairs has won the US Presidential election.
Twenty-seven years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a man who vowed to build physical and metaphorical, walls has been elected as the 45th President of the United States.
Donald Trump’s victory has come as a shock to many, not only in the United States, but across the entire world. As the phone calls and letters of congratulations from foreign leaders have begun flooding the 26th floor of Trump Tower in New York City, the world is asking: what will a Trump presidency mean for our people, our country, our ethnicity and our religion? Amidst the coagulated fog of confusion, disappointment and astonishment on this November evening, it is important to seek some clarification and to ask ourselves: what will four years of President Trump mean for our world?
I have asked Sciences Po students to share their thoughts on Trump’s election and what this will mean for the world. Below are a few brief reflections on things to come in Europe, Russia, the Middle East, the Asia-Pacific and Latin America.
Europe: deeper down the rabbit hole?
The impact of Trump’s election on Europe is generating a lot of confusion. On the one hand at a panel event at Sciences Po Paris on Wednesday, three former European foreign ministers highlighted the election results as a positive opportunity for Europeans to unite under a common European political identity and to truly start protecting their own interests on the world stage.
European students, on the other hand, seem less optimistic. Nicole, a student from the United Kingdom (UK), said she believed that the “special relationship” between the US and UK has “become increasingly important [for London] following [the] ‘Brexit’” vote last June.” However, she believes that Trump, “as a self-confessed Brexit supporter and ally of Nigel Farage, will be less inclined to encourage Britain to maintain as many ties as possible with Europe,” thus further destabilising internal European harmony.
This last point brings us to an important question: will Trump’s election further embolden the far-right parties in Europe? With national elections coming up in France, Germany and the Netherlands in 2017, only time will tell. Yet, after the ‘Brexit’ vote last June and the results from across the Atlantic last Tuesday, there may be little room for optimism in these regards.
Alessandro, an Italian exchange student from Bocconi University in Milan, is also worried about the domino effect on Europe because “as nationalist parties or political figures become more commonplace, their diffusion starts to spread even more quickly in a self-reinforcing mechanism.”
Caroline, a Paris School of International Affairs (PSIA) student from Germany, also shares such a concern as “far-right parties in Germany and more broadly in Europe will certainly welcome Trump’s election”. One reason for this, she argues, is that “Trump will move the US close to Russia, a country which has close financial and ideological ties to some far-right parties in Europe.”
Russia: too cosy?
Another important issue will be indeed to understand how Trump’s seemingly favourable view of Russian President Vladimir Putin will shape the Ukrainian conflict and European Union-Russia relations.
As Pol, a Spanish student from the PSIA specialising in Russian Studies, pointed out, “if there is any state that has received this news [of Trump’s election] as welcoming, it is Russia.”
President Putin sent a telegram to Trump, welcoming his election and expressing hopes that the two leaders could “work together to lift Russian-US relations out of the current crisis.” Trump’s consistent praise for Putin, as well as his scepticism of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) utility in the 21st century, have lifted more than a few eyebrows in the US and in Europe.
Evy, a British student also specialising in Russian Studies at PSIA reminded: “Warmer relations between the US and Russia won’t necessarily make the world more peaceful: given that Trump wants to divert funding from European security and usher in a new era of American isolationism, various Eastern European countries will probably be feeling nervous now about a newly expansionist Russia to their East.”
Recent revelations by the Washington Post that Russian government officials had been in contact with members of Trump’s campaign team have raised concerns in the US and Europe – particularly given that a Clinton campaign official denied a Russian diplomat’s claim that Russian officials had requested similar meetings with the Democratic nominee.
Middle East: fear and terror
The positions that Trump has espoused on the Middle East leave as much space for interpretation as they do for concern. He has repeatedly called to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem and has referred to the latter as “the eternal capital of the Jewish people.” Such a stance does not create much room for a two-state solution, nor for any constructive role that the US might play in mediating between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
Zachary, a Jewish-American PSIA student, believes that Trump’s views on Israel, informed by his limited knowledge on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, are problematic. He fears that President Trump “will most likely see the Jewish state as an ally against Muslim extremisms and terrorism, without addressing the issue of settlements [in Palestine] or rebuking an increasingly conservative Israeli [parliament].”
Trump’s positions on other key issues in the Middle East are equally troubling. He has promised to completely scrap or to entirely renegotiate the nuclear deal with Iran, signed in 2015, and vowed to tackle the problem of Daesh by “bombing the shit out of them,” a statement that has yet to be explained.
Dima, a Palestinian PSIA student, recounted that “although Trump’s stance on many issues in the Middle East is still unclear, I am very sceptical that he may help to promote peace and stability in the region – to say the least”.
On the other hand, there are those, like Dalya, an Egyptian student at PSIA, who are more optimistic: “We are more than aware that the US’ foreign policy regarding the Middle East is decided by so many other factors rather than one man, ‘The President,’”, she said. Unfortunately, this is “a lesson [the Middle East] learned when Obama came into power and our hopes were high for a change, which did not happen and the Middle East today is in a huge mess more than ever”.
With a Republican-majority Congress and Senate, Trump will not have the constraints on his executive decision-making that President Obama did during his eight years in office. What effect this will have for the Middle East and for the rest of the world remains to be seen.
Asia-Pacific: anyone’s guess
Trumps views on the Asia-Pacific have likewise raised both questions and angst.
As Earl, a Taiwanese student at PSIA, remarked, “[Trump] is a figure who is uneasy to predict except for the areas of which he has expressed his clear thoughts.” “As far as I got from Trump’s messages…he will fix the People’s Republic of China of currency manipulation [by making sure that they do not competitively devalue their currency anymore], and show who the leader in East Asia really is.”
The President-elect has been highly critical of China (particularly its role in ‘taking American jobs’) and has vowed to rethink trade relations with the country by promising to instruct “the Treasury Secretary to label China a currency manipulator” and “the U.S. Trade Representative to bring trade cases against China, both in this country and at the World Trade Organizations.” Both policies would have serious repercussions for the relationship between the two nations.
Trump has also promised to increase US military presence in the South China Sea. “That’s very scary,” said Ben, an Australian exchange student at Sciences Po, “because [Australia] depends on the US as a defensive partner, potentially putting it in a difficult strategic position.” More frightening, he says, is that “Trump genuinely does have the potential to upset the status quo in the Pacific, depending on how he actually decides to act towards China.”
We will thus be in suspense to see how President Trump will deal with China and what effects this will have on the broader Asian-Pacific region.
Latin America: walls ahead
With regards to his own hemisphere, Trump has been slightly clearer, at least through his repeated call for “a great, great wall on [the US’] southern border with Mexico” that he would, somehow, “make Mexico pay for.”
The ‘wall’ became a rallying cry during Trump’s campaign and represents his xenophobic and nativist views. The ‘wall,’ along with Trump’s derogatory comments about Latinos and his promise to have a deportation force to remove all illegal immigrants from the US, has been a source of great apprehension for how he might treat those not only from Mexico, but from the rest of Latin America as well.
Rodrigo, a Brazilian exchange student, said that whilst “it is hard to tell exactly what are going to be the impacts of Trump’s presidency on Latin America,” the President-elect’s rhetoric suggests that “for all the Latin Americans it will be more difficult to get American visas, and for the people who are living in the US right now, legally and illegally, things will get more complicated.”
This anxiety was also echoed by Alejandro, a Mexican student at PSIA, who said, “today Mexico is afraid, and rightly so, for hate has never brought anything good to the world.” However, Alejandro remains hopeful that his country can stand up tall as a Trump presidency looms ahead: “Yes, we’re going to have to face tougher restrictions on immigration; and yes, it might be a huge economic blow to our country. But no, we we’re not humiliated; and no, we’re not defined by the American electorate. No, we’re not rapists and we’re not criminals, no matter how many Americans buy into that rhetoric… Now, more than ever, [Mexicans] need coherent and capable foreign policy formulation. We need wiser leadership, smarter politics and better negotiators.”
Of course, these issues are non-exhaustive. Trump’s proposal to ban all Muslim entering the US, his scepticism about global warming (which he once said was a hoax created by China) and his call in the past to pre-emptively strike North Korea unless it stopped its nuclear development, amongst many other views that experts have condemned, are likely to contribute to an unstable future.
As Bruno Stagno-Ugarte, Former Foreign Minister of Costa Rica, said during the event at Sciences Po on Wednesday: “Our only hope with President-elect Trump is that the practice does not rise to the rhetoric.”
In the 1970s, Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger famously asked: “Who do I call if I want to call Europe?”, alluding to the lack of a central decision making centre in Europe. In the United States, on the contrary, the world has always known very well who to call for a quick decision. The fear now is what the answer will be when the phone is picked up by an erratic and short-tempered President Trump.