Whether you keep a close eye on global politics, or just maintain a distant, theoretical interest on the scene, one thing’s pretty certain. The last couple of years have certainly been tough for pollsters. They grossly misjudged the outcome of last year’s Greek referendum, and they didn’t even see the vote for Brexit coming in the summer. And now, they failed to take Donald Trump seriously enough, as he powered through, against all odds, to become the 45th President of the United States. If there ever was a mark for the profession, some sort of way to assign due accountability, that would surely be a big, bold F.
The road to the White House has certainly not been an easy one for Mr. Trump. From the very start of his campaign, ever since he announced his bid for the top job in June last year, he’s been ridiculed by the vast majority of the press; more often than not, justifiably so. He hasn’t managed to hide his inexperience on important policy issues throughout his campaign, including during the three presidential debates. He couldn’t have been any further away from political correctness, insulting women, war veterans, and dead war heroes, and his protectionist agenda has made him look totally disconnected with both current global realities, as well as traditional Western values.
Yet he did it. Despite the blunders and the scandals, he pulled off one of the greatest political upsets in History. No matter what his opponents, some of whom came from his own party, threw at him, it just didn’t matter. The political newcomer beat Hillary Clinton, his Democrat opponent and a well-established force in US and global politics, clearly. He won the swing states of Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, all of them key battlegrounds in this year’s election. Furthermore, many may argue that this wasn’t as much a Trump victory as it was a Clinton defeat. Just like Brexit, it’s likely that many voters who’ve been feeling let down by the current establishment have decided to voice their opposition to it, by not voting for Clinton.
It was a different picture up until a couple of weeks ago. Everything pointed to a clear win for the Democrat nominee. It was the announcement by FBI Director James Comey that he was reopening the investigation into the Clinton email scandal that seemed to change the tide and give a last-gasp momentum to the real estate tycoon. And although the Bureau has been criticised for its decision to reopen the case, the fact is that Mrs. Clinton has no one to blame for this but herself; if she hadn’t been using her own private server for her email correspondence while she was Secretary of State, she could well have been preparing for her return to the White House by now.
So now what?
There’s certainly many unknowns for the US stemming from a Trump Presidency. If the President-elect sticks to his pre-election rhetoric, his policies on international trade could bring about huge changes to the way the US deals with the rest of the world. He’s threatened to tear up existing free trade agreements, and he’s even hinted at taking the US out of the World Trade Organization altogether. He’s also seen as unpredictable when it comes to US Foreign Policy, having heavily criticised NATO and America’s partners in it. Finally, he’s been a lot warmer towards Russia and its leader, Vladimir Putin, than both his predecessor in the White House, as well as his opponent in this election.
Changes won’t be confined to the US alone, of course. The EU and the UK, the country’s largest trading partners and most established allies, are bracing for what the new status quo may bring.
Out of the two, it looks like the UK stands on slightly firmer ground. Mr. Trump has been a vocal supporter of Brexit throughout his campaign, and that may well translate into a clear path for a good deal between the two countries after the UK leaves the EU, a process which is expected to take place during his tenure in the White House. Yet, his unusual style, political incorrectness, and unpredictability virtually guarantee obstacles along the way, as the UK will surely need to walk a fine line in nurturing both its “special relationship” with the US, as well as its post-divorce relations with the EU.
Where it gets really tricky though, is for the EU itself. The vast majority of its members’ leaders have been openly critical of Mr. Trump throughout his campaign. They will now need to enter damage control mode, as they try to find ways to work with him for the next four years. That could prove especially tough, given the new President’s non-standard, impulsive style. European leaders will also be watching, closer than ever, America’s relations with Russia in the next few months, understandably very wary about any shift in political power that any change in these may bring.
It all remains to be seen, of course, we’re literally only in the first hours in this completely new situation. But for now, as the world recovers from yet another shock election result, two things should be clear. First, there can be no doubt that there’s a global negative reaction against the political establishment, and that should definitely be taken seriously; the coming months will see a series of important state and general elections, and referendums held in France, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands, among other places. And second, when that time comes, we should all perhaps take any polls that are too quick to dismiss a surprise result with a pinch of salt.