Today, Donald J Trump, the New York City real estate mogul whose outsider campaign led to an upset electoral victory became the 45th President of the United States.
The Conversation Global has invited a panel of international scholars – many of whom also shared their reactions to Trump’s win – to reflect on his presidency and assess its significance for their region.
As a candidate, Trump’s campaign promises included building a border wall with Mexico and banning Muslims immigrants from the US. As president-elect, he called NATO “obsolete” and the European Union “basically a vehicle for Germany”, put the One China policy up for negotiation, and threatened to renegotiate most trade agreements.
On inauguration day, all eyes are on Washington, with the world hoping to better understand the unpredictable leader now entering the White House – and determine what comes next.
Richard Maher: European leaders brace themselves
While campaigning for president, Donald Trump unnerved European leaders by disparaging the NATO alliance, celebrating the British vote to exit the European Union, and praising Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Following his surprise victory last November, many European leaders hoped that, now elected and poised to assume the presidency, he would clarify his earlier remarks and adopt positions on NATO’s relevance and the value of a strong and united EU more in line with those of his predecessors over the past six decades.
But that was not to be, as Trump’s interview last weekend with two European newspapers confirmed. He again called NATO “obsolete,” proclaimed that the British vote to leave the EU would “end up being a great thing”, described the EU as “basically a vehicle for Germany,” and condemned German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to let in more than a million refugees fleeing violence and persecution as a “catastrophic mistake.”
He also threatened to impose duties of 35% on German and other foreign cars made in Mexico and imported into the United States, predicted that other countries would follow Britain’s lead and vote to leave the EU, and stated that he would start his presidency trusting Putin — who once led the FSB, the KGB’s successor organisation — just as he will Merkel, the leader of one of America’s closest allies.
European leaders still do not know how much — if any — of Trump’s comments will become official US policy. They are thus bracing themselves for perpetual unpredictability and inconsistency regarding Trump’s intentions and beliefs, as well as his tendency to contradict himself and his cabinet. (In their senate confirmation hearings, for example, his nominees for secretary of state and defence affirmed the vital role NATO and the EU continue to play in US foreign policy.)
Europe faces an inflection point. No American president in modern history has entered office with such ambivalence over the core institutions linking the United States and its European allies. Trump’s actions will unite or yet further divide Europeans. Or as Merkel said in response to his latest comments, “We Europeans have our fate in our own hands.”
Andrea Peto and Weronika Grzebalska: Trump is good news for populist right-wing leaders in Europe
For right-wing populists in Central Europe, Trump’s presidency is a game changer. It signifies the steady decline both of the United States as a guarantor of military security in the region and of the dominant global paradigm of the connections between the free market, liberal democratic values and human rights.
In Hungary and Poland, Obama criticised the dismantling of the rule of law and attacks on civil liberties under the radical-right parties FIDESZ and PiS. Trump, on the other hand, has begun his presidency by cordially inviting Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán to Washington.
With Trump in power, these leaders are no longer the black sheep among Western political elites but rather partners in the building of a new illiberal international order that rejects liberal democratic values and freedoms.
Among the first victims of transnational illiberalism in Central Europe will surely be progressive and human rights NGOs, already struggling with cuts to government funding. That money has been redirected to faith-based and conservative organisations supporting the right-wing populist party agenda.
President Trump opens a window of opportunity to go even further toward de-globalisation, including – we predict – restricting the presence of international organisations like Amnesty International and expelling foreign-funded human rights donors like the Open Society Foundations.
In the short run, restructuring the NGO sector will harm feminist and human rights causes in the region, and activists may face personal security risks. In the long run, though, losing their financial and institutional basis will force activists to reconceptualise their political strategy. That could be a good thing: the post-1989 NGO-isation of Central Europe’s civil society has largely depoliticised resistance, turning it into a technocratic process.
By returning to older forms of political resistance, social activism might also regain grassroots support and find a new voice in the process. At least, that’s what we hope.
Jonathan Rynhold: Hope for Israel, concern over Iran and Syria
We should see a generally positive tone toward Israel from Donald Trump, but there are very large questions about what the administration’s policies will be on the substantive issues affecting the country.
For example, his son-in-law Jared Kushner has been tapped to deal with the peace process. He has no background whatsoever in this area, and we have no idea what his positions might be.
Regarding the settlement issue, my sense — in contrast to what the settlement movement believes — is that the administration is not necessarily pro-settlement. His nominee for the UN said that settlements could “hinder peace” and when the UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement was passed, Trump’s comment was that “this makes peace harder” — not that it was wrong.
Israel may follow the line suggested by Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, which is to try to reach an agreement with the US about stopping settlement building outside the blocs, but allowing it within them. It would fit in with George W Bush letter of 2004 and follows Obama’s statements on different kinds of settlements. That would be a step forward, and relatively doable. The Obama administration wasn’t prepared to do that, perhaps Trump might be.
On a symbolic level, we will probably see something regarding the idea of moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, which may be that the ambassador will work from the consulate there; but I doubt we will see a shift America’s position on Jerusalem.
In any case, it is accepted that at least West Jerusalem will be formally recognised as the capital of Israel in any peace deal and the consulate is in West Jerusalem. In Israel everyone is in favor of moving the embassy. But some would say it’s not necessarily the most important thing to deal with now, because it could possibly lead to an upsurge of violence.
The largest concerns for Israel is how the Trump administration will deal with Iran. On one hand, Trump seems to have a stronger stance than the Obama administration, which Israel felt did not hold Iranians to account sufficiently.
But there’s also concern that Trump’s good relations with Russia may actually lead to a worsening of the situation in Syria from an Israeli point of view. If he gives a free hand to Russia in Syria, it could strengthen Iran there, which is the strongest force on the ground. The Russians would then give Tehran greater freedom to operate.
Miguel Angel Latouche: Latin America is seen as a problematic region
Trump is an enigma. For the first time in the contemporary history of the US, a genuine outsider has become president.
We do know a few things about Trump, though. He is a strongman who does not belong to the establishment and enjoys polemics. He is intolerant of criticism and seems perfectly willing to use force, in the style of an old political realist. But Trump’s vision on Latin America is uncertain.
What priorities will guide foreign policy toward the region?
We don’t know whether the Trump administration perceives Latin America as a potential partner or a threat. If it’s the former, there should be opportunities to do business and strengthen open markets. If it’s the latter, there is little good to come of it. Indeed, Trump is most likely to promote an isolationist stance.
Trump does appear to perceive Latin American as a problematic region. He has expressed concerns about illegal immigration and US jobs lost as a consequence of trade agreements, open markets and industrial relocation.
Would Trump build a wall along the US-Mexican border? He certainly seems capable of it, and to want to do it. Regardless of whether he can make it happen, we must consider that he is disposed to impose an ideological barrier on Latin America.
So far, all we know to expect is the reduction of concessions to Cuba, a strongman’s posture towards strongman-led Venezuela and a distancing from Mexico. For other countries in the region, there is a huge question mark.
Salvador Vazquez del Mercado: Uncertainty for Mexico
Donald Trump’s campaign was geared towards pushing the buttons of voters who, as the result of shifting economic opportunities, have seen their economic prospects decline in recent years: it was Mexico that took the jobs, and Mexico that sent the bad immigrants.
In a clear example of what Robert Shiller calls the power of narratives to shift economic and social outcomes, Trump put Mexico in the centre of his attacks. He made economic and cultural insecurity the topics that would attract the attention of his voters, framed as the purported fight against fleeing employment and the assumed woes of immigration.
For Mexico, that’s quite a vulnerable position to be in. The imposition of tariffs has the potential to spark a trade war that Mexico, with its smaller share of goods exported to the US, will find difficult to win. The threatened renegotiation of NAFTA will, by itself, damage the Mexican economy by aggravating investment expectations. Then there’s the eventual results of the negotiation itself: imposing taxes on remittances or blocking their delivery will deprive many Mexican families of much needed resources.
In fact, Trump’s campaign has already damaged the Mexican economy: the peso continues to slide as Trump keeps making announcements related to the transnational automobile industry.
It is to be expected, then, that it will fall further when he begins earnestly pursing his agenda. As a result, the International Monetary Fund has already downgraded its forecast for the growth of the Mexican economy.
It is difficult to know what Trump will do in power because of the lack of clarity in his policy proposals. This uncertainty will be aggravated as his cabinet picks continue to sort out whether to follow their policies or his.
Some of this uncertainty may benefit Mexico: while the Republican love affair with free trade seems to have ended during the campaign, the passion could be rekindled once the president is sworn in and trade negotiations start.
A weaker peso will also benefit Mexican exports, and Mexican diplomatic efforts and public relations should profit from the rifts that will open between Trump, his cabinet and the Republican-led congress.
These benefits are not minimal, if the country plays them right, which only serves to underscore the many challenges that Mexico will face starting January 20 2016.
Subarno Chattarji: a welcome change, but points of conflict in India
Donald Trump’s election was welcomed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who said that India could take some credit for Trump’s victory since he used a version of Modi’s election slogan to appeal to Indian American voters (“Ab ki Baar, Trump Sarkar” – “Next time, a Trump government”).
The welcome message reveals the ideological and political affinities between Modi and Trump, particularly regarding attitudes toward Muslims, terrorism, political correctness, liberal elites and minorities.
Policy outlooks, however, are mixed. For instance, Trump’s call with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif whom he described as “a terrific guy” didn’t go down well in India. Trump has also said he can solve the Kashmir crisis – again a touchy subject, since India’s official position is that all Kashmir is an integral part of India and any dispute must be resolved bilaterally.
Another area of contention and anxiety is the lottery of H1-B Visas given for workers in technology and computing industries, which are largely corralled by Indians. Trump has promised to reduce these visas. In keeping with his promise to “Make America Great Again”, he also plans to push back against the outsourcing of jobs – an additional potential point of conflict.
While ideologically distinct from Modi, president Obama forged a close connection with India, part of his administrations’ broader pivot toward Asia. That pivot may or may not be sustained by the Trump administration. Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has made no public statements on India.
Notwithstanding these misgivings, Trump will receive a warm welcome from the Indian government (and members of the Hindu Sena) should he visit the country.
Richard Maher, Research Fellow, Global Governance Programme, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, European University Institute. Andrea Peto, Professor of Gender Studies, Central European University. Jonathan Rynhold, Director, Argov Center for the Study of Israel and the Jewish People, Bar-Ilan University. Miguel Angel Latouche, Associate professor, Universidad Central de Venezuela.
Salvador Vázquez del Mercado, Lecturer on Public Opinion and Research Methodology, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). Subarno Chattarji, Associate Professor, University of Delhi.
Weronika Grzebalska, PhD researcher, Graduate School for Social Research, Polish Academy of Sciences.