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The impact of Trumpistan on the 'Polarised States of America' and the world

Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty | Updated on: 17 November 2016, 16:59 IST

The two largest democracies in the world are both being rocked and buffeted by shock, awe and anger.

A global frenzy

The convincing victory of Donald Trump, the Republican candidate, over the globally known Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, has stunned Americans and, indeed, the world at large.

In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's sudden announcement to declare Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes as no longer legal tender has the thrown the country into a frenzy.

Opposition parties, with nothing in common, are joining hands to bitterly criticise the implementation of demonetisation after carefully articulating that they are not against any campaign against black money. The criticism has crystallised around the issue of harassment and misery this move has caused to the poor and marginalised.

There is justification for this criticism since the implementation has certainly shown up deficiencies. Ad-hoc measures, like using indelible ink as an afterthought to prevent repeat visits by those changing old currency for new, clearly shows a lack of common sense in planning. It did not require rocket science to anticipate that those holding large amounts of cash would use their friends, employees and others to make multiple trips to convert old currency.

Agitated Americans

Though the analogy may not be exact, the US is facing its own Brexit moment. While markets took a dive, the most agitated people are Americans themselves.

In unprecedented demonstrations, Americans have taken to the streets in several cities across the US, proclaiming that they do not accept Trump as their president. These cities are mostly in the liberal West coast and East coast states, though not excluding some in the so-called "rust belt".

While some Americans gave vent to their disappointment at the Trump victory, President Barack Obama invited Trump, the 45th President-elect, to the White House, as per the time-honoured custom, to discuss the transition to a new presidency.

Also read - Raimond Gaita on Donald Trump's America: a cloud cuckoo land devoid of fact, evidence and argument

Trump will have to appoint a transition team to discuss with the outgoing White House officials the transfer of power and get official briefings on all aspects of domestic and foreign policies.

The failure of the popular vote

No allegations of rigging or malpractice have surfaced. A silver lining in Clinton's defeat is the fact that she got more more popular votes but lost because of the electoral system, based on an Electoral College which gives every state a certain number of Electoral College votes. The total Electoral College has 538 votes and it takes 272 votes to win. A candidate who wins a state even by one vote, gets all the Electoral College votes allotted to that state in a winner-takes-all system.

Once a candidate gets past the magic figure of 272, it does not matter how many additional Electoral College votes are added thereafter. Nor does the total popular votes polled has any relevance.

The American spoils system

Trump will need all the help he can get from Obama and his team. As an individual, Trump brings zero experience of governance to the presidency.

It is one of the peculiar customs of the American spoils system that around 3,500 officials in the American administration have to resign when Obama demits office. Trump has to fill in these vacancies. He can rehire many officials, if he wants, but most of them will be supporters of the Democratic Party and that will pose a problem.

American Ambassadors across the world will have to send their resignation letters as a formality. Most career Ambassadors will be retained, but political appointees will have to pack their bags and return home. This is the essence of the Presidential "spoils" system.

The media's role

AFP Photo/Saul Loeb

The Trump victory has defied conventional wisdom and the worst culprit has been the American media, which persistently spewed anti-Trump news and commentaries.

Pollsters were equally off the mark and consistently predicted a Hillary Clinton victory. Despite this demonisation and misleading poll predictions, Trump has proved them all wrong with his stunning victory, which underlines the power of the ordinary voter. No amount of punditry in news studios and opinion polls can gauge accurately the mood of the general voter, when the issue is approached through an ideological prism and apriori assumptions.

The fact that Trump clinched the nomination should have alerted everyone to his potential to win

The fact that Trump rode roughshod over his own Party's leadership and clinched the nomination of his Party should have alerted everyone to his potential to win the Presidential election.

Many observers were also misled by the opposition to his candidature by Republican stalwarts, including former President George W Bush and Mitt Romney, the presidential candidate who lost to Obama.

It is to Trump's credit that despite these formidable impediments, his campaign team was obviously more tuned into the mood of voters, particularly in the American heartland, populated by blue collar white voters who had stagnated as de-industrialisation demolished jobs.

Trump pushed his candidature as an outsider, promising to clean up the incestuous power elite

His slogan of making America great again appealed among white working class voters. As a businessman and not a politician, Trump pushed his candidature as an outsider, promising to clean up the incestuous power elite that inhabits the Washington beltway.

Trump's victory is, no doubt, a victory of democracy, an assertion of the power of the people and the peaceful transfer of power, a fundamental aspect of democracy.

Hillary in for a rough time

Though Hillary Clinton telephoned Donald Trump to concede defeat on 9 November, her speech conceding her loss came later at the New Yorker Hotel in New York City. She also reminded her audience that there would a long hard battle against misogyny and bigotry.

President Trump may exact a price for the scathing attacks against by him by the Clinton campaign machine.

In her victory speech, Hillary said that there would a long hard battle against misogyny and bigotry

Speculation has already broken out in the American media that Trump will appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton's errant emails and dodgy financial contributions to the Clinton Foundation.

Such speculation includes the possibility of President Obama issuing a Presidential pardon before he demits office. Trump is likely to play hardball on this issue and Hillary may run into rough weather soon. A pre-emptive presidential pardon may well be her salvation.

The next steps

Candidate Trump and President Trump may turn out to be different personalities. In post victory public pronouncements, Trump has been cautious and used words meant to heal wounds. Trump has a lot on his plate, including how to avoid being prosecuted on charges of fraud brought against the issue of Trump University.

Trump's lawyers are asking the court to postpone hearings with a view to ensure that after his assumptions of the Presidency, Trump will be covered by immunity from prosecution. Trump will have to take a call on several issues that will have domestic and international repercussions.

Also read - Congratulations America! You've failed the world by electing Trump

For instance, his rhetoric about building a wall to keep out Mexicans might get morphed into tougher immigration policies and the wall may well be virtual. After his victory, in a qualified statement, he has said that his administration will deport illegal immigrants who are involved in drugs and criminal activities.

Trump says his administration will deport illegal immigrants who are involved in criminal activities

The other main issue will be the international trade regimes. Protectionism may increase and major FTAs like NAFTA will come under pressure. Realities of economics and trade will, undoubtedly, mitigate any drastic steps. The TPP may well be dumped.

Trump is expected to reach out to Russian President Putin and this will lead to more cooperative relations with Russia. This will impact the situation in West Asia, particularly the vicious Syrian Civil War.

Trump's anti-China rhetoric will also bump into the economic reality of the "Great wall of China" if Trump decides to "punish" China for currency manipulation. China and the USA are "joined at the hip" on trade and economic issues. Can Trump really "shoot from the hip"? Unlikely.

Trump and Asia

Except for immigration issues, India seems fairly insulated from any action that a Trump presidency may initiate. India-US relations have now developed a bipartisan consensus within the American political spectrum. Rapidly expanding defence ties and growing American investment in the "Make in India" programme are likely to go on unimpeded.

It might actually prosper under the Trump presidency. Any rapprochement with Russia will be welcomed by India whose gaze will be focused on China and the so-called American re-balance to Asia. Whether Trump give a free hand to China in Asia will keenly be watched in India.

Whether Trump give a free hand to China in Asia will keenly be watched in India

Pakistan, probably, has no reason to celebrate. At any rate, Pakistan has already decided to become a client state of China, recognising that it being a client state of the US is no longer giving it the dividends it has enjoyed during the Cold War and later.

The Trump Presidency has thrown the US and the world back to the drawing board and predictions about policy moves are fraught with uncertainty. Wait and watch seems to be the default mode as Trump puts together his Cabinet to form the next government of the US.

Edited by Aleesha Matharu

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First published: 17 November 2016, 16:59 IST
Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty @CatchNews

The writer is a former secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, former High Commissioner to Bangladesh and a former Ambassador to Thailand. He is currently a Distinguished Fellow at the Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation