EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy

  • Donald Trump is the next President of the United States in a historic upset
  • A Trump presidency is cause for massive uncertainty; how will he unite a divided nation, approach climate change and transatlantic relations?

Donald Trump is the next President of the United States. Against expectations, he managed a historic upset and won by a decisive margin. In a cruel, ironic twist of fate, the man who promised to erect a giant wall on the Mexican border has won the elections on the same day the Berlin wall fell.

What will happen next is difficult to predict, and given my past failure in predicting the elections, I will refrain from claiming I can provide concrete answers. Before anyone can provide answers, a plethora of questions needs to be asked. Questions about what a Trump presidency will mean for both the US and the world. Questions about how Trump, by many regarded as unelectable, managed such a surprising victory despite alienating almost every conceivable voter segment. Questions about what went so wrong for the Democrats, whose candidate was qualified and experienced. What will it mean for the future of American politics? The climate? How will liberal democracies navigate into the future amidst a raging storm of populist fury? And many more…

The despair expressed at Trump’s victory is understandable; the sheer uncertainty of what will happen is frightening. There is a concrete sense of disgruntlement at the current system.

The despair expressed at Trump’s victory is understandable; the sheer uncertainty of what will happen is frightening.Yet it is not conducive to beginning the arduous journey of extracting the proper answers to these questions. How millions of good people voted for Trump, believing he would be the best for their country. There is a concrete sense of disgruntlement at the current system. A dissatisfaction bordering on hatred so strong that they picked a proto-fascist, misogynistic, rampantly narcissistic, blatantly unqualified, ill-tempered bigot rather than the embodiment of said system. The ramifications of said choice will affect not only Americans, but also people across the globe as the US adopts its stance on several important issues such as climate change, NATO cooperation, migration, and more. At home, he will have to heal a deeply divided nation that he has largely alienated on his road to victory.

There is a concrete sense of disgruntlement at the current system.

“Making America great again” – at whose expense?

“Making America great again” is, if Trump’s campaign pledges are anything to go by, a zero-sum equation with potentially dire consequences. From a security perspective, his threatening of NATO’s hitherto unbreakable musketeer’s oath is cause for concern. While his desire for developing “fully-fledged relationship” with Russia may herald the beginning of warmer relations with Russia, one has to wonder if Russia does not gain more from this than the US – and in a time when Russian resurgence is concretely expressed both at Europe’s doorstep as well as in the Middle-East, the uncertainty is ominous. One of Trump’s most pertinent immediate tasks is to clarify the US’ foreign policy under his administration.

One of Trump’s most pertinent immediate tasks is to clarify the US’ foreign policy under his administration.

In regards to climate change, little concrete is known of Trump’s plans. However, during his campaign Trump called climate change “a Chineese hoax”, which does not bode well for the world in a time where strong leadership and decisive action from the US is more needed than ever. In terms of concrete policy initiatives, it is highly unlikely Trump will be able to deliver on this; large segments of his electorate fears losing their livelihood from green transitioning, and his quest to provide short-term gains to his people is likely to be at the expense of long-term investments into a sustainable future.

Lastly, by virtue of his divisive campaign, Trump inherits a deeply divided nation in need of healing.

Now he faces the Sisyphean task of becoming a president for the entire nation, of which large parts is comprised of people he has alienated beyond reconciliation.

Whether it was women, Hispanics, black people, disabled people, the entire establishment, veterans, inciting violence at rallies, Trump spearheaded what is arguably the most antagonistic campaign in memory. Now he faces the Sisyphean task of becoming a president for the entire nation, of which large parts is comprised of people he has alienated beyond reconciliation. People he has depicted as the very problems America faces. With the Republicans holding the majority in both the House and the Senate, he holds power that Obama would have envied, a power that gives him the possibility to leave Obama’s legacy, such as Obamacare, in tatters. Whether or not he will use this power wisely is difficult to say, but based on his campaign it is highly dubious that he will use it in an inclusive manner to accommodate to the wider electorate rather than the people who carried him to victory on a tide of furious frenzy. Envisaging Trump as a unifying, inclusive president is nigh impossible in the aftermath of the sheer hatred he has evoked. Additionally, it is worth remembering that Trump has to reconcile with his own, fragmented party who is not unequivocally aligned with him politically or ideologically.

What will Trump’s legacy be?

It seems counter-intuitive speaking of Trump’s legacy before he has even taken office. As I initially wrote, it is impossible as of yet to provide definitive answers to how Trump’s presidency will unfold and what his legacy will be. External events can take control of a presidency, as Bush discovered when 9/11 occurred. However, the contours can be gleaned, and they are deeply disturbing from the perspective of liberal democracy and basic human decency. However, people have spoken and they have decided to smash the system that failed to provide them with a compelling narrative. It is now their turn to provide answers that heal the divide that the previous establishment failed to do.

When Obama came into power, he did so as a breath of fresh air, achieving more decisive victories than Trump’s as a symbol of hope in a time wrought with global crises. Perhaps the hope was naïve; the vagaries of realpolitik obstructed Obama at every turn when fighting against a Republican House and Senate majority that were vehemently opposed to him. Whether or not those nuances were lost on the electorate remains unsaid, but as we have just witnessed, hope unredeemed paves the way for disappointment and rage. Trump is the embodiment of this anger, which itself has yet to provide any compelling solutions to the complex challenges facing the US, yet provides a false sense of empowerment as it depicts the world in simple black and white with corresponding simple solutions.
Despite the Obama presidency overseeing the longest streak of total job growth on record and an unemployment rate of only 4.9 percent, the windfall has failed to materialize for the wider public; wages have stagnated, inequality has risen. Providing compelling solutions to this problem is the first step on the way to ameliorating the anger that has carried Trump to victory. This is a long-term undertaking for which there are no quick fixes. Making this understood by the public is equally important to counter the rise of “strong men” like Trump, which is not only seen in the US, but also in Europe.


Today is a dark day for the pluralism and diversity that is usually attributed to the US.

However, for today, the most important thing is to retain hope and remember our values. They, most of all, are in jeopardy and must not be lost. As CNN reporter Van Jones asked: “how do we explain to our children that they should not bully the weak? How do we tell them to respect women? How do we teach them compassion? … When our president is the antithesis to these values.” The monumental task ahead is ensuring they inherit a better world. Perhaps a Trump presidency will be a major setback, but that fight cannot be lost in despair over one presidential election, even if today is a dark day for the pluralism and diversity that is usually attributed to the US.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christian Kvorning Lassen

 

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