By now, the fact that Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States has settled in. Protests, pleas and arguments will undoubtedly continue, but barring an unanticipated obstruction, we will all have to accept a Trump administration. If nothing else, we can say with credit that American democracy has worked; the Electoral College has been apportioned, and all that is left to do is wait until Inauguration Day.
So let’s talk about what that could mean. Trump made many conflicting promises during his candidacy. Regardless of which ones he chooses to keep, catastrophic consequences may result all the same.
In terms of foreign policy, Trump has promised to operate with an “America first” perspective. That infers an end to what many have referred to as regime-change policies, a foreign policy outlook with the goal of inspiring democratic values abroad, especially in the Middle East. Trump has attacked this perspective as inefficient and counterintuitive, and has consistently pointed to the governments in Iraq and Afghanistan as costly failed experiments. He seems to want to restrict American presence abroad, especially in Europe, much to the chagrin of America’s allies and NATO partner states.
In addition to Trump’s apparent desire to decrease America’s participation in protecting NATO allies and democracies abroad, it is no secret that Trump seeks warmer relations with Russia. While some hold that this is preferable to confrontation, especially in Syria, the international implications of such a choice could be dramatic. An America unwilling to support NATO allies could result in credible fear in countries that used to make up the communist Eastern Bloc. With Russian involvement in Ukraine continuing into the present, Russian cyberattacks on neighboring states and Poland’s membership in NATO, the United States will have a plethora of international squabbles that it will need to balance carefully if it wants to remain in the good graces of both Russia and Europe, an objective that may become impossible to attain in coming years.
At the same time that Trump has decried the heretofore predominantly American role in defending U.S.-aligned countries, he has promised to get tough on international terrorism, a promise that most likely requires the extraterritorial use of force to fulfill. Of course, making greater international use of American forces seems quite at odds with his other stated goals. During Barack Obama’s presidency, American presence in the Middle East declined, but drone strikes and surgical strikes by U.S. special forces have been used to target high-priority individuals such as Osama bin Laden. How Trump hopes to more effectively tackle international terrorism without staging international interventions is unclear.
Trump’s attitude toward China and apparent beliefs about East Asia are also important to consider. Trump has not been friendly to China over the course of his candidacy by any metric: From accusations of manipulating currency value to threats of dramatically increased tariffs on Chinese goods, it is clear that a Trump presidency will inevitably lead to a conflict of some kind with China. Add to this the fact that there is also considerable international concern over China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, North Korea’s increasingly jingoistic attitude toward the West and Trump’s seeming approval of a nuclear South Korea and Japan. All considerations in this sphere point to alarming uncertainty in the future of America-Asia relations.
Finally, there is the elephant in the room: Trump’s promises about American domestic policy. Trump is about as far from a civil libertarian as a president can get, despite flip-flopping on issues such as free speech and religious liberty. From claims that he will find a way to locate and deport 11 million undocumented immigrants to a complete ban on all Muslim immigration, it is clear that Trump does not view immigrants as potential Americans. There is even doubt about how legal immigrants would be treated under a Trump administration. Trump has additionally promised to appoint justices to the Supreme Court that would challenge Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges, pivotal decisions that established the right to have an abortion and to marry someone of the same sex, respectively. Finally, Trump sees nothing wrong with reinstating interrogation techniques like waterboarding. The international community and Americans alike have decried waterboarding as a form of torture, which is prohibited under international law that the United States has acceded to. Even something as significant as this outcry will not likely stand between Trump and his goals, whatever those may actually be.
The consequences of Trump’s economic views are similarly opaque. Trump has sworn to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it, very specifically, with “something terrific.” Trump has also vowed to renegotiate NAFTA, which is a highly significant international trade deal that provides for a North American free market and closer relations between the United States, Canada and Mexico. As a vocal skeptic of global climate change, a Trump presidency may also result in a return to emphasizing American fossil fuel use rather than investing in a renewable energy grid. All of these decisions stand to do considerable damage to the United States economy in the short run, and their effects are likely to evoke economic volatility in years to come.
It has yet to be seen whether Republican nominee Donald Trump is the same man as President Donald Trump. What is paradoxically certain, though, is that there is great uncertainty about America’s future under the leadership of our President-elect.