I had promised myself that I would remain off the topic of Donald Trump but that doesn’t seem to happening. In fact, my initial feel was to stay off the news altogether for the next four years at least – I was so dismayed that the world’s beacon of democracy had elected someone who was so anti-everything I espoused. But then, there is really no need to carry that much baggage around for him; after all, he isn’t my leader in any sense.
So, coming back to the gentleman in the White House, why did he get elected? It seems to be a question that can be answered by electorates of countries around the world. We have seen a trend in countries where free and fair elections have been held over the past few years of the public choosing to go with someone who is seen as anti-establishment at best or one who is completely disruptive in the ideals they communicate. This has led to opportunities for disparate sections of the polity in these countries to be heard – like Europe’s far right and the ultra Republican in the US. In Asia, both India’s Narendra Modi and Philippines’ Duterte are proving to be disruptive in their thinking and policies just like Donald Trump is following his agenda of upending the established world order.
The questions we need to ask are why are people in general so unhappy with life as usual. Has the status quo become so unpalatable that we are ready to experiment? If the overriding message is change at any cost, are we ready to bear that cost?
There is nothing as comforting as predictability to the world economic order. Every company, country and multi-lateral organisation loves being able to know what comes next. You order something and it lands on your desk in 5 days. At a cost you agreed on. But that comfort zone looks like it is a relic of the past. Already in the couple of weeks he has been power, Donald Trump is seeking to change the economic order. By ignoring treaties, dictating policy over twitter and arm-twisting global corporations to change their manufacturing to an America-centric model, he is serving to disrupt policy and adds an uncertainty factor to the equation.
It’s the sort of uncertainty that governments avoid. In fact those in power go to extraordinary lengths to ensure that economic policy transitions are smooth and do not disrupt.
In the short term the effects will not be large. Consumers around the world will not be impacted as much as domestic American consumers in the prices they pay for imports. But longer term, as manufacturing shifts back to a high labour cost economy like the United States, prices of various goods will rise.
And we haven’t even begun to discuss a China that is not only aggressively building its presence on the world stage, the country shows every sign of being willing to step into the gaps left by the US at it moves towards a protectionist stance.
Will we see other countries stepping up as well or are we going to see the flood of protectionism sweep up the doubters. Essentially Brexit is happening because of an overdose of European-style federalism. But it is also about keeping out the outsiders and believing that the nation’s wealth and its economy is the prerogative of the local – bringing into sharp outline the stated policy of allowing free movement of people and labour.
As the world moves ahead and tries to adjust to new realities, we also have to learn lessons that are connected to our existence as an extremely interconnected species. We are hooked on to social media and are ever ready to adopt someone else’s ideals as our own. We often forget the here and now, the society, the environment and the realities of our corporeal existence. What’s good for Peter isn’t always good for Paul, but we ignore that in our search for a better life. If you can’t work harder, strive for your goals and be the change that Obama called for, it is a lot easier to vote for change in a referendum or a plebiscite. Somewhere along the line, we are getting our priorities mixed up.