THE FORTY FIFTH U.S. PRESIDENT
I was asked,at short notice, to write a piece for the PSEU Review magazine on the prospects for the forthcoming U.S. Presidential Election and any likely implications for Ireland from the outcome.
“Like most people this side of the Atlantic, I’ve watched with fascination the developing race for the U.S. Presidency.
The emergence of Donald Trump as Republican candidate has been astonishing. The only person now standing between him and the White House is Hilary Clinton, who if elected will make history as the USA’s first female President. Trump’s candidacy seemed initially bizarre and unlikely, but, as I write, with less than seven weeks to polling day, the outcome is currently too close to call, with Trump having reeled in Hilary’s lead in dramatic fashion in recent weeks.
There is still a long way to go, and, with the caveat that a major terrorist attack could prove a game changer, much may hinge on the outcome of the televised debates, or the emergence of some currently unknown unknown – two weeks ago who could have forecast Hilary’s pneumonia? Or again, one candidate (which most pundits assume will be Clinton) may start to pull ahead in the final few weeks as the undecided make up their minds. But right now in terms of secured states Clinton has a far from decisive lead, with Trump ahead or level in a number of crucial states including Ohio, Iowa, Florida and North Carolina, while the Clinton lead in Pennsylvania is diminishing. Either way one of them will be the next President. What can we forecast about the new administration’s policies and does who wins matter for Ireland?
Taking the easy one, Hilary Clinton, first. She is a Democrat, succeeding another Democrat, for whom she worked as Secretary of State. She is widely experienced in what can and cannot be achieved in terms of getting things done domestically and internationally. Expect therefore more of the same as we have seen from Obama. The main domestic issues are likely to be consolidating the improving economy as well as the healthcare system and attempting again to sort out some form of immigration reform, perhaps helped by a stronger Democratic presence on Capitol Hill.
In the foreign policy area she will push on with closing Guantanamo, and continuing the thawing of relations with Cuba. Outside the hemisphere she will continue with current US policy in the Middle East, attempting to sort out the mess that is Iraq and Syria and further pressing on ISIS. Her options are limited. Much will depend on the relationship with Putin. Ireland is unlikely to figure largely unless there is action to curb “corporate inversion”, where US companies have their headquarters overseas to avoid US taxes, something both Clinton and Trump have called for. She could be involved were there to be an impasse on negotiations over the open Border issue in the context of Brexit; a role here for Bill, perhaps? We could well be in for a Presidential visit.
Trump is another story, and at this stage very difficult to predict. He captured the Republican nomination by being outrageous and stoking passions which appealed to an inchoate coalition of right wingers, Tea Party members and disillusioned blue collar elements. In so doing he alienated many traditional moderate Republicans and his chances of winning rest on how many of them will trickle back. He has recently changed his campaign team, hiring Steve Bannon to intensify attacks on Clinton, but also giving some hints of toning down his rhetoric, perhaps in an attempt to broaden his appeal.The run-in to the actual vote will be interesting.
Should he win, bear in mind that everyone loves a winner! An early indication of how he will proceed will be in Cabinet formation, particularly who he nominates for Secretaries of State, Defence and Homeland Security. But several things can be predicted with some confidence. There will be no deportation of millions to Mexico or anywhere else. Quite simply the US administration does not have the resources to undertake the process. Tens of thousands of additional staff would have to be recruited, vetted and trained, from border patrol officers to judges and clerks to run the new courts required, to detention centre staff to hold the throngs awaiting deportation. Former head of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff commented that without suspending the Constitution and the police acting like North Koreans “it ain’t happening.” Even targeting only criminals would require an exponential ramping up of resources.
Similarly impractical are suggestions to ban Muslims from entering the USA, while the physical problems and costs associated with the Wall idea, including managing the water flows, rule this out except as a long term aspirational project. In Foreign Policy, Trump, for all the rhetoric, will be tied largely by where the USA is “at” currently in the Middle East. A close examination of recent remarks suggests that, stripped of rhetoric, he will adhere to current policy in broadest terms; there are few options to do more. Trump’s unpredictability is legend but whether, faced by reality, his loud mouth threats will come to anything is questionable.
On internal and economic affairs Trump is standard right wing Republican. His “magical thinking” tax plans will reward the rich by cuts, without spending cuts to balance. As well as corporate inversion, of interest to Ireland is his proposal to cut US corporate tax from 35% to 15%. Whether any of this, or renegotiation of NAFTA , will pass Congress is doubtful, while “getting tough with China” and backing out of the TPP could backfire and will probably just amount to empty rhetoric.
One point to interest over-taxed Irish readers. Trump proposes a top tax rate of 33% for those earning over $154,000 pa. Clinton’s sliding scale reaches 33% at $190,150, remains at that up to $ 413,350 and includes a 39% band from $415,050 to $5 million pa!