Trump’s shock presidential victory defied the polls and pundits. He was a candidate with no political experience, whose campaign ‘fed on people’s fear and paranoia’ wrote La Trobe International Relations lecturer Dr Kumuda Simpson-Gray.
Dr Simpson-Gray added, ‘It is deeply troubling that this message resonated with so many. Yet it also highlights just how many people in America have lost faith in the political class. It’s clear that American democracy and political institutions are more vulnerable than we thought.’
The people of America have spoken. Now, our academics weigh in on what a Trump presidency could mean for the US, Australia and beyond.
The stakes are high, not just for the US but the world
As Americans went to the polls Dr Simpson-Gray wrote about Trump’s key policies, including Trump’s view that climate change is ‘a conspiracy created by the Chinese government to harm the American economy.’
Dr Simpson-Gray writes: ‘This claim is patently ridiculous and the damage he could do to global efforts to address climate change… is significant.’
‘It’s impossible to predict exactly what effect America’s withdrawal would have on other countries’ commitment to cutting carbon emissions. It is highly likely though that it would seriously undermine what is already a fragile global effort.’
Dr Simpson-Gray describes Trump’s economic policies as ‘a bizarre blend of the very neo-liberal ideas that have been responsible for multiple financial crises, combined with protectionist grandstanding.’
‘His proposal to impose tariffs on Chinese imports like steel, and to fine American manufacturers who send jobs offshore, would likely do more to hurt the US economy than strengthen it.’
Dr Simpson-Gray adds: ‘His tax cuts for corporations and businesses would do very little to address the lopsided distribution of wealth in the country.’
No matter where you look, the Trump presidency is worrying news
Tony Walker, from our School of Communications, describes the US election results as ‘one of the most troubling outcomes in American presidential history’.
Walker writes: ‘It is not clear if the president-elect himself knows where he might take his country, beyond his own campaigning bombast that singled out some of America’s principal trading partners as culprits in the loss of American jobs and an unfair trading system.
‘His threats to tear up a nuclear deal with Iran are particularly troubling in the absence of a realistic alternative beyond the re-imposition of sanctions. This would add further to tensions in the world’s most volatile region.’
We cannot be sure if the Trump administration will stand by these policies or ‘temper its rhetoric’ and ‘therein lies the challenge for Australian policymakers,’ Walker writes.
‘Australian policymakers need to be wary of American policy impulses under a new and unpredictable regime, whose first impulses are towards a version of isolationism underpinned by antagonism towards globalisation.’
What’s in store for Asia under President Trump?
Nick Bisley, Executive Director of La Trobe Asia and Professor of International Relations reflects ‘The fact that Trump was light on policy detail while on the stump, and that he contradicted himself on an almost daily basis, means that we have very little to go on when trying to ascertain what a Trump presidency will mean for Asia.’
Professor Bisley notes that ‘competition between China and the USA has increased’ in recent years.
‘In response, countries across Asia have been boosting their defence spending to mitigate the risks. This sentiment is going to be badly exacerbated by Trump’s presidency. Expect more miltarisation of Asia’s international politics.’
He further writes Trumps threat to end the trade agreement with China ‘could prompt not just a trade war but could lead China to take retaliatory steps. That could include, at the extreme end, the nationalisation of US economic interests in China. Those interests are not insignificant.’
The Trump presidency may not be all doom and gloom for the region
International Relations Senior Lecturer Michael O’Keefe and Dr Simpson-Gray agree: ‘The prospect of a trade war and increased tensions between the US and China is a worrying possibility.’
They later add, however: ‘But it could also reassure allies such as Australia, Japan and South Korea that America still has their interests at heart. It would send a clear signal to Beijing to tread carefully.
‘Trump would gain a negotiating wedge with China, and Australia would gain what it craves most: a US engaged in maintaining the strategic stability of the region and the “rules based order”.
‘Long-standing US allies like Australia, as well as allies with long standing suspicion of China such as Japan and South Korea, are all looking for the US to reaffirm the nature of its commitment to the region.
‘A more assertive US President might be just what’s needed to smooth the waves of discontent in Asia over the rise of China and its “revisionist” behaviour in the South China Sea. This means that for all the speculation about Trump’s foreign policy, Australia could be well placed to strengthen its relations with the US.’
As to what the future of a Trump administration holds, only time will tell.
La Trobe has one of Australia’s leading centres for the study of International Relations. Our college members are recognised as some of the world’s leading academics and are prominent contributors to public debate about international affairs in Australia and globally.