The most forceful message being sent by a Donald Trump victory is that the American electorate has repudiated the policies and political practices of the past – at least – eight years.
The second message is that his supporters are tired of the elite ignoring their needs and are now fighting back. There is evidence to support their claims, like the studies showing growing inequality in the US by people such as Branko Milanovic and Thomas Piketty and the reports of declining life expectancy for white working class Americans.
The third, and more ominous message, is that Trump and his supporters are rejecting the so-called “political correctness” of the past 30 years, which is really a pejorative term for tolerance and cosmopolitanism. They are embracing the racism, sexism, and xenophobia and crude nationalism of a past and darker era.
The implications of Trump’s victory are therefore likely to be very bad. Trump has made bigoted statements about Mexicans, Muslims and foreigners in general. He has also made statements about the Chinese, the Russians, the Middle East and the international arrangements in which the US participates. These statements suggest that he has little understanding of geopolitics and even less of the practices and nuances of international relations. This increases the risk that he will blunder into a foreign crisis.
Given Trump’s generally aggressive approach to those he does not like, there are reasons to fear the worst.
Implications for the world
Trump has indicated that he has little concern for the most important issue of our time – climate change. He denies it is a problem and advocates returning to the use of the most dirty sources of energy – coal and oil – as part of his effort to make “America great again”.
This will make it much harder for the world to keep climate change within the 2 degree target established by the Paris agreement and to avoid the resulting devastating effects on continents like Africa.
Trump’s “America first” policies are likely to cause him to ignore many festering problems in the world, like migration, and to respond to any that he cannot ignore in an aggressive manner designed merely to keep the problem away from the US.
And Trump has made it clear that he is sceptical about free trade. Thus, there is likely to be a resurgence of protectionism in the US, and, as a response, in other countries as well.
It is also important to keep in mind that the vote in the US is also a rejection of the policies that Wall Street and big business, and their allies in organisations like the IMF, have been advocating. We can expect the concerned reaction of financial markets to continue in the short run and there to be a general loss of investor confidence. This in turn will exacerbate economic and social tensions around the world.
If these effects continue for any length of time they could precipitate another global recession or worse. However, it is also possible that the difficult situation caused by the resurgent US will encourage some states to try and work together to build institutions for managing the global economy that are less dependent on the US and its key allies.
The Trump victory, combined with the Brexit vote, is also likely to embolden right wing voters in France, the Netherlands, and Germany to support their own right wing populist leaders in their 2017 elections.
Implications for Africa
At one level, it is hard to know what a Trump presidency will mean for Africa. Trump seems to have no knowledge about the continent and to not have paid it any attention.
But his victory is likely to be bad for Africa for three reasons.
First, his protectionist bias means that he is unlikely to be a supporter of allowing Africa favourable access to US markets through such programmes as the African Growth Opportunity Act. While he may not repeal this Act, he will be aggressive in responding to any countries that he thinks are taking unfair advantage of it. This is a potential problem for South Africa.
Second, given his general embrace of racists in the campaign, there is little reason to think that he will view Africa favourably. It is more likely that he views the continent in a generally negative light, as a source of poverty and problems rather than as a dynamic place with opportunities and a burgeoning and energetic young population.
Consequently, he is unlikely to react favourably to African initiatives to make international organisations like the UN and the IMF more accountable to Africa and more responsive to its needs and concerns.
Finally, Trump’s “America first” approach suggests that he is unlikely to see development cooperation and support for Africa in a positive light. The result is that Africa, particularly middle income countries, are likely to find their access to US and multilateral aid and cooperation initiatives reduced. While there are some benefits that could follow from this, it will entail a painful adjustment in these countries.