On the fears of a Donald Trump presidency

What if Donald Trump becomes the next president of the United States after the election?

Raghida Dergham
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What if Donald Trump becomes the next president of the United States after the election? What kind of presidency would Trump’s be? The man had ridden a wave of discontent among Americans long frustrated with the ruling class in America, the performance of successive administrations and the dubious links between politicians and financial interests. Many Americans fear, and others like Russia’s rulers wish, that a Trump presidency would dismantle the US ruling structure, leading to a gradual collapse of the United States as result of arbitrary policies and stunts and the racism and hate that have all marked the attitudes of Donald Trump since he decided to run for president - traits that could also characterize his tenure. However, a segment of public opinion believes that in the event Trump becomes president, the powerful establishment, which includes civilian, military and intelligence power vectors, will coax him and/or impose restrictions and checks and balances on his presidency. In this context as well, Wall Street is no less important as an influencer of America’s future at home and in the world. Not long ago, major corporations such as GE were a major component of the establishment and today, they have been inherited by the likes of Google, Facebook and major tech companies in California’s Silicon Valley.

If Donald Trump spends his putative presidency fighting wars against all parts of the establishment, against ten million undocumented immigrants living in the US, against women, Muslims and people of color, be they Asian or Latinos, he will find himself unable to govern – regardless of how much hope he seems to be pinning on having a special friendship with Russian President Putin. But if Trump enters the White House with calmness and awareness of what it means to lead a superpower, beyond his electoral antics, the world may well witness a blitzing coup by Trump against Trump. He will then become an actual partner of the establishment while helping vent some of the populist anger and resentment. The problem is that it will be very difficult to predict which Trump we will have, and this is dangerous. He is inexperienced, temperamental and fickle. He is arrogant and he is a bad listener, and this is why the world and a large segment of Americans are afraid of a Trump victory on Tuesday.


He is inexperienced, temperamental and fickle. He is arrogant and he is a bad listener and this is why the world and a large segment of Americans are afraid of a Trump victory on Tuesday

Raghida Dergham

Last week, FBI Director James Comey once again reshuffled the electoral deck by announcing the FBI would reopen an inquiry into the email correspondence of Hillary Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin. This refocused the light on accusations against Clinton of flouting the law when she was secretary of state, by using private email servers to conduct state affairs. Comey’s announcement gave Trump a boost in the polls, even putting him ahead of Clinton in some. It also galvanized the Trump campaign as more undecided voters came to his side.

Divided America

America is divided. Divisions have spread between those angry with Hillary Clinton’s reputation for corruption and those afraid of Donald Trump’s perceived stunts, naivety and even ignorance.

Many Americans speak of choosing the lesser evil between the two. However, there is a solid Clinton camp and a solid Trump one, each bent on defeating the other. Observers fear that the unprecedentedly negative campaign’s toxic effect will linger after the election, taking the United States into what resembles a low-temperature civil war.

What the current climate portends is that whoever wins, he or she will have to cope with divisions and backlashes, as well as possible legal investigations and sanctions even in power. The coming year will not allow the forthcoming president to feel any complacency.

The race is too close to call before election day. There still could be more surprises following the FBI’s bombshell. Bar any, however, Clinton is more likely to win despite recent shifts. Still, we cannot discount a victory by Trump.

What will be the implications for the world if Trump wins? Donald Trump is likely to reduce most international issues into a black-or-white classification, as his worldview is averse to gray zones. Trump says he wants to reshape relations between the allies in NATO in a way that the US no longer bears the same financial burdens it currently has. He wants to change the relationship between the UN headquartered in New York and the host country, to reduce the privileges the organization has. Trump wants to reshape the international order and remold it in a more populist direction to appease his constituency and not because he is not of the elite. Even in matters as serious as the US nuclear umbrella in East Asia, Trump wants to completely end the existing arrangements.

The ripple effect

This is exactly what makes Putin a fan of Donald Trump. For one thing, Trump greatly resembles Boris Yeltsin, the former head of the USSR blamed for leading it to total collapse. For Moscow, Trump will be the gift that keeps on giving. Trump is willing to unshackle Putin’s hands in Syria, with complete disregard for the cost this would have for Syria as well as the US position in the Middle East.

Donald Trump has no interest in the GCC or the Islamic Republic of Iran. His priorities as they emerged during his campaign were immigration and terrorism, fears of which he stoked to present himself as the president who will protect America from “aliens,” especially Muslims.

Donald Trump would thus take isolationism to terrifying new heights. He will also be an exclusionary president par excellence. At home, he will proceed to repeal previous acts, led by Obamacare or the Affordable Healthcare Act, without putting forward an alternative.

Yet all this could be part of ephemeral electoral promises because the US political structure does not allow the president no matter who he or she is to become a dictator. US presidents don’t have absolute powers, and the system has a lot of checks and balances governing the work of its various levers, from the legislature (Congress) and the executive (the administration/cabinet) to the highest level of the judiciary (the Supreme Court).

Therefore, some believe fears of a Trump presidency are exaggerated. However, others insist the fears are not misplaced, because the entire foundations of the international order will be shaken if a provocative and exclusionary trigger-happy president captures the White House, as this would be enough to set off worldwide instability.

This article was first published in al-Hayat on Nov 4, 2016 and translated by Karim Traboulsi.

Raghida Dergham is Columnist, Senior Diplomatic Correspondent, and New York Bureau Chief for the London-based Al Hayat newspaper since 1989. She is dean of the international media at the United Nations. Dergham is Founder and Executive Chairman of Beirut Institute, an indigenous, independent, inter-generational think tank for the Arab region with a global reach. An authority on strategic international relations, Dergham is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and an Honorary Fellow at the Foreign Policy Association. She served on the International Media Council of the World Economic Forum, and is a member of the Development Advisory Committee of the IAP- the Global Network of Science Academies. She can be reached on Twitter @RaghidaDergham


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