Why Donald Trump clicked with Americans

By: |
November 10, 2020 4:45 AM

His America First, anti-immigrant, anti-multilateral fora rhetoric seems to be working at a time when globalisation has failed millions in the US & elsewhere

donald trump, US president, investments, fdi, fii, green energy, make in indiaThe president has made no comments in person since Democrat Joe Biden clinched the 270 electoral votes on Saturday needed to win the presidency.

The US presidential elections saw Joe Biden unseat the incumbent Donald Trump. The outgoing president, Donald Trump was brash, but still a large number of voters sided with him. Deliberation on what really made him, or his policies, tick is needed.

Once policies are formulated, often, posturing assumes more importance than the actual action. This is what clicks with the voters, and has been witnessed in India too. Let us examine some of Trump’s key policies, where we can find parallels across the world. The first is the America First slogan, which indicated that Trump put Americans at the forefront of any policy, either political or economic.

In India, we have had the Make-in-India doctrine, now followed by Atmanirbhar India, which strikes the same notes. These doctrines can be explained in different ways, but ultimately they ascribe that the nation comes first. Hence, ‘Make America Great’ sounded much like our slogans, laced with patriotism.

The policy of building a wall on the Mexican border as it echoed the anti-immigration vitriol. The whole idea was that immigrants were taking away jobs as they came in illegally and offered cheap services. India faces a similar issue with Bangladeshi immigrants. Looking after refugees costs a lot of money and leads to loss of jobs at the lower level. Our attempt to put the Citizenship Bill in place is not dissimilar to the attempts in the US.

Third, is the issue of employment, where various states have drummed up the issue of reserving jobs for the local population. Even though it ultra vires Constitution, the courts have rarely interfered, and this has become a useful political plank during elections. It has been witnessed in states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Uttarakhand, Haryana, etc. Prospective leaders can always work up stories, at times exaggerated, on the issue of jobs, to appeal to the electorate. Trump followed a similar approach.

Fourth, Donald Trump walked away from global economic cooperation forums saying that the US has not benefited from its membership. Brexit, too, is based on a similar tenet and has found favour with the voters in the UK. It is also true that all global arrangements, at some point or the other make countries feel that they have given more than they have benefited. WTO is a clear case, where the Western economies, especially the US, tend to benefit the most by getting other members to open their borders to trade and investment. But, the reciprocity is missing when it comes to services or people (immigration). Therefore, turning away from globalisation during stressful times is not unexpected.

Fifth, the Trump administration was pro-business with its corporate tax cuts. We have seen a parallel in India, where the corporate tax was cut to support industry. The salaried class does not merit much attention in both countries. But while the India government has spent on the poor, the Trump administration has been anti-healthcare, etc. However, support for the capitalists has been a hallmark of the administration, a feature in most countries with heavy lobbying.

Sixth, the Trump administration moved out of the climate change accords. The ‘America first’ approach meant that the US was not going to be a leader in curtailing damage to the environment, when other countries, especially in the developing world, got away with doing little. This too resonates in most developing countries, including India, where scant regard is paid to upsetting the ecological balance as growth objectives prevail.

Seventh, the anti-China tirade was something which resonated with the world, as China bypassed the rules of fair play in the trade arena. The US can take credit for being forthright in actually imposing higher duties on goods from China. It may be recollected that once the trade war started, all countries, including India, tried to take advantage of China’s loss.

Therefore, quite evidently, Trump did several things right, which appealed to the voters, who believed that the Trump administration was advancing the interests of America. In fact, on the political front, while there has been a lot of criticism of the language used by the administration, but the four years, under Trump’s tenure, did not witness any war, which could have led to a loss of American lives. Economics was used as the tool to isolate Iran, and the US stayed away from problem countries.

Now, with a change in guard, a lot of this will expectedly be reversed. Immigration laws will be eased, tax rates will be raised, for sure, on corporates, and creating jobs for the local citizens will come to the fore. At the global level, there will be a sigh of relief as cooperation under various global trade arrangements will re-commence and dialogue will resume. There will be more cooperation than confrontation or withdrawal, which is the essence of diplomacy.

Will India directly gain? Probably not much, as there were not many positives or negatives with the Trump administration. He had been vocal about India not being fair on trade, which can now be open to dialogue. While there is the hope of more immigration visas issued for Indians, this may not be the top agenda presently. Internal issues were not of importance to Donald Trump, and it remains to be seen if the new president will express his views. With global trade and investment flows being more open, there could be some benefits, though continued dialogues would be essential.

Chief Economist, CARE Ratings. Views are personal 

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