President–elect Trump

Published: November 9, 2016

The final results are not yet in but at 12.40PST it was announced across a swathe of news channels that Hilary Clinton had conceded victory by ‘phone to Donald Trump; and at 12.49PST he walked on to a stage in New York to confirm that he was indeed the President-elect of the United States of America. It was perhaps the biggest political upset that America has ever seen in electoral terms, and counter to what national polls right up to the hours before the polling booths opened were indicating — namely a Clinton win.

This is the first time that Mr Trump has held an elected position and he has no previous political experience. His private life and financial affairs may be to a degree an open book but how he might act as a President is completely unknown. How he will select his first cabinet is a mystery as is whether he will seek to fulfill in reality pledges he made on the campaign trail — the repatriation of illegal immigrants and the building of a wall between the USA and Mexico he has flagged as ‘Day One’ items for Presidential action. How he will shape foreign policy — a matter of considerable interest to Pakistan — equally a tabula rasa and with the Middle East a daily item on the Presidential briefing note the world is quite literally in uncharted territory.

Reaction, particularly from the European Union, has ranged from cautiously neutral to flabbergasted with a German newspaper headlining ‘catastophe’. President Putin of Russia has expressed his satisfaction. The section of America that did not vote for Mr Trump is grief-stricken at a result none of them had anticipated, and there is a parade of doomsayers predicting the imminent fall of civilization as we know it. Markets everywhere have dropped. Civilization is not about to fall but American politics are going to change. Not about to change are the US institutions of State which remain fully functional and will continue to do so. Markets will recover because eventually they always do.

A Trump Presidency is possibly more powerful than the outgoing Obama administration as Trump holds both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The pollsters were completely wrong and have been scrambling to explain just why in the hours afterwards; and a section of America has been given voice and power by a man who has never trod the political stage nor been within a heartbeat of the nuclear trigger codes.

And for Pakistan? The call by Trump for the banning of all Muslims into the USA ‘until we find out what’s going on’ will be remembered. China may find its relationship with Pakistan under scrutiny, and although the Pentagon is likely to still view the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in at the least a neutral light if not overtly favourable, the same may not be true of the civilian administration — with a knock-on for Pakistan if our relations with KSA trigger the ‘must do more’ syndrome in the White House. There are already anecdotal reports of unease among those selected from Pakistan this year for Fulbright scholarships in the USA, and there must be doubt as well about the levels of funding in future for USAID projects in Pakistan which represent a large slice of foreign aid.

Above all else in these early hours after the election result there is an overarching cloud of unknowing. A Clinton win would have delivered a range of known quantities and qualities. It would have had a sense of familiarity about it. The Trump win has delivered uncertainty. There have been no or minimal contacts between the winning Trump team and foreign missions in the USA. Correspondents are talking of there being no diplomatic Plan B in Europe in the event of a Trump win. America has decided to reject the politics it knows in favour of an iconoclast that it knows remarkably little about. We live in interesting times.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 10th, 2016.

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