Trump and Reelection: What Might We Expect?…

Por: MA. Clara Franco Yáñez
Master en Asuntos Internacionales, por el Instituto de Posgrados en Estudios Internacionales y del Desarrollo en Ginebra, Suiza

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Trump’s presidential term is more than halfway through. His time in office has felt long and eventful; navigating from one scandal to the next. As things stand now, it is almost certain that he will run for a second term; a prospect which – in a world that seems more socially and politically polarized than ever – has some people already feeling hopeful and optimistic, while others cringe in great fear. It is too early to tell how the 2020 presidential race might go. Changes in economic conditions as well as political scandals; the average people’s living conditions, and the global stage at large, all play a part and could present unexpected. What can Mexico, the USA and the world expect from a Trump reelection?

I must first mention some facts that have to do with general political tendencies in North America and not with Trump himself. By and large, presidents tend to be reelected, despite unpopularity. All of them in recent decades, save for two, were reelected regardless if they were Democrat or Republican, and with seemingly little relation to their actual performance. For us Mexicans, presidential reelection does not exist and is a political taboo, for historical reasons. In the USA, however, it is the normal outcome and not the exception.

Another thing to keep in mind is that, if we analyze the last decades of US presidents and their parties, we can expect a very constant tendency towards “pendularity”. Hardly ever has a single party held presidential power for many terms in a row (two or four is the norm). I have long held the opinion that such pendularity – in society and ideologies – is a constant historical phenomenon. Times of conservatism tend to be followed by times of liberalism, then back to more conservative tendencies. These days we are reminded of that, as many countries see their citizens swinging back to more conservative opinions and ideas. This isn’t that surprising. On the one hand, people have a tendency to be rather displeased with their governments and social conditions in general, regardless of good or bad their country’s situation is at large. On the other hand, some of these ideological swings are generational: children of very conservative parents may often – though not always – hold an opposing tendency towards liberalism, or vice-versa. My point being: many people are deeply unhappy with Trump, but they would likely be also displeased with Hillary as president, and were displeased with Obama too. And, save for some strong party loyalties, some of the dissatisfied tend to vote for whatever is opposite to now – at least in the USA.

As of now, it is not easy to predict if Trump would be reelected. A crucial factor is the question of who will be his political rival (a vote for Trump might come out of disapproval for the rival and not necessarily approval for Trump). Sadly, the media will not give us clarity on this matter. Some sources are certain that Trump has practically won the reelection already; others swear that he can’t possibly win. Unfortunately, many news sources have strong biases one way or the other – and these are the same media outlets which had smugly predicted that Trump couldn’t possibly become president in 2016. So; hard to tell.

Economic conditions in the USA have improved greatly in recent years, recovering from the 2010 recession. Not all of this, however, is attributable to Trump. Changes in economic policy can take years to have perceivable effects; however, not everyone in the public understands economic complexities. Both positive and negative trends in the economy may be associated to Trump in the public’s minds, regardless if they are actually related. Not all current negative tendencies are a result of his presidency – but neither are positive ones.

What continuities and changes can we expect from a reelection?... Stating the obvious; continuity is not inherently positive or negative in itself. More time of a Trump presidency could bring the risk of another government shutdown on the wall funding issue. If he were to continue current policies, it is likely that the US could continue to lose global leadership in some aspects: NATO might be further weakened as an institution; and as other forms of political instability also continue to be unleashed in Europe, China could have even greater ease in gaining global leadership not only in industrialization and economy, but also in some unexpected areas such as leadership in climate protection.

Some of Trump’s protectionist measures could in fact be a positive trend. Analysts online ponder if his protectionist economic measures threaten the neoliberal economic order. As someone who is strongly critical of unregulated neoliberalism, I cannot help but think of this as a positive – but it will depend on how exactly it is managed and implemented. Neoliberal policies that the USA has favored since the early 80’s (and which have been relentlessly implemented in Mexico) left many behind, increased inequality, and brought prosperity for only a selected few. Whether a threat to neoliberalism comes from Trump or from someone like Bernie Sanders, the results might not be as negative as some would have us believe. As a final point: the president does not have unlimited power. What U.S. Congress looks like in 2020, might be far more important than whether the president is reelected or not.