A Trump victory would be bad, full stop

Winner-takes-all capitalism by definition produces many losers. That can leaves us disappointed and lead to dysfunctional politics

US president Donald Trump has been pushing the concept of voter fraud, without any evidence, to the point that now almost 50 per cent of Americans believe that it is an issue in the upcoming election. Video: Enda O'Dowd

 

Four years ago pollsters were confident that Donald Trump would lose. Stock market soothsayers predicted Wall Street would tumble after a Trump victory. Neither prognostication was remotely correct. Another reminder that forecasts, especially about the future, are best avoided. So I will immediately ignore my own warning, and suggest that a Trump victory will, this time, be bad for stocks.

That’s not because of any link between Trump’s policies, the economy or the markets. Those connections are weak at the best of times.

The point is that a second term, Trump unchained, would be so bad for everything. I’m struck by the convergence of views about this. Commentators from both ends of the political spectrum arrive at the same place. Forecasters and conventional wisdom are often wrong but not always.

John Bolton, hard man of the conservative right and one of Trump’s ex-national security advisers, thinks that another four years of Trump would put the US into a dark place from which it might never recover. Some think that it is already there and it doesn’t matter much whoever wins.

Martin Wolf, the FT’s chief economics writer and quintessential liberal, arrives at similar conclusions to Bolton, albeit via a different route. The argument is familiar: the end of America as we knew it contains nothing good for the rest of us. And four more years of Trump would bring about that end.

Investors would be right to chuck out the usual toolkit – bond yields, cash flow analysis and financial ratios – and simply focus on those words “nothing good” and “end”.

Would a Biden victory put America, and the rest of us, into a good place? I have no idea, only hope.

Bolton’s view is a nuanced one: America is in terrible shape thanks to Trump but could get better if traditional Republican values reassert themselves.

Wolf-type centrists hope that the US will revert to the internationalism of the pre-Trump era.

I have American friends who disagree with both: the divisions that Trump has exploited are now so deep that the country, the republic, will ultimately split, they believe.

We speculate about the potential demise of the UK – even Wales is at it now – but sinister flags are appearing at Trump rallies. Not just the usual Confederate emblems but the Stars and Stripes with a weird horizontal thin blue line printed across the middle. Anne Applebaum, author of Twilight of Democracy (read it if you want to get even more depressed) thinks these flags depict a desire for the end of the union.

Some shopkeepers across the US are boarding up their store fronts, fearful about what might happen should Trump, after the result, tweet from Mar-a-Lago, “fake election”. Walmart has temporarily taken guns and ammunition off its shelves.

Democracy and crises

With one or two exceptions, democracy is hopeless at dealing with Covid in particular or crises in general. Societies based on individuals cannot handle collective problems.

China’s citizens might be forgiven for approving of their autocrats when comparing them to Trump and Boris Johnson. The irony of China emerging stronger than ever, politically and economically, post-virus is as obvious as it is worrying.

Surveys of attitudes towards democracy over the past 25 years show that we are disenchanted with it. Not everywhere: Ireland is one of a small number of countries whose citizens are more favourably disposed towards representative government.

Aware of the global slide, Cambridge University recently established a “centre for the future of democracy”. Let’s hope it doesn’t become a history department.

Why we are in this state? I think it’s mostly down to disappointment.

The end of communism gave rise to promises to Poles and Hungarians that were never kept.

The demise of unskilled labour in the West – and it’s hopeless handling by liberal elites – left behind a lot of disappointed and angry workers.

Winner-takes-all capitalism by definition produces lots of losers. That leaves us both exhausted and disappointed.

That’s all fertile ground for politicians and billionaires, in Applebaum’s words, of an “authoritarian tendency”. Applebaum invokes peak-Troubles Belfast when thinking about where some American cities are heading.

Perspective

How to be an optimist? Those of us who remember the 1960s, with its threats of nuclear Armageddon and revolting students, also endured, somewhat unfairly, the 1970s. But the world didn’t end. A long-run perspective matters. Things do get better.

The evolutionary psychologist Stephen Pinker describes hope as the vaccine against despair, and lists plenty of reasons for, and examples of, progress. Human advancement since the Enlightenment has been spectacular but has often been accompanied by waves of dystopian pessimism. Misery sells.

One source of optimism: the pandemic will end. Another is Ireland. That belief in democracy, distrust of extremists, absence of a disappointed industrial working class. A State at ease with itself, a much nicer place to live than other places I could mention.

One way for Ireland to blow its bright future would be to continue its nascent drift into the arms of its home-grown populists.

What will be left of the economy remains to be seen but on the day after the pandemic’s end there will be one enormous spending splurge. Savings are piling up in bank accounts, money that is destined to be spent.

Any businesses still standing can look forward to quite a party. Just don’t hold it in a Trump hotel.

US Election Results

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