Leader comment: Trump rides groundswell of protest to White House

Donald Trump stunned America and the world riding a wave of populist resentment to defeat Hillary Clinton in the race to become the 45th president of the United States. Picture: Getty Images

Donald Trump stunned America and the world riding a wave of populist resentment to defeat Hillary Clinton in the race to become the 45th president of the United States. Picture: Getty Images

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So Donald Trump has once again confounded all his detractors, and has risen to the highest office in America against all the odds. The controversial businessman with no political experience is now the leader of the biggest democracy in the world in what is truly a historic victory.

But what will it mean for America and what will it mean for the rest of the planet?

Some say it will mean a deeply divided America, but this enormous protest vote is really just a symptom of an America that is already deeply divided.

There are people who believe his narrative that throwing out the corrupt political elite and media will herald the dawning of a return to the America of the past, putting power back in to the hands of its citizens and bringing a return of its industrial might and economic supremacy.

The strong and consistent message from those who supported Trump was that they believed he could fix what they regard as a failing country, and they were equally strong in their view that Hillary Clinton and the liberal establishment she is part of had done nothing to help in 30 years. Interestingly, his support was strong among working class white men, but also among white women,

Trump’s victory will not instil many with a belief that that division will improve. He is a man who ran a venomous campaign that exploited division, he aggressively slandered his opponent, and he lied on his way to power.

He is a man that many Muslims and African Americans will have no confidence in, a man revealed to be misogynist, a man not given to consideration or compassion.

But then when the fight was over he said all the right things, made a speech promising unity, and even reached out to those who did not support him for their help and guidance. He was even gracious about his opponent. It was as if a switch had been turned, but the lasting impression is that the aggressive no-holds-barred fighter is the true Trump.

He gave his supporters hope of a changed and better world, but some of those promises will never see the light of day.

It is worth noting at this point that Mr Trump stands a far better chance than Barrack Obama ever did of truly exercising power, because his Republican colleagues have retained control of both Houses.

Perhaps for the people of the rust belt, who have seen industry and prosperity leave and their towns become ghost towns, the most attractive policies were around restoring economic might. He intends to pursue more protectionist trade policies to safeguard and grow American jobs, but such policies can create a backlash from countries the US export to. And the second strand of that is putting money into infrastructure to help that economic growth but Mr Trump will struggle to fund the $1 trillion (£800bn) plan he unveiled in the last days of the campaign.

One of the biggest differences between the two candidates was in energy policy, with Mrs Clinton wearing the greener label while Mr Trump was in favour of more coal mining, fracking and oil extraction, again a policy attractive to the working classes in poverty-hit states. Mr Trump has already promised the cancellation of all payments to UN climate change programmes.

And of course a major policy area, the most important for many voters, were the linked issues of immigration and security. His chances of fulfilling a promise to remove two million criminal illegal immigrants seems doomed to failure from the outset, given that there are only an estimated 178,000 illegal immigrants with criminal records currently in the US. The famous wall that Mr Trump has said he will build on the country’s southern border, the one that Mexico will pay for it, seems unlikely ever to see the light of day.

For the rest of the world there will be a necessarily pragmatic approach. They will have to do business with Trump’s America, but again it is hardly likely to herald a move towards global openness and co-operation. His comment that European nations should pay more money towards Nato is another indication of what is likely to become an increasingly isolationist America.

Bizarrely the country that could see the biggest boost in relations is Russia, with Mr Trump and Vladimir Putin equally complimentary about each other.

And for the so-called special relationship with Britain, it will almost certainly go on in name, the trading relationship is too important for it not to, and even though Theresa May has been far more measured in her remarks about Mr Trump than her predecessor, it is unlikely that deep bonds will be formed.

And as for the rest of Europe, President Francois Hollande of France, a master of understatement, probably set the tone by saying Mr Trump’s victory “opens a period of uncertainty”. Just what Europe needs.

For Scotland it is to be hoped that Mr Trump devolves control of his business interests here while he is in the White House – hopefully running America will keep him busy.

Donald Trump has pulled off one of the biggest political coups of all time, and in doing so he has given millions both a means of expressing protest and hope that change is possible, and that has to be worthy of at least a little respect. Let us hope he can build on that, not knock it down.

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