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Turbulent times ahead

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Michael Knigge
November 9, 2016

What until recently was unimaginable is reality. Donald Trump is going to be the next president of the United States. There is deep shock, but the consequences of Trump's election are uncertain, writes Michael Knigge.

USA Präsidentschaftswahl Donald Trump
Image: Getty Images/S. Eisen

Donald Trump has done it. With a campaign built on personal insults, arrogance and ignorance, he has not only managed to mobilize the basest instincts of the constituency but has managed, with this strategy, to win the US presidential election. But there is more to it than that: Trump has not only won, he has achieved a resounding victory, claiming a higher number of electoral votes that anyone had thought possible.

Trump's success is a victory for an inflammatory, partly dehumanizing, vulgar populism. It is a sharp slap in the face to the establishment and the political elite in the United States and its representative, Hillary Clinton. As an opponent, Clinton was almost equally as unpopular as Trump. Through her own carelessness, her use of a private email server provided her critics with the ammunition they needed for their constant attacks. But Clinton's unpopularity alone does not explain Trump's dramatic election victory.

Trump - a vehicle for discontent

Trump's victory brings to light a long-term and deep dissatisfaction - if not actual hate - present in large sections of the populace.  It is a hatred of the status quo, of globalization and the political system in Washington. In numerous polls, many Americans have repeatedly stated that they believe their standard of living and future prospects are worse than they were in their parents' generation. Trump was the right vehicle and outlet to harness such views, which were especially held by the white working class. And Hillary Clinton was the right opponent. Her hard-won victory in the Democratic Party's primary against Bernie Sanders, a previously unknown Socialist from Vermont, was a warning sign. And we now know it was also a sign of what was to come.

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Michael Knigge reports on transatlantic relations for DW

Trump's success is also a sharp slap in the face to the mainstream media, to the experts at the think tanks and to the opinion pollsters. None of them had seriously reckoned with Trump actually winning. And Trump's success is also ultimately a slap in the face to the United States' traditional Western allies, who had declared themselves, in large part, to be pro-Clinton and anti-Trump. In contrast, the Republican's victory will be welcomed in the Kremlin, Trump has repeatedly praised Vladimir Putin.

New international role for the USA?

After Trump's surprise triumph, it is impossible, however, to predict what the new president will mean for the United States and the rest of the world. For one thing, there is no point of comparison since Trump has absolutely no political experience. Further, until now, Trump has not presented any coherent domestic or foreign policies and, with a few exceptions, has no experienced political advisors.

But what can be said at this point is that Trump's election will raise questions about the status quo in the United States, as well as the role Washington will play in international affairs. What exactly this means, however, is still unclear.  How will it be possible for President Trump, who has incited ethnic groups against each other like no other, to succeed in unifying this deeply divided country? Will Trump, in fact, try to implement his isolationist and protectionist campaign promises? How does he really stand when it comes to the United States' leading role in NATO, which he, at times during his campaign, described as obsolete? How will Trump deal with the trade agreements that the United States has signed with numerous countries, which as a candidate he said he wanted to renegotiate? How will Trump deal with Muslims across the world, people he said will be refused entry into the United States? And how will he deal with people from Latin and Central America, whom he repeatedly insulted during the campaign? Will Trump do as he has announced and exit the Paris climate change protection treaty?

And finally, how will President Trump, who questioned during the election campaign why the United States did not use its nuclear weapons, actually deal with the country's nuclear arsenal. And what sort of role will a Republican-dominated Congress play in all this?

There are no answers to these questions yet – and certainly no comforting ones. Trump's victory has propelled the United States and the world into new territory. But one thing is clear: under President Trump, we should expect turbulent times ahead.

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