It looks like a Trump victory with a Republican Congress, albeit one which contains Republicans who don’t like Trump. But it is far too early to speculate sensibly on what President Trump will actually do. There are more questions than answers.
The problem is that we really don’t know what Trump will do and that will remain the case for some time. What lies below the hot air? Will he listen to wiser counsels? Julie Bishop has made a somewhat over-optimistic comment about how the basics of the alliance will not be affected – but that we will work with whoever is US President. However, we don’t know what he will demand of us. Certainly we may need to rethink some things and he may force a greater degree of independence on us but who knows? We are a very dependent people. Will we be forced to ask exactly how the US has assured stability in our region – if it ever has, and what will be its future role? Will Australian troops continue to be integrated into American units and will he ask us to pay for American troops in Darwin? We don’t know. Never forget that we do not loom as large in the US as they do here.
The intelligence people and the military in the US will be concerned about their facilities here but will Trump want to do anything about that? Will he ask us to pay? His approach to Russia sounds less aggressive than most American views and that could be a plus if he does deals instead of delivering hypocritical lectures on morality. He seems to be going back to an earlier era when states did not interfere in the domestic affairs of other states but concerned themselves only with protecting their own international interests. How will this sit with trends in the other direction? Will he seek to do deals with China? Will he withdraw from disaster areas like the Middle East? There seem to be two basic ideas which are not necessarily compatible. If he is going to make America great again how does that sit with retiring from the world and focussing on domestic things which matter to his supporters? He says he will promote American interests which could have commercial effects. Will he introduce protection for clunky American industries that employ the people who voted for him and how will that affect Australian exports?
Trump clearly represents a feeling in many other countries in Europe and Australia where the old certainties are gone and a host of little people have lost faith in their leaders and institutions. The rise of technology is going to make things worse for people with less education and employable skills. How this problem will be solved in the US and elsewhere is a daunting question. Trump may have identified the angst but does he have solutions?
Bill Shorten will have some tough questions to answer having said publicly that a Trump presidency would be a disaster for the world. This is not accepted diplomatic practice and we must wonder if Shorten has any understanding of the outside world.
These are just some of the questions. It is too soon to panic but certainly there are grounds for concern. On the positive side, we should remember that the Roman Empire survived Nero and Caligula.
Trump’s acceptance speech is encouraging and suggests a more responsible approach now that victory has been attained. His promise to deal with all countries fairly is also encouraging for the world but remains to be defined.
Cavan Hogue was a former Australian diplomat, including ambassadorships in USSR and Russia.