So Donald J. Trump is the 45th US President by a healthy margin in the US’s arcane electoral college system despite losing the popular vote, propelled there in part by disaffected white working class voters in a so-called “whitelash”.
Many columnists seem to believe that Trump’s victory was about the economy, but it wasn’t as this fascinating article by Eric Kaufmann, Professor of Politics at Birkbeck College, University of London, shows.
Kaufmann helpfully addresses himself to the policy choices of Western governments in the face of the changing tectonics of the for-now dominant white vote. But I think that’s probably largely unimportant, in the long run of geopolitics.
Trump’s sandcastle, built of white anger, white frustration, white fear and – yes, I’m afraid – white greed will be washed away by the tide of history.
His narrow victory over Hillary Clinton is the White Man’s Last Hurrah, because you just can’t fight demographics.
Currently, 62% of the people living in the US are non-Latino/Hispanic whites – whose voting preferences were key to Trump’s electoral success. That’s just about 200m people, or roughly the number of people who live in Brazil or Pakistan.
Now, those 200m people, or rather their ability to elect a President with a military machine more expensive than the next 26 countries put together, are the most powerful group of people on Earth. They have been since 1917, when the US emerged from its isolationist cocoon to intervene in WWI and stake its place as World Leader.
But that 100-year reign is coming to an end. America has been great for over a century, regardless of Trump’s claims that it now isn’t, but the next century will see it becoming relatively less great, by its own narrow definition, with every year that passes.
China, the world’s most populous country, has a population of 1.379bn people, over four times that of the US. India, the second, has 1.33bn. Together they make up 36% of the global total.
While China has jammed on the brakes on the baby front, its population is still growing by 0.49% a year. India is still racking up 1.26%. The US is somewhere in the middle at 0.75% but – here’s the rub – the US fertility rate is just 1.84 births per woman, below the replacement rate of 2.1.
In other words, the core US population is in fact shrinking. It’s only growing thanks to immigration. Not only that, but the white fertility rate is lower than the national rate, at 1.76.
In other words, non-Hispanic white women aren’t having enough babies for the US white population to even stand still in numerical terms. By 2042, non-Hispanic whites will, for the first time in US history, not be the majority of the US population.
Fewer people = less influence. But, most importantly for the world’s biggest market economy, fewer people = smaller market.
China’s economy will be more significant than that of the US by 2018, according to Forbes magazine. It grew initially as a manufacturing economy, with low wages and producing all manner of things, most of which its population couldn’t afford. That is changing. The growth of the Chinese middle-class means it will become less and less dependent on the US as a customer.
India is some way behind in economic terms, but its population will soon surpass China’s, and undergo the same economic densification, fleshing out its own consumer middle class. Brazil and Indonesia will overtake the US in population terms fairly soon and will probably undergo the same process.
The combination of being a shrinking market and China and India becoming larger markets is a double-whammy for the US.
Trumpian economics – tax cuts for the rich (another crack at the discredited notion of “trickledown”), massive cuts to public spending to try to cut the deficit and lower financial regulation (do these people ever learn?) could be a catastrophe.
Far from protecting US jobs, worker ‘protections’ such as tariff barriers and hostile trade deals will only make matters worse. If you don’t believe, I’d heartily recommend you read any of economist Tim Harford’s books, which will explain how protectionism costs jobs and makes industries uncompetitive.
The globalisation genie is already out of the bottle. Not even a personality as big as Trump can stuff it back in.
Personally, I don’t think Trumpian economics will be an enduring thing. As the Brexiteers are finding, it’s far more difficult to make reality the slogans which got you elected. The world is just too complex, too inter-connected and full of infinite layers of mechanisms and committees and treaties and conferences that a blustering narcissist can’t just sweep away like a vexatious lawsuit.
Anyway, who cares? Away from the US, the tide of history will continue. The US will continue to diminish in demographic terms, and therefore as a market, as China, India and the other large, developing countries – with the possible exception of Russia, which is disappearing down a whole ‘nother rabbit hole – get steadily richer.
And as the US economy diminishes in relative importance, so its global power will wane. Just over 100 years ago, the biggest economy in the world was Great Britain’s, and it had a military to match. Today, not so much.
War, and its bastard child, terrorism, are the wild cards in the Trump deck. With due note to Godwin’s Law, Hitler went to war because he knew he had to in order to keep Germany growing in the way he wanted. Countless other demagogues have understood that war shuffles the deck like nothing else.
Trump may resort to it, as Bush did, but I think even that is a dim possibility. There are too many people with too much to lose to trigger the nuclear war that will destroy us all and prevent me from digging out this blog in 20 years time to say “see?”.
Equally, small land wars like Iraq and Afghanistan – while intense, and a prized opportunity for the US military to try out its new toys – are so exhausting and so expensive, with such little real gain for the “victors” that they make for bad politics.
As for the War on Terror, Trump may nuke Raqqah – the ISIS ‘capital’ – but that kind of mass murder of civilians (not exactly unprecedented in US history, let’s face it) will only scandalise the world and unleash whole new waves of complex terror, and I think his generals will persuade him out of it.
He may try to build his Wall. He may try to deport 11 million people. He may try to turn back the clock on social reforms. But ultimately, there is nothing he can do to reverse the tide of history.
The White Man’s time on the Iron Throne is over. And Trump, no matter how much of his larger-than-life persona he is able to translate into policy, will be a blip.