With less than 7 days to go, the Trump/Clinton showdown is the issue dominating the world’s media. Even those with no interest in politics know that the choice ultimately lies between the American Alan Sugar who keeps saying stupid things, and Hillary, a woman we don’t really know, but we don’t think we like, probably because she reminds us of Tony Blair. The American electoral process is so different from ours it can often seem comical, and it’s easy to disengage from a discussion about issues which simply aren’t factors in British politics. But the impact of American politics is far reaching and many argue that the choice of President will have a significant impact on life in the UK. So, the question remains, beyond Buzzfeed videos and satirical memes, should we be interested in next month’s election?
The most obvious issue with the election is how the result will impact the relationship between us and the States. Clinton is unashamedly globalist. She advocates for international cooperation and diplomatic intervention. She was disappointed with the Brexit result and was publicly scathing of the Leave Campaign, but she stands by the importance of Britain in global politics. She recently highlighted the “common interests and values” of our two countries, saying that a solid relationship with Britain was “the cornerstone of American foreign policy”.
Trump is a more difficult one to call. In fairness, this is in part due to his lack of a political back catalogue: we can gauge Clinton because she’s been politically active for over 30 years. However, his campaign promises indicate a very insular, America-centric approach to trade and diplomacy, a central theme being the importance of America beating other countries, with the promise that “we’re going to win so much we may even get tired of winning”. Literature on his website shows that the crushing victories he plans are rarely aimed at the UK – of this seven-point trade plan, three are aimed at China alone – but it worryingly demonstrates that any deals between us will be focused on what’s best for America, rather than what’s best for everyone.
Then, of course, there’s the infamous “Ban Trump” petition, which received more than 500,000 signatures and support from several prominent politicians. Trump responded to the petition by threatening to withdraw his £700bn investments from Scotland – a move the activist who founded the petition called “blackmail”. The election of Trump has the potential to break down what has traditionally been a strong cultural relationship between Scotland and America. While, economically, this would have little impact on either country, it would be unfortunate to see the relationship disintegrate.
Donald Trump Jr. is reported to have said that his father intends to leave domestic and foreign policy matters to the Vice President so that he could get on with Making America Great Again. The thought process of a man who thinks he can Make America Great Again whilst engaging in neither domestic nor foreign policy is another article in itself, but the comment provides a clear insight into the kind of presidency Trump’s would be: namely, one where people other than the President hold huge volumes of power. Consider the kinds of people that Trump has surrounded himself with – most significantly, his running mate Mike Pence. Trump has, from day one, been accused of not actually believing the things he says. The man is a fool and an egotist, certainly, but there is question as to whether he’s really as right-wing as he would have voters believe. The same cannot be said for Pence. The Governor and longtime Congressman has consistently voted against anti-discrimination measures, against gun control and against immigration reform. An experienced politician, Pence is not the bumbling clown like his running mate; he very seriously holds some very seriously illiberal opinions. The concept of him holding the majority of power is perhaps more frightening than the Trump presidency itself.
Many maintain that Trump is of little threat, as Congress will never pass his wildest policies; certainly, Congress can prove a serious obstacle to a President, as it has done to Obama. However, if the Congress is returned to the Republicans, there is no guarantee that they will in fact oppose Trump’s policies, with many far-right members of the GOP supporting him on a number of issues. This potential lack of congressional regulation could allow Trump’s more extreme policies through, and these are the ones most likely to affect those of us outside America, the most significant of these being his ban on Muslim immigration. Glasgow’s large Muslim population are seen as an important, respected part of our community, but if Trump’s policies went unchecked, a whole host of education, travel and employment opportunities in the US would become unavailable to them.
Beyond immigration, however, many of the things that Clinton and Trump disagree on – abortion; gun control; socialised medicine – aren’t going to impact the UK’s position on those same issues. Abortion is not going to be criminalised; we are not going to disband the NHS; we are not going to overturn gay marriage. But does this mean we should disengage with those aspects of the debate? If 20th century history teaches us anything, it is surely that simply because we don’t feel the impact of something at home doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight against it. People who have strong opinions on issues like abortion and LGBT rights at home, whether for or against, should care about those issues in other countries also. We should always object to other people being subjected to laws or restrictions that we would object to having imposed on us.
Politics is increasingly becoming a global institution and, despite what people like Trump would have us believe, it is naïve to downplay the impact of decisions in one country on life in others. So, while we don’t have a vote, we shouldn’t be afraid to get involved with the American Election.