ST Global Forum: What the Trump victory means for the US and the world

Mr Donald Trump's election win means unity will be harder to achieve following this election than even the more divisive presidential campaigns of previous years, said The Straits Times' US bureau chief Jeremy Au Yong on Tuesday (Nov 29).
Mr Donald Trump's election win means unity will be harder to achieve following this election than even the more divisive presidential campaigns of previous years, said The Straits Times' US bureau chief Jeremy Au Yong on Tuesday (Nov 29). PHOTO: NYTIMES

SINGAPORE - Mr Donald Trump's election win in many ways represents uncharted territory for the American people, The Straits Times' US bureau chief Jeremy Au Yong said on Tuesday (Nov 29) at a forum looking towards 2017, following the seismic political shifts this year.

For one thing, Mr Trump's win - following a highly divisive 18-month election campaign that at many times descended into mudslinging by both the Republican and Democrat camps - means unity will be harder to achieve following this election than even the more divisive presidential campaigns of previous years, said Mr Au Yong.

"Previous presidents always came into office with an approval rating of 50 to 60 per cent, and people were always able to come back together," he said at The Straits Times Global Outlook Forum at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

"This time round will be harder given the way the campaign was run: it was 18 months of either you're choosing a crooked, lying insider, or a sexist, racist demagogue."

And while Mr Trump won the White House, the election does not necessarily represent a victory for the Republican party or a repudiation of the Obama years, he said.

Mr Au Yong noted that marijuana legalisation and minimum wage laws that are more the hallmarks of the Democratic Party have passed in many states, including those that heavily favoured Mr Trump.

OCBC Head of Treasury Research and Strategy Selina Ling said governments in Asia are keeping their fingers crossed that the US President-elect will be a "pragmatist businessman" when he enters office, and will move away from campaign promises to label China a currency manipulator and slap on punitive tariffs. 

The alternative will be disastrous for many countries in Asia such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea and Taiwan, she said.

"Sitting here in Asia, you will still be very discomfited because any sort of economic or trade dispute - it doesn't have to be a currency war, it doesn't have to be a trade war - any uncertainty on the trade and economic front will have implications for the rest of Asia," she said.

As for China itself, Beijing is likely to be cautious in how it deals with a Trump administration, said Professor Wang Gungwu, who chairs the East Asian Institute.

"I don't think they have clear expectations about whether Trump is a big businessman, or better for doing deals. I don't think it's as simple as that," said Prof Wang.

On its end, India is likely to closely monitor how the Trump administration will interact with Silicon Valley, given Mr Trump's anti-immigration stance during the campaign.

Professor Subrata K. Mitra noted that one of India's key revenue streams is in export of software and software specialists, and much of this is with the United States through H-1B non-immigrant visas. But Mr Trump has stated his opposition to the use of these visas, which allow skilled immigrants to pursue careers at tech companies in the US.

"What Trump is saying is...that some jobs have to be kept for local people, so the United States is going to be much more selective in letting in foreign workers," said Prof Mitra, who is the director of the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore.

"Which is why India has to be careful in terms of welcoming a Donald Trump presidency as an unmixed blessing."

Asked what Mr Trump's first big test would likely be, Mr Au Yong said it is likely to be a domestic one and comes in the form of a terrorist attack, and that the world will be watching how he responds.

While Americans have in the past been able to unite in the face of external threats, Mr Au Yong is unsure if Mr Trump will be able to rally Americans.

"It will be very interesting to see how he reacts to that attack, and whether he can bring together people."