US Elections 2016: Thoughts from Singapore

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump at the second US presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, on Oct 9, 2016.
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump at the second US presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, on Oct 9, 2016. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
Halloween masks depicting candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump for sale in Chicago. With the campaign in its last 10 days, there are still uncertainties as to what will happen after the election.
Halloween masks depicting candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump for sale in Chicago. With the campaign in its last 10 days, there are still uncertainties as to what will happen after the election.PHOTO: REUTERS

With a bitter race now in its final stretch, Lim Yan Liang and Fabian Koh speak to S'pore-based observers on what happens next. How will the candidates govern if elected? Will rhetoric turn into policies? Is America's relationship with Asia headed for change? And how will the Republican and Democratic parties move forward after the deep rifts that have come to the fore?

Candidates have had to deal with new political mood

This election has brought to the fore a new political mood in America that both candidates have had to respond to: a disillusionment with globalisation, cultural alienation from the values of the elite, and a certain inward-lookingness.

This is the mood especially of the white, lower-middle working class, of the non-college-educated who feel themselves trapped on the wrong side of globalisation. Normally, these guys sit around in working-class bars and grumble, but this year they have found a voice in Mr Donald Trump.

This demographic and the political mood they represent were also tapped by Mr Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, and it is a mood that is not going to disappear come election day. Already, Mrs Hillary Clinton has had to respond to this mood in her policy positions and, if she becomes president, she will have to deal with it somehow.

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Clinton returns to centre; Trump's power is checked

If Mrs Hillary Clinton ends up winning the election, she won't be quite as left in governing as she has been in campaigning. She has always been a more centrist Democrat, originally supporting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and supporting more hawkish defence policies.

 

For this election, she has had to move further left, talking about free college and stopping the oil pipeline in America.

Mr Donald Trump has been able to rally a more right sector of the country to be more vocal about conservative principles. When he talks about Hispanics and outsiders, it is fair as he is just expressing a very conservative perspective held by that segment.

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Result will decide if US maintains Asia policy

Politics ends at the border. Inside the United States border, it's Democrats and Republicans. But outside, we are Americans with an American foreign policy.

 

The people who served in the Clinton or Obama administrations, and those who served in the Bush administration, are very similar in their outlook. There is a bipartisan American foreign policy that would certainly continue under Mrs Hillary Clinton, if she were to win. She served under President Barack Obama, so you would see an evolution of the same policy.

But for a Trump administration, who's going to be his foreign policy and defence team? Many in the Republican foreign policy establishment have all said, "Never Trump", and expressed support for Mrs Clinton. If he wins, do we see the same policies of engagement, multilateralism and focus on Asia witnessed over the past four or six presidential terms, or do we see something different? That's the real wild card.

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Read more takes from Singapore-based observers here: http://str.sg/4xQV 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 29, 2016, with the headline 'Thoughts from S'pore'. Print Edition | Subscribe