Preparing for a Pax Trumpicana
A Pax Americana is defined as a state of relative international peace overseen by the US superpower. A Pax Trumpicana would be a revision of this order according to a bold, new, highly personalised, US-centric presidency of Donald Trump in the years 2017-2021.
The Upshot election model of the New York Times currently assigns to Hillary Clinton a 75% chance of winning the presidency. NBC News, by contrast, gives Clinton a very slight edge with 46% of the vote to Trump’s 45. I would argue, however, based on an assessment of causal factors most likely to influence the election outcome, that Trump has a 60% chance of becoming the next leader of the Free World. And you don’t need to be a futurist to forecast that the US 2016 election is going to be highly polarising.
In ascribing a probability rating, a futurist would look closely at what’s already known about the subject being predicted. From knowledge of the subject’s properties or characteristics, he/she would make inferences about the likelihood of any given future scenario. All knowledge of the future needs to be based on this logical process of induction, with a clear chain of ideas progressing from what we already know to what we anticipate will come true. A strong prediction will be based on some underlying pattern of behaviour, or structure of reality, which has been observed and which will persist into the time period covered by the forecast. As is always the case with induction, the conclusion can only be justified by the strength of the premises and a sense of the connection between them and the actual prediction. (The methods and principles of building foreknowledge, or foresight, are exhaustively explained in my book on understanding the nature of the future called Knowing our Future. A causal model of the future is then developed in a follow-up book called Codebreaking our Future.)
In this blog, I argue that the macro conditions in America and the world today are more favourable for Trump than they are for Hillary Clinton. In addition, the dynamics of the personal contest between these two presidential candidates also seem to favour a victory for Trump, as will become apparent.
Whether or not you agree with my prediction will depend on your assessment of the strength of my conclusions and the logic which leads to them. The reasons for my conclusions should decisively outweigh the reasons against this case I’m making today. You may also wish to question the relatively high probability rating of 60% for a Trump victory in November. By definition, a statement with a high probability of being true has a correspondingly low chance of being in error. There would be comparatively little doubt about the prediction being right come November 2016.
I’m convinced that the prospect of a Trump victory is markedly higher than it is for a Clinton win. In the end, the candidate who is best aligned to current underlying realities will succeed. In order to help us forecast the outcome of the 2016 US presidential contest, we use knowledge of both candidates, knowledge of the macro conditions which influence voters, both rationally and viscerally, and knowledge of the recent primaries, which culminated in the official nominations by each political party. Statements about the probable future outcome in November need to be based squarely on the total of this knowledge.
It should be mentioned, though, that both the process and the outcome of the presidential election are likely to be something unique in modern times. We haven’t seen an election quite like this before: the first female US presidential candidate competing against an ‘outsider’ thrust into the limelight after an unexpected triumph in the Republican primary elections, all against a background of deep social divisions and tension in America. And the world at large can only be described as turbulent. Pope Francis has even stated recently that it is a world at war, one which has lost its peaceful order.
A world with a high degree of disorder is the right sort of backdrop for a political platform based on ‘law and order’, the perceived antidote to chaos. This is one major reason why I believe the media pundits who give Clinton a 75% chance of victory, or even a slight advantage over Trump, are, like Clinton herself seems to be, out of kilter with important current realities.
But the main reason I think Trump will win in the end is not due so much to the fact that we’re facing a world at war with itself. What’s likely to influence the election outcome most, in my view, comes down to the dynamics of the personal contest between the two leaders. In particular, the billionaire businessman and TV reality star, who is now only one step away from gaining the White House, possesses a preternatural gift for destroying the public persona of his opponents. My sense is that Trump can seriously dent his opponent’s credibility to the point of crippling her ‘brand’ in the zero sum game of a US presidential election.
Let’s take a look at Trump’s rise to national prominence within the last few months to illustrate this point. The Republican Party presidential primaries began in February this year. It’s reported to have been the largest presidential primary field in America’s history, with a total of 17 major candidates. But it quickly turned into something that reminded me of the nursery rhyme about ten green bottles sitting on a wall.
Remember Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, for example? Despite being part of the influential Bush dynasty, Jeb’s comparatively weak efforts ended ignominiously. He was utterly decimated as a candidate. A green bottle that accidentally fell … well, not exactly, that bottle was pushed – by Donald Trump. And then there was retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson of Maryland: great guy, highly articulate, very personable. But knocked out right of the race in no time by Trump’s bullying tactics.
What about the popular Governor Chris Christie, with his high national profile? He’s now been turned into one of Trump’s main attack dogs. Another green bottle. And pioneering businesswoman Carly Fiorina of California? No contest … even though Trump offended the sensibilities of most reasonable Americans by opining that Carly’s facial features disqualified her for the highest office in the land. She’s now a largely forgotten entity. Even charismatic, JFK wannabe, Marco Rubio of Florida lost his ugly media battles with Trump.
And, one-by-one, all the prominent senators, governors and former governors who’d lined up were toppled: Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Governor John Kasich of Ohio, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, former Governor Jim Gilmore of Virginia, former Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, former Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, former Governor George Pataki of New York, and former Governor Rick Perry of Texas.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas was the only candidate who really gave Trump a run for his money in the whole race to become the 2016 Republican Party presidential nominee. And yet Cruz had to give new meaning to the words stubborn, vengeful, shrewd and tenacious just to stay alive in the game.
After Trump was the last man standing, observers could’ve been forgiven for asking: what happened? Nothing like this has ever been seen before.
What had happened, in fact, was that Trump had reinvented the rules of the game before the contest even began. That’s why, looking back, it appears as if he stage-managed the whole thing in order to control its outcome. His strategy was to shift the focus right out of the traditional political domain and onto social media. That was a game Cruz, who isn’t charisma-intensive, was always going to lose with his prickly public persona. Trump was going to be visceral and he was going to play the game on his terms, winning the social media battle against all his opponents with breathtaking ease.
In fact, not one of Trump’s 16 contenders was equipped to beat him in the new political game of dominating the social space, as opposed to old-style politics.
Trump has two things going for him which gave him the competitive advantage in that space. One, he’s a larger-than-life character, complete with charisma, a free-range hairstyle, an orange spray-on tan and a showy personality. That’s backed up by his ability to project personal strength and positivity. Second, he’s extraordinarily media-savvy. His years on reality show, The Apprentice, gave him more relevant experience in the social media age than all his political rivals from Washington, D.C. put together. He was a ready-made public celebrity right from the start. Fourteen seasons of the show turned him into a household name across the nation. And many of his supporters today come from that very mass television audience. Trump has traded in his reality show signature ‘You’re fired!’ for a political slogan which is resonating with millions of Americans: ‘make America great again’.
But back at the start of the primary season who would have given this controversial and brash New Yorker a chance against all these seasoned contenders? My hunch is that the biggest casualty he’s ever going to fire in his life will be Hillary Clinton. Trump was able to destroy his GOP presidential nominee contenders even when he had absolutely nothing on them, whereas Hillary has given him way too much ammunition. Trump has got four inter-continental ballistic missiles in his armoury for the coming battle:
- Benghazi-gate. On the evening of 11 September, 2012, Islamic militants attacked the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, killing the American Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, as well as U.S. Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith. Subsequently, the State Department was criticised for turning down prior requests for additional security. As Secretary of State, Clinton had to take responsibility for the security lapses.
- The email server scandal. On 5 July, 2016, the Director of the FBI, James B. Comey, reported back on its investigation into Clinton’s use of a personal email system for some highly confidential communications. The report concluded she and her staff had been extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information. Furthermore, state security could’ve been compromised as the FBI believed that hostile actors may have gained access to the account.
- The rather sleazy sexual legacy of Bill Clinton. The media have made a right meal of Bill’s philandering tendencies for years and, unfortunately, the fall-out from this publicity does reflect negatively, by association, on the prospects of another Clinton being president.
- The idea of a Clinton dynasty is not appealing at a time when the American people are not especially enamoured of that other contemporary dynasty of American politics – the Bush family; Hillary worsened this when she blithely claimed she would put Bill back in charge of the economy if she were chosen as President, forgetting altogether about the rather risky and even unsavoury concept of nepotism.
Each one of these lines of attack would be powerful on their own but their cumulative effect, used cleverly by Trump, could well be to completely undermine the public persona of Hillary Clinton in 2016. Clinton may believe her own mythology but she is going to have to work hard to convince others of it in the face of repeated attacks from Trump.
In short, the trust deficit accrued to Hillary Clinton is massive. With Trump being the undisputed master of the social space at the moment, that deficit may prove terminal in the coming months.
Several macro factors are equally conducive to a Trump triumph.
Firstly, there’s a strong global anti-establishment, anti-globalisation sentiment which is an after-effect of both the 2003 Iraq war, savaged in the recent Chilcot Inquiry, and the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent Great Recession. The self-same anti-establishment sentiments which led to the unexpected election of hard-line socialist Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the British Labour party, the unexpected popularity of left-wing Democrat Bernie Sanders and a UK vote for Brexit, are behind Trump’s surge in populist support. He shows contempt for the conventions of political correctness and millions of his supporters perceive this as a sign of honesty and directness. Hillary, by contrast, is the ultimate establishment elite figure, part of a Clinton dynasty and of a ruling political class which has lost its sheen for swathes of ordinary Americans. Hillary is ‘business as usual’; Trump is bucking the system, riding a populist wave of support. He’s anti-establishment, a rebel with a big cause.
Current events are conspiring against an old-school liberal elitist politician like Clinton in other ways, as I have already intimated. Politically, the world has become radically insecure in 2016. This favours the supposed strength of a law and order candidate like Trump. A refugee attacks passengers on a train in Germany with an axe. This is followed by other attacks in Germany within the space of a week. A young terror suspect and his accomplice murder an old Catholic priest in a quiet suburb in France while he is conducting mass. A man of Franco-Tunisian origin, ploughs a heavy-duty lorry into innocent bystanders in Nice on Bastille Day, killing 84 people, including children and teenagers, and injuring more than 300. A coup breaks out in Turkey, the bridge between Europe and the Middle East, which is then ruthlessly suppressed in an ominous blanket purge. Following a string of police killings of black men during routine arrests, a vigilante sniper in Dallas executes five police officers, and a similar attack takes place in Baton Rouge a few days later, this time leaving three policemen dead.
All this paints a picture for the media consumer of a world in chaos. Conventional politicians like Hillary are looking increasingly out of step with reality. It’s a world of turbulent change in which one should expect the unexpected. At this stage, the stars are definitely aligning for a Trump victory, although it is, of course, possible that some unforeseen event will change the conditions and tilt them back in favour of an established Democrat succeeding Obama. Failing something extraordinary, I see the odds of a Clinton victory inexorably slipping away. Today, from my viewpoint, it’s at least a 60% probability that Trump will be the next US president. That’s because he appears to be on the right side of history at present and has the ability to respond to that climate of opinion in which he can generate serious momentum. Times like these create fear and uncertainty. A candidate who projects strength, and who has a message about his country becoming great again, is more likely to resonate with this fearful public than a business-as-usual candidate. Voting behaviour is both rational and emotional. Millions will vote emotionally for what they see as the path to security, both economic and political.
Charisma on its own, though, may not be enough and the Clinton campaign will put up a huge fight to win the presidency, marshalling all the forces of the Democratic Party machinery. And Hillary herself is immensely intelligent and highly experienced. She will no doubt use the several unscripted and plain weird things Trump sometimes says to portray him as unfit for office. Her other major problem, though, beyond the trust deficit, is her judgment.
Let’s take her choice of an anonymous VP running mate as a recent example of her decision-making. This was a less than inspired choice. Yes, Tim Kaine is genial and universally liked and respected, a safe bet, for sure. But being genial is also a requirement if you want to be chosen to be a shopping mall Santa Claus in the December holidays. Hasn’t Clinton failed once again to read the signs of the times which favour a populist politician like Bernie Sanders? By selecting an innocuous centrist, she has turned her back on the voice of the millions of democrats who fervently supported Sanders. A Clinton/Sanders ticket would have been much more likely to gain the White House than a Hillary/Father Christmas ticket. But Hillary seems to be sticking to her business-as-usual guns.
Now that I’ve given you a flavour of some of the dynamics in the presidential contest and some of the potential causes behind a predicted success for Trump on 8 of November, let’s turn our thinking to what kind of presidency would result should he win. Since it’s going to be unlike any other American presidency, as it will carry a strong personal stamp of the man himself, you’ll need to forgive me for coining a phrase for what a Pax Trumpicana might be like. It’ll be a, well, a pantocracy. A what? you may well be asking.
To explain, I’ll begin with a classic picture of the pantocrator, or ‘ruler over all’:
Now look at this photograph:
Notice the hand gesture?
This is a man who knows how to project authority. Trump used the pantocratic hand signal effectively throughout the primaries as a major part of his body language. Many other pantocrator portraits employ gold to emphasise the sense of power and royalty, as does Trump – check out Trump tower Las Vegas:
The building has a gold sheen – symbolic of wealth, prosperity and power. It’s a contemporary and real symbol of the American Dream which Trump is attempting to reignite in the midst of huge social change. Trump would run the presidency in a profoundly personal way and focus his vision on America, not the world. He will put America first, every time. A Trump presidency would be a pantocracy, that is, a personal form of strong executive rule. It will be the presidency of a personal crusade. It will be colourful, dynamic – quite possibly alarming at times – and characterised by unexpected decisions which will surprise both the conventional left and the traditional right. If Trump puts America first in foreign affairs, and focuses more on domestic, economic issues, this may lead to more latitude for other powers to increase their influence on the world stage. For example, a post-Brexit Britain could forge a stronger role for itself as an independent, influential voice, developing new trade relationships and keeping a balance of power between Europe and the USA.
Those worried that Trump will increase the threat of war may want to consider that he was opposed to the disastrous Iraq war, whereas Hillary Clinton supported the invasion. The huge destabilising impact of the migrant problem today was caused in part by successive ‘regime change’ interventions in the Middle East by the political establishment in the West. It’s not impossible to believe that a post-Brexit Britain could team up with a quasi-isolationist US under Trump to work for greater world peace, while counteracting the IS terror threat which seems to be focused on the European mainland.
The political establishment in recent times has not done a very good job in terms of peace and Pope Francis may be right when he says the world is now effectively at war. This is the net result of years of foreign policy decisions by the political establishment. Perhaps it would not be such a bad thing to try a new approach. A Trump presidency could well offer some fresh perspectives and shape a less unipolar world order, while dealing in a highly focused way with terror.
The pantocratic hand gesture which he loves symbolises the ultimate authority he aspires to. He wants everyone to know he’s decisive. Certainly, his presidency will be decisive – at times decisively wrong, at other times, decisively right. The rest of the world just has to hope that he doesn’t get the big decisions wrong.