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Trump may get caught between his promises and Republican ideology

If Trump the plutocrat is seen as being in the hands of those who benefit from neo-liberalism — his own business community — he will alienate the people who have brought him to power. It is therefore possible he will feel the need temper neo-liberal economics

analysis Updated: Nov 12, 2016 21:15 IST
Donald Trump supporters rallied outside his election night headquarters, the New York Hilton Midtown, in the early-morning hours of Nov. 9
Donald Trump supporters rallied outside his election night headquarters, the New York Hilton Midtown, in the early-morning hours of Nov. 9(NYT)

In my column I usually avoid choosing one of the main topics of the week as my subject because by the time I write I have read so many comments in the newspapers and heard so many views aired on television that I realise I have nothing new to add to the debate. This week however I am breaking my rule and writing about Donald Trump’s election. I am writing because there is one aspect of it that I don’t think has been much noticed. That aspect brings me back to neo-liberal economics, which I have written about recently, but this is a different aspect of that subject.

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We have been told that Trump’s election is the victory of the whites who feel displaced harping back to an America in which their dominance was not diluted by other ethnic groups. That is one explanation being given. The inequality created by neo-liberal economics and a consequent dislike of plutocracy is reckoned to be another grievance of Trump voters. His supporters hope his call for protectionism will save jobs. Then there have been the ecstatic responses to the campaign’s jingoism, Trump’s promise to make America great again.

There is no doubt that these grievances and aspirations motivated the Trump vote. Similar grievances and aspirations motivated the British supporters of Brexit, and may well put the extreme right-wing Austrian politician Norbert Hofer in power when the presidential elections in that country are re-run. They lie beneath the popularity of the populist Marine Le Pen in France. But there is, I believe, a deeper unhappiness which underlies this widespread eruption of support for extreme right-wing politicians. It’s a sense of alienation, a feeling among large sections of citizens that their country no longer cares for them. During the Brexit campaign I often heard people complaining “no one listens to us”. This brings me back to neo-liberal economics, which, I believe, has undermined the faith of many citizens in society.

Read: These have been very very tough days: Hillary Clinton on poll loss

Neo-liberal economists tell governments to minimise regulations. But the regulations they disapprove of may well be providing protection to the vulnerable, protection for women for instance, protection for children, and protection for the poor too. Then there is the neo-liberal insistence on transferring government services as well as assets to the private sector. The private sector dehumanises services like medicine and education by treating them as businesses.

Neo-liberal economics comes with a management theory that dehumanises institutions. Personnel managers charged with a duty to care for the welfare of the staff have been replaced by human resource managers for whom the staff are just another resource. Every decision is decided by its financial implications, and a narrow concept of efficiency which takes no account of human factors. The voice of the staff is silenced by undermining trade unions.

If I am right, if Trump voters are looking for a government they can feel belongs to them, a government which curbs the excesses of neo-liberal economics, they are likely to find they have been led up the garden path. One of Trump’s immediate targets is Obamacare, the health care scheme his predecessor fought so hard to put in place and the Republican Party did its utmost to block. It seems obvious that a billionaire business tycoon like Trump is unlikely to want to put limits on the market and give the government a greater role in shaping the economy or providing public services. If he were to do that, he would be in serious trouble with his Republican party.

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On the other hand, there is a theory that a hardliner is the best person to soften a policy. The hardliner is able to silence all opposition. It was the BJP Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee who first seriously set about making peace with Pakistan. So could it be that Trump will come to understand his own supporters have been alienated by the excesses of neo-liberal economics and realise that he is the man to heal that alienation? He has pulled off such amazing surprises already. Maybe, and it is of course a very long shot, maybe, he will do it again? This would not mean returning to discredited socialist regulations, and wholesale renationalisation, but finding a middle way between them and neo-liberal excesses, which create alienation. If Trump the plutocrat is seen as being in the hands of those who benefit from neo-liberalism — his own business community — he will alienate the people who have brought him to power. It is therefore possible he will feel the need temper neo-liberal economics.

The views expressed are personal