THE BLOG

We All Lose From A Divided States Of America

01/11/2016 18:09
Robert Remen via Getty Images

On Tuesday night we will learn who is about to become the next President of the United States of America. Whoever emerges, they will inherit a country which is more divided than ever before. That's bad news for the rest of us.

This Presidential election has brought out the deepening divides in American society. Between the super-rich and the American middle classes. Between black and white. Between those who have prospered in open markets and those who have lost out.

The bitterness between these groups is considerable, as witnessed by the tone of the election. As the accusations fly against each candidate it's clear that whatever the outcome, their camps are so entrenched that whoever loses 40% of voters will feel cheated.

The result will be a new President whose mandate will be attacked long before their inauguration next January. This poisonous atmosphere has also permeated large parts of Congress and looks likely to worsen. So the ability of a new President to act decisively to promote freedom, or free trade, look forlorn.

Why does this matter to us in the UK?

First we need to have a confident outward-looking President willing to provide international leadership. This is incredibly difficult if that President lacks the ability to bring Congress, let alone the American public, with them on difficult international conflicts.

The continuing problems in the Middle East, notably in Syria, need a new administration willing to engage and take bold steps if the slaughter in Aleppo and the problems in Iraq are to be resolved. Without that leadership Assad and Putin will continue to act with impunity.

Second, there is every prospect that protectionism will rise under the new administration. Both candidates have shown their willingness to pander to those who would put up barriers to international competition. Instead of helping those affected to move onto new jobs in new industries, the debate has shifted to propping up existing jobs in declining industries.

That's why both the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) look in trouble. If they fail, it bodes ill for other US trade agreements.

This is bad news for us in the UK. We need international trade to pay our way in the world. We need new trade agreements, markets to open up and barriers to come down. As we chart a new course outside the EU, the last thing we need is an increasingly protectionist America.

Third, NATO needs a robust American Presidency. Russia's increasing belligerence is causing genuine fears for its neighbours. Our friends in the Baltic states and Scandinavia are enduring regular incursions from Russia. There is increasing evidence of state-led cyber warfare against us. And the lessons from the Ukraine highlight how Mr Putin will use force to bolster his position at home. In that sense his economic weakness, will only make him more dangerous.

NATO is an Atlantic organisation. It doesn't work if the USA turns its back. The nations of Europe won't provide the united leadership or military clout needed to deter aggression. So if Washington becomes self-absorbed, it's the security of Europe which will be affected. That includes us.

So whatever the outcome on Tuesday we need a new President to emerge who will not only find ways to heal divisions at home, but to lead the way for freedom, security and free trade abroad. At this point I'm not optimistic. Let's hope I am wrong.

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