So, there really was nothing to fear.
Financial markets rallied across the globe late last week after the Trump ascendancy with Wall Street surging to a new record. And all because a few soothing words in the Donald’s acceptance speech convinced twitchy traders that, hey, he’s not such a bad guy after all.
For months, the conventional wisdom within the world of high finance was that Trump would be a disaster socially, politically and especially for the economy. A potential Trump victory had a million fingers poised above the sell button.
That those fears could evaporate so suddenly says as much about the shallow nature of equity markets as it does about the fickleness of the President-elect.
There are only three possible explanations for Trump’s sudden about-face in his victory speech and none of them bode well for the future on any score.
Either he didn’t write the speech, he didn’t mean it or, having achieved his goal, he has reverted to his chameleon self, a man whose allegiances and ideas shift on a whim.
Since then, he has lurched even further to the centre, telling The New York Times he is likely to keep significant parts of President Barack Obama’s — until now — much loathed healthcare reforms.
Not surprisingly, this sudden bout of conciliation has calmed financial markets.
Is this the Trump the US voted for?
The only problem is that middle America didn’t vote for Trump the great conciliator. They voted for Trump the venal and vindictive vulgarian, the man with no respect for the office he is about to serve let alone the conventions that apply to it.
They voted for a president who would magically roll back the decades and return them to some mythical era that perhaps never existed, all the while vanquishing their liberal enemies and wreaking revenge on the free trade ideologues who have stolen their livelihoods and living standards.
They want their social superiority and their jobs returned.
Financial analysts are breathing a sigh of relief, openly commenting that perhaps all the heavy-handed racist rhetoric and the sabre rattling on trade restrictions may simply come to nought, that it was all just a ploy to win the election.
But if Trump turns out to be yet just another politician prepared to say anything to achieve power, if he really has hoodwinked the electorate, he will thrust a dagger deep into the heart of American democracy and wreak even more long term damage than had he carried out his threats.
Turning back the clock will not revive industrial America
No matter which way he plays it, Trump’s supporters will end up bitterly disappointed. For he simply cannot deliver on his promise to Make America Great Again, at least not in the way that many of them see it.
Conservative politics has long been about maintaining the status quo, fending off the calls for change from progressive liberals. It recently has morphed into something very different, into a philosophy of turning back the clock.
It was on display in the UK vote to exit the European Union. And it was front and centre in the US elections.
The destination may be clear; some time in the 1950s or 60s. But mode of transport, the time machine, simply doesn’t exist.
Should we abandon all the technology that has developed since then; disband the internet, throw away the transport efficiencies, rid ourselves of the computer?
Unfortunately, the idle factories and the industrial wastelands across the once great American industrial heartland are here to stay. Reviving those industries will cost America more than it can ever deliver in dividends.
The heavy, dirty industries that left the US and headed to Asia, did so because Asia was cheaper and living standards lower.
There’s no doubt that the lifting of trade barriers, the abolition of tariffs, subsidies and quotas facilitated that shift. And there’s no doubt that little thought was given to those left behind without employment and no future.
President Trump will have the power to reimpose trade barriers, given the Republicans control the Congress and Senate.
But such a move would have catastrophic consequences. To begin with, it would jeopardise the $US165 billion in American exports to China. That’s why the likes of Apple and Google — the high tech industries that have flourished as manufacturing declined — are deeply troubled.
Of greater concern, it would likely spark a global recession where everyone comes out a loser, particularly America and especially Trump.
As one of the greatest trade exposed nations, Australia would be hit hard. And with China dominating our trade, Trump’s proposed trade war with the Asian region should be deeply concerning for the Turnbull Government.
China a master at trade wars
Trump’s main commitments on the economy so far are for tax cuts to big corporation (no vested interests operating there), winding back bank regulations (that couldn’t backfire) and a splurge on new infrastructure.
But none of those will revive old-style US heavy industry. In fact, they could do the opposite. The infrastructure plunge will add about $US1 trillion to the country’s debt which, as bond markets now predict, will push US interest rates higher.
That in turn will send the US dollar soaring and dash any hopes Trump may have held out to his hapless supporters for a return of the smokestacks.
Trade wars these days are fought, not with tariffs, but with currencies. And China has become a master at it.
For most of this year, while it has been antagonising its neighbours and America with its games in the South China Sea, Beijing has been playing havoc with US monetary policy.
Despite a promise at the beginning of 2016 that it would not conduct a trade war by depressing the renminbi, Beijing has persistently done just that.
By Friday, it was trading at a six-year low against the greenback and all indications are that it will continue to fall through next year. That’s one of the main reasons the US Federal Reserve has held off with a rate rise in the past year.
It can’t afford to Make America Uncompetitive Again.
Through the early part of this century, China ran a persistently weak currency in a deliberate attempt to boost its exports and steal a competitive march on western economies, particularly the US.
It’s now doing it again. And there’s nothing Donald Trump can do about it.