This week our monthly Trajectory Trends Breakfast looked at The United States in relation to the rest of the world through the lens of the upcoming elections and its special relationship with the UK. With far-reaching implications across the world of politics, commerce and culture, especially in the context of increasing fragmentation in Europe and the UK, it is one of the most significant political events of the decade.
The election is also historic from several perspectives. If elected, Trump would be the oldest president the US has had. Additionally, in a show of unfortunate serendipity, Hillary Rodham Clinton became the first female nominee put forward by the Democratic party just 2 days after the 100th anniversary of American suffragettes parading a donkey through Denver in protest to male-only voting rights.
The Special Relationship Post-Brexit
The trajectories of the two different economies diverged a few years ago, with the repercussions from the global economic downturn hitting the US and UK at different times. The US economy has been described as resilient, with the US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew stating that the current US economy is stronger than it was in 2008. While the UK will see some decline in business investment and consumer spending over the next year, according to Moody’s latest projections.
With the UK contemplating a sensible post-Brexit strategy that sustains its global position, it has been said the US has increasingly been looking to Germany for closer economic cooperation with the EU. Just two days after the results of the EU referendum were made public, Nicholas Burns, an advisor to Hillary Clinton, was reported by the Financial times to have said the following:
Henry Kissinger’s famous question about ‘Who do I call in Europe?’ has now been settled. The answer is that ”we call the German chancellor’s office. That means we have to invest in the relationship with Germany.”
It remains to be seen how this will play out given that the countries differ quite significantly on issues such as fiscal policy.
Shifts in political values
This election also saw significant rises in what the PEW Center have called ‘partisan antipathy’, with both parties having very unfavourable opinions of each other, in what is quite a departure from the political consensus present 20 years ago, when less than 2 in 10 Republicans had negative opinions of Democrats.
Political polarisation is of course not isolated to America, with the UK electorate also increasingly abandoning the centre ground for increasing affinity to one political party or ideology. This is even more apparent if we look at it in the context of events such as the collapse of the Lib Dem party, or the result of the EU referendum. Political and economic fragmentation was one of the topics one of Trajectory’s previous breakfasts touched upon. An analysis of results from the European Values Survey and Trajectory’s own research into the topic shows a 13% decline in respondents who identified themselves as belonging to the centre ground, and an almost doubling of respondents who see themselves as right-wing in the period between 2000 and 2014.
Cultural Power and Post-Factual Democracy
In 1980, Harvard Professor Joseph Nye coined the term ‘soft power’, which he saw as America’s attempts at achieving its preferred geopolitical outcomes through persuasion rather than force. We often talk of different dimensions of soft power, from cultural exports such as cinema to big brands like Coca-Cola or Levi’s, but the US’ image is inevitably also dependent on the way in which its politicians are seen talking about international affairs.
In the context of this election, one fear is that Republican candidate Donald Trump’s recent statements on Mexicans or indeed, Islam, will make this kind of power harder to sustain in the future as strategic diplomacy becomes more and more difficult to deploy.
These predictions are certainly reminiscent of what on the other side of the pond has been called ‘post-factual democracy’ in the wake of the referendum results. The concept refers to increasing numbers of voters not being motivated by accuracy or facts (see Paul Flatters’ blog post on the disregard for experts), especially in the context of media outlets that have tended to treat all claims as equivalent. Perhaps the most striking example of this was the misuse of the “£350 billion a week to the NHS” statistic put forward by the Leave campaign, which has later been described as a mistake by Nigel Farage himself.
As the world watches on, it remains to be seen how the results of the election will affect the balance of power in Europe and what impact resulting policy changes will have on Britain.
Lastly, perhaps nothing demonstrates the concept of post-factual democracy better than the following video of a conversation between a CNN host and Trump advisor Michael Cohen about polls.
— The Situation Room (@CNNSitRoom) August 17, 2016
Our latest Trends Breakfast presentation is downloadable here.