2016 US Election -Donald Trump as US President

Donald Trump is the new President of the United States. This statement, thought impossible by most political pundits, pollsters, journalists as well as much of the Western world, has come true. In what some commentators and political websites are describing as the biggest political upset in American history, Trump defied the odds and has become the new POTUS.

As outsiders observing the US election from afar, it can seem perplexing at first glance to see Trump elected as POTUS. Unlike traditional presidential candidates, his policy details are often lacking, sometimes even incoherent. He has been embroiled in innumerable personal controversies which seemingly would have disqualified other candidates from being in the conversation as a serious candidate for POTUS. I am among those who think that Donald Trump is not a worthy candidate for POTUS for these reasons (for what it’s worth, I think the same of Hillary Clinton). Despite this, it is important to note the context for how a candidate as deeply flawed as Donald Trump managed to become POTUS. Only by taking a serious, measured look at these circumstances can the necessary lessons be learned to ensure another candidate as inept and unqualified as Donald Trump does not get elected POTUS.

Firstly, despite a level of recovery since the financial crisis of 2008, many Americans are still in a precarious economic situation. Half of all Americans have no savings at all, and 70% of Americans have less than a thousand dollars in the bank. Whilst Americans in metropolitan centres have largely resumed living at a pre-crisis standard, this has not been the case in rural America, which Trump virtually swept in the final vote. Jobs are scarce and opportunity to advance in life is even more scarce. The rural/city divide extends to cultural issues. In rural America, people felt alienated and forgotten, lacking control over their lives. In many instances, these Trump voters had voted for Obama four and eight years ago. Despite this, having felt ignored by the current administration and the nation at large, they felt no other option but to vote for Trump, despite often having reservations about specific policy issues and his personal character.

The big question now is what exactly a Trump administration will look like. His presidential campaign was based on challenging Republican policy orthodoxy, particularly on key issues such as trade, immigration and America’s place in the world. In all these instances, Trump won the rhetorical debate first against the Republican establishment and ultimately the voters. On trade, Trump promised to put America first, including promises to rip up or renegotiate trade deals as well as taking measures to prevent jobs from leaving the country. On immigration, Trump has argued against current immigration levels and has promised to build a wall along the southern border of the United States to help deal with illegal immigration from the Mexican border. Trump has also repudiated America’s role as the world’s foremost power on international issues, particularly in relation to issues such as the Middle East and Russian involvement throughout Eastern Europe. This is in sharp contrast to the neoconservative doctrine which has been a GOP staple since the presidency of George W Bush.

Whether Trump will firstly follow through on these specific policies or policy directions and whether he can make significant reform in these areas remains to be seen. Throughout the Republican Primary and the general election, Trump has taken several different positions on a variety of issues, including cornerstone issues of his campaign such as immigration and trade. Many of his policies, including many of his proposals on tax are either unworkable or would require significant adjustment to be feasible. Other proposals which Trump has raised, particularly in relation to combating terrorism would be in violation of the United States Constitution. Examples of these include his proposals for torture and to place a blanket ban on Muslim immigration from the Middle East.  More importantly, despite the Republican Party having a majority in both the Senate and Congress, he may face significant opposition to many of his proposals. Many Republicans in both the Senate and Congress are opposed to Trump ideologically and may vote against his policies on a variety of issues.

From an Australian perspective, a Trump presidency could have significant ramifications for the Australia-United States alliance. Trade deals will likely have to be re-negotiated, quite possibly on terms less favourable for Australia. On significant geopolitical issues, such as the ongoing situation with China, Trump’s aggressive rhetoric toward China, if followed through in policy and action, would leave Australia in a particularly precarious position. Australia has major trade ties with China despite being allied closely with the United States and were America to engage in a trade war or a military conflict over the South China Sea, to name two examples, Australia would be in a severely compromised position, being obligated to side with America in these circumstances. So far, the Australian Government has been diplomatic and insisted relations with the United States will not change. It is hard to imagine, however, if Trump is serious about his positions on international relations, how a reworking of the Australian-American alliance will not occur.


Turkey’s Failed Coup: An Analysis

During the early hours of the 16th July, 2016, an attempted military coup took place in Turkey. The coup attempt, which eventually failed, began with the Turkish army taking over the building of state broadcaster TRT as well as several other important government buildings in the Turkish capital city of Ankara. The army also concurrently seized control of bridges in Istanbul. With state media temporarily in the hands of the army, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took to mobile online media to call on his supporters and the police to resist the coup. Erdogan’s supporters and the police quickly responded, mobilising against the coup. By mid-morning, the coup attempted had been effectively stopped, with hundreds of deaths and nearly 2000 people being injured in the process.

In the aftermath of the coup, President Erdogan has quickly arrested thousands of soldiers, generals, judges and government workers involved with the coup. Thousands more in government positions have lost their jobs for their involvement. There has also been speculation that Erdogan has been considering re-introducing the death penalty for those found to have been involved in the coup attempt. The speed in which the arrests and sackings have taken place have led some pundits and commentators to suggest that the coup was orchestrated or at least encouraged by Erdogan as a means of further consolidating power.

There is some merit to this view. Ever since Erdogan’s AKP (Justice and Development Party) took office in 2002, Turkey has drifted from being a relatively secular democracy to an increasingly authoritarian and Islamist state. In the last few years in particular, free speech and expression has been increasingly restricted in Turkish society, with social media access being intermittently cut off and media outlets such as The Daily Sabah being taken over by the government. The increasing slide towards Islamist authoritarianism and against secularism bears more than a passing resemblance to Iran in 1979. In that situation, Iran went through an Islamic revolution which removed a secular monarchist leadership. Though Erdogan has not removed a sitting government, by purging the secular military, one of Turkey’s few remaining independent institutions, he may take Turkey towards an entirely authoritarian, Islamist nation.

Unlike most other nations, the Turkish army is a separate entity from the government. This is an arrangement that has been in place for nearly a century, since the end of World War One. The founder of the modern Turkish Republic, Kemal Ataturk, set up the army as a means of safeguarding Turkey’s secular society as envisioned by Ataturk and was kept separate as a means of keeping the government of the day in check. Before the last attempted coup on the 16th July, Turkey had survived five previous coup attempts. As was the case in the latest attempt, the coups arose as a response to Turkey drifting from a secular state as Ataturk had envisioned into a more fundamentalist Islamic state, the type of which Erdogan has presided over during his reign as President.

The failed coup and its aftermath has widespread ramifications. Firstly, Turkey’s position as a NATO member is put into serious doubt. US Secretary of State John Kerry has warned as such, stating that Turkey needed to stay committed to ‘democratic principles’ in the wake of the attempted coup. Any future bid for Turkey to join the European Union is also far less likely in the wake of the attempted coup. The crackdown on the army, particularly its more secular elements also raises questions about Turkey’s reliability as a partner in the ongoing fight against the Islamic State. France’s foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, argues that the coup raises questions about Turkey’s viability as an effective partner in the fight against ISIS. The current political instability in Turkey and the uncertainty about its security situation also complicates NATO efforts against ISIS. The use of key military bases is a primary concern. Bases such as Incirlik, which are close to the Syrian border are key to current efforts against ISIS. Another key split between Turkey and especially the United States is the Kurdish question. The Kurds and their fighting force, the Peshmerga, despite lacking equipment or the structure of a formal state, have been arguably the most important ground-based fighting force against ISIS. Despite this, Turkey views Kurdish groups such as the Peshmerga and the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) as both being terrorist organisations, in contrast to the United States, who see only the PKK as a terrorist organisation and the Peshmerga as a key ally. The latest coup attempt, Erdogan’s reaction and further slide into authoritarianism look set to only exacerbate these concerns, to the detriment of regional stability and security.