How The U.S. Election Result Could Affect Brits, Explained

Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
On the 8th of November the United States will vote for a new president.

The Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton has been hovering over the White House for decades, having served as Secretary of State during President Obama’s first term, and First Lady before that, when her husband Bill Clinton was in office.

If she wins, Clinton will become the first female president of the United States.

Republican nominee Donald Trump is a billionaire business tycoon who has never been elected to public office. His candidacy is highly controversial. He has been accused of sexual assault by 12 women and counting. One woman has submitted a lawsuit against him, alleging he raped her when she was 13 years old. He has been labelled racist for saying that Muslims should be banned from entering the United States and that a wall should be built to keep out Mexicans.

All things considered, the campaign period has been an unprecedented “shit show”. But what has this got to do with us, thousands of miles away across the Atlantic Ocean?

After the political catastrophe that hit the UK in June when we voted to leave the European Union, it is easy to feel that no other political event is as momentous as Brexit – especially those taking place in other countries.

Unfortunately, however, major events in the United States impact everyone. The country is arguably the biggest power in the modern world. Besides, if Article 50 is invoked and we do break away from the EU, Britain may find itself leaning especially hard on that 'special relationship' we supposedly have with America.
Culturally, too, we are hugely affected by what happens in the States. American TV shows, movies, fashion and music are plastered across the globe but in the UK, our shared history and language means the drip feed is incessant. It follows that any major upheaval over there is likely to trigger social change here, too.

Which candidate would be better for British trade interests and our economy?

According to Professor Scott Lucas, who teaches American Studies at the University of Birmingham, the prognosis for Britain is bleak, whoever wins. If Article 50 is invoked, he says, it will probably “take us to the back of the queue in terms of trading and investments.”

Having said that, Brexit does not make the U.S. election result insignificant to the UK economy. In fact, as Britain is probably going to become more vulnerable, having a predictable, stable and supportive U.S. president is really important.
“If Trump gets in it compounds the uncertainty of Brexit,” Lucas continues, explaining that Trump has next to no coherent foreign policy. “Clinton gives you at least a bit more to hang on to in terms of the way she approaches foreign policy and the way she works with institutions.”

Professor Iwan Morgan, Head of U.S. Programmes at the Institute of the Americas at University College London, agrees. “A Trump presidency, I think, would compound Britain’s own political problems,” he says, adding that if Trump wins it could send shockwaves around the world.

Part of the problem, Lucas and Morgan say, is that nobody really knows what Trump would do if he were in charge. It is quite possible, even, that Trump himself does not know, judging by his convoluted and incomplete answers to the most basic questions about foreign policy.
“President Clinton or President Trump will have to negotiate a changed position in January [if the UK is no longer part of the EU, or looks set to leave.] I think if it’s a Clinton victory, it’s easier for me to at least interpret,” says Lucas.

“She will welcome a solid UK-U.S. relationship but as part of other relationships, not as an exclusive relationship,” he says. “So it would be part of U.S. relations with NATO, for instance. It would be in conjunction with the U.S. relationship with the EU."

What happens to the 'special relationship'?

First off, both Lucas and Morgan say they do not really believe in the 'special relationship', a historical term for the close diplomatic ties between the United States and the United Kingdom, famously invoked by President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair to justify Britain joining the “war on terror” after 9/11.

“I’m a not a big believer in the special relationship, because I grew up in a place where the only British people my parents knew about were the Queen and Benny Hill,” says Lucas, who is American. “The special relationship is more of a myth.”

Morgan thinks the British elite believe in the 'special relationship' but doubts the Americans feel the same way. He also says that even the myth could be affected by the election result. “If there is a Trump presidency I think the notion of a special relationship between London and Washington would become very difficult to sustain,” he says.

Lucas points out that much of the relationship between the UK and the U.S. plays out behind the scenes at an institutional level, so it is worth looking beyond the bluster to analyse how institutions like the military, the intelligence and diplomatic services, and economic departments would operate under either a Trump or a Clinton administration.
“With Clinton, you know those relationships are a given,” says Lucas. “But Trump is a wild card unlike any we have had since the end of World War Two. Trump does not approach presidency in terms of working with institutions, he approaches it as if he is above all institutions.”

Lucas adds that Trump effectively has no advisors, just a team of personnel who “carry out his whims or try to limit the damage he has caused.”

“You’re going to have a real battle in the American administration in terms of how it approaches Trump,” he says, suggesting United States officials might have more pressing issues at hand than relations with the United Kingdom.
Clinton, however, is actually a relatively good option for the UK, believes Morgan.

“It’s easier to determine what Hillary Clinton might have in mind,” he says. “Clinton has a record as an Anglophile. She and her husband have been very close to the United Kingdom. I think Clinton would be very much in favour of maintaining all United States alliances, in particular NATO.”

Whereas, he says, Trump claims to be less bothered. “If he’s to be believed, he would pay less attention to America's alliances,” says Morgan. “It’s very unlikely he’ll have a free trade expansion with anyone.”

Morgan adds that if Trump were to make a special friend, it might be Russia rather than the United Kingdom. This could destabilise existing relationships, including those with the UK.

“He appears to be more inclined to talk to Putin,” Morgan says. “I think there is very little to be gained by that but I expect he will try it, in the belief that he is a deal broker. That will tie into Russian hopes of destabilising the western alliance and separating a key player, the United States, to some extent from its western European partners.”

Would there be any cultural effect on UK society if Trump won or if Clinton won?

Given the huge impact of U.S. culture on the UK, it is likely we will see a trickle down of any societal trends sparked by the election.

Parliamentary politics might seem disconnected from everyday life but we can look to the precedent set by Brexit of political upheaval sending shockwaves through society. Hate crimes spiked following the referendum, with experts suggesting that the anti-immigrant rhetoric employed by the Leave campaign may have legitimised racism.

According to U.S. psychotherapists, something similar is happening in the United States as a result of Trump’s campaign and, if Trump wins, it could spread to the UK and around the world.

Ethnic minorities, immigrants, women, and potentially LGBT people would be likely to suffer the most.

Bill Doherty, Professor of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota and a practising psychotherapist, launched a “Citizen Therapists Against Trumpism Manifesto” over the summer, which has been signed by more than 3,000 U.S. psychotherapists.

“Clients are coming in with a lot of emotional distress related to Trump and the campaign,” he says. “Anxiety is the top one, particularly among minority people and immigrants. There is fear that they will be deported, and a fear that they will be ostracised in the country.
“We’re also seeing women who have had experiences of sexual abuse [experiencing] a triggering of flashbacks of their experiences.”

Doherty says that Trump being allowed to occupy such a powerful establishment position is, in a way, legitimising sexual assault and misogyny.

“That’s a big part of why it is having an impact,” he says. “That [despite the allegations made against him] he is the candidate of one of our two political parties. He has not been forced to resign. He is still celebrated by a lot of people. He is excusing his behaviour and so are his champions. In a way he is legitimising this behaviour, which really, really makes the effect a lot worse.”

He adds that a lot of people are terrified of what could happen if Trump wins, because electing someone leader is “the ultimate legitimation”.

Doherty is equally concerned about other affected groups, such as immigrants and ethnic minorities.

“I don’t know if there’s data yet on hate crimes but we are certainly hearing the stories,” he says. “Bullying is increasing, an example being a high school basketball game with a school that had a lot of Latino athletes and people in the crowd from the team were chanting ‘Trump Trump Trump’ and ‘Build the wall,’ that sort of thing.”
Essentially, Doherty suggests, Trump is spewing hate from a massive platform, which is permeating society; if he is elected, it could get a lot worse.

Doherty says he can imagine groups around the world being spurred on by Trump. White supremacist groups in the U.S. are already delighted by his success, he says.

So overall, who is the safest bet for the UK?

According to the experts, unequivocally and on all counts: Clinton.

Clinton would help to maintain some stability in international trade and foreign policy, thereby easing the burden of economic uncertainty we face due to Brexit. Meanwhile, nobody knows what Trump would do, which could “compound the uncertainty”.

Clinton is also more likely to maintain existing strong U.S. alliances, including with the UK. The "special relationship" might be a myth, but at least she likes us. Trump, on the other hand, could shaft us in favour of Vladimir Putin.
Even if he does not trigger World War III, it is likely Trump as president would send violent tremors throughout the U.S. that could then seep into mainstream culture in the UK. We could see more hate crimes related to misogyny, homophobia and racism.

All in all, a Donald Trump victory would probably be a disaster for the United Kingdom, along with the rest of the world.

Thankfully, with just one week to go, the vast majority of voter polls are predicting a Clinton win. But Morgan cautions that most are showing her ahead by only 4 or 5%, which is within the margin of error.

Additionally, one highly reputable poll has shown Trump to be in the lead.

Given the false sense of security felt by many before Brexit, Morgan advises that we don’t make any assumptions until the votes have been counted.

“I just hope the British government has got a contingency plan for dealing with a Trump administration, in sharp contrast to the contingency plans that didn’t exist for dealing with Brexit,” he says.

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