Now don’t get me wrong. I’m as worried as anybody else by the ascent of the bright orange bouffant with the pitbull snarl reveals Editor-in-chief Michael Wilson. But that’s not quite the point.
It bothers me greatly that Donald J Trump has been able to get this close to the US presidency by seeding deliberate falsehoods – that Barack Obama was the personal founder of Islamic State, that Obama is a Muslim who wasn’t even born in the United States, or that the Pope is just a stooge for the Mexican government, which is trying to cover up the well-known fact that its people are rapists and drug dealers. And so on, and so on.
It bothers me even more that Trump’s conflicted economic policy – tax cuts but more spending, higher wages but lower employment costs, a retreat from international trade but greater international financial status, and a boost for ghastly, outdated smokestack industries – hangs together about as well as my granddaughter’s first attempts at Lego. There’s no structural coherence, or indeed any perceived need to have such a thing. It’s simply doomed to fall over.
Game of Thrones
And yet the voters clearly love Trump. By late September it was clear that his essentially illiterate appeal to policy (essentially “experts know nothing”) was gaining ground across middle America. Trust me, he says, whenever he’s asked for detail on how he proposes to square all those circles. I don’t have the details worked out yet, but I’m a businessman, not a politician.
And there, in one brilliant stroke, you have it. A sizeable portion of the American electorate has simply come to the end of the road with politicians and so-called experts. Two decades without a pay rise, while the very rich get richer, have squeezed the angry white middle to the point of blind revolt. It’s a visceral thing – an expression of desperation. Hillary Clinton alternative may be infinitely more experienced than Trump, but her own tendency toward evasiveness means that her political stock is damaged by well-deserved mistrust. You could hardly have scripted a more gripping clash for a big-budget TV drama. Or a more tribal one. Those blood-axes will be swinging all the way to 8th November. And there have been no rehearsals.
What to do?
As outsiders, we Britons have been largely reduced to chewing our fingernails on the sofa as the cataclysmic drama unfolds on our screens. We can certainly cheer ourselves up with the thought that even a monumental shift in America’s trade policy wouldn’t reduce the total size of the world economy, and that it would merely change its shape – more bonds, probably, and less internationalisation from the USA, and certainly a dark cloud over China’s export prospects if Trump’s 45% import tariff were ever to become a reality.
We can also reflect that Trump’s unpopularity among Washington Republicans would very probably rein in his ability to impose his more bizarre ideas on Congress – and that, with luck, sound counsel might quickly surface among the panels of advisers who the great man is currently assembling.
But US stock valuations currently sit close to their post-2000 cyclical highs (Shiller’s 10 year p/e was nudging 27 in September, against an all-time median of 16), and that bothers me too. Partly because this no time to fall off your cycle, and partly because Trump’s entrenched views of Wall Street are well known. We might need to hope that Making America Great Again turns out to be less chaotic and less damaging than some of us fear.