It’s hard to comprehend what just happened with the US election, and it is quite likely that Donald Trump is having trouble comprehending what he’s gotten himself into. We all know it’s going to be a bizarre four years, but will they be bizarre in terms of things getting done in government that we’re not used to, or will it be bizarre like what would happen if 5 year olds designed a shopping mall? And, since we are discussing this on the world’s finest energy website, what does it mean for energy business?
There’s no need to recap Trump’s campaign theatrics to a world still agape from them; the pyrotechnic allegations and rhetoric dazzled the whole world like fireworks blowing up a garbage dump. This had the desired effect of breaking up the formulaic election process, but also meant no one noticed what was happening in the background. Meaning, there was little substance beyond the fireworks.
It was painfully clear to anyone who looked beyond the headline fodder of Trump’s campaign that he knows very little about anything that we expect president’s to know about. On Wednesday morning he was probably getting congratulatory messages from countries that he’d never heard of before. A safe guess would put that at 40 percent of the total (“Turkey is really a country?” sounds not just plausible but probable).
Trump spent the campaign fending off miscellaneous potentially deadly allegations while seeming to only have firm plans for a few things: build a wall between the US and Mexico, and hauling China on the carpet for its alleged currency manipulation. In total, that’s not many bones to make soup out of. There is a staggering array of issues awaiting the leader of the free world that he’s going to get a grasp on very quickly.
When the Prime Minister of India congratulates Trump and comments that he is thankful for “the friendship articulated towards India” in the campaign – where does one suppose that thought goes in Trump’s head, with respect to India and what needs to be done with that relationship? When the president of Poland comments that his country cares if Trump will implement NATO decisions to deploy military deterrence forces in Poland, how does Trump position this comment in his roadmap of his preferred US military presence with respect to NATO, Russia, and China?
Based on what we’ve seen in the campaign, and in Trump’s life, one would have to presume that these comments might as well have been delivered to a chicken. Which brings us to the good and the bad about this new president.
The good news is that the existing US political infrastructure needed some smashing. It was calcified, arthritic, senile, and embedded like an inoperable brain tumour. A product of the system, like Clinton was, would do nothing to improve it because she came from the system. It created her and owned her.
Trump therefore has a freer hand than any politician in recent memory to elicit real change, which the whole world agrees is sorely needed. He is beholden to no one, or few.
The bad news is that he is, at times, an ignorant jackass and now in control of an impressive array of machinery, tools and infrastructure. He most likely won the election by pandering to the opinions of those obsessed with a few of the less significant things on the American radar screen – are Mexican immigrants really as big a problem as a $19 trillion debt? Is that stupid wall he kept yammering about as important as a long overdue plan of engagement with the Middle East to counter terrorism effectively?
But at the end of the day, good and bad, he is what he is. He’s a bit of everything, and we should refocus on the Trump characteristic that should give us some hope. He is a born deal maker. He alluded to that sometimes in the campaign. For instance, behind the curtain of his anti-immigration bombast, it’s worth noting that he pledged to remove the “most dangerous criminal illegal aliens from America.” This was from a bombastic speech delivered in Arizona, where the issue is close to hand, and frankly that’s not nonsense. No comment is made about what he’ll do with the existing millions of non-dangerous illegal immigrants. In other words, he’ll work out a deal on that front.
And there is hope that he will on many other fronts as well. He has made comments about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) where he as said that a solution will come about only when both sides come together to negotiate a deal. He emphasized that each side must give up something of substance. His tone was that you cannot start out with immovable positions, which is where we have been stuck for 40 years.
There is true hope that Trump the dealmaker might have a different enough perspective to offer breakthroughs. This phenomenon is not unprecedented. A website called Innocentive pays cash rewards for anyone who can solve certain problems submitted by businesses and academia. The site exists because inventive solutions often come from outside the established circle of experts, because outsiders are not blinded by preconceived notions. The proposed solutions of course may not be bound by common sense either, meaning not all are useful, but some definitely are.
Maybe we can hope for the same from Trump. Maybe some situations that seem unsolvable, like the American death spiral of debt and useless governments, can be at least partially solved by different thinking. Provided of course he uses the right part of his brain.
For energy then, as James Rose pointed out, Trump’s election might be good news in general. Maybe Trump will move forward key pieces of infrastructure that we need to keep our fuel supplies going for more than a year or two, because he understands how important secure energy supplies are. It is also highly likely that Trump will make progress on environmental issues because even he can’t run counter to the whole world with no good reason. His random anti-environmental soundbites from the campaign are most likely just rhetoric, like when his “lock up Clinton” stance morphed into gratitude at her service.
There is nothing to be gained from entrenched and extreme positions. That is what brought the US political system to it’s current sorry state, and it’s paralyzing the energy business. Those that blame fossil fuels for everything and try to shut them down overnight are misguided hypocrites who will never succeed. Those who mock and ridicule anyone who sincerely and innocently voices support for a clean environment are dinosaurs of another stripe that are also facing extinction. We can all get along, and move forward, if we cut deals, where each side gives up something meaningful.
In four years we may look back in pleasant surprise at a world that has made progress on tough issues. Or we might have watched The Donald forget that life is not a reality show and be up to our eyeballs in types of muck that we can’t possibly imagine right now. Glad I didn’t have to vote down there.
Read more insightful analysis from Terry Etam here