The possibility of a Donald Trump presidency is now listed as one of the ten top global “risks” by The Economist, somewhere between a Chinese economic meltdown and an oil price shock, and right next to the rising threat of terrorism.
Trump’s response would probably be to say, “That’s just stupid.” But the Republican Party is also panicking at the idea of a “President Trump”, as are foreign governments. His enthralled supporters, meanwhile, love his tough talk against immigrants.
The billionaire candidate has got this far on the strength of projecting the US as a victim, a sucker almost, for falling into the twin traps of international trade laid cleverly by China and Europe, and a liberal immigration policy of gullible past US presidents. His comments – rants actually – are vague, untethered from facts and prone to rapid turnarounds depending on his mood.
Asked this week on a US news channel about his source of advice and ideas, Trump had this to say: “I’m speaking with myself, number one. I have a very good brain… my primary consultant is myself and I have a good instinct for this stuff.”
But then just two days later, he spent time with The Washington Post’s editorial board and revealed the names of his foreign policy advisers – a group of five little-known men who haven’t exactly shaken the Washington establishment with their brilliance.
So what would a Trump presidency mean for India? There is no concrete answer yet – only attempts to glean meaning from half-completed sentences delivered in a distracted, rambling style that jumps topics like a grasshopper.
US in isolation ward
“I know the outer world exists…,” Trump told The Washington Post, “[But] at what point do you say, ‘Hey, we have to take care of ourselves?’”
Trump wants less intervention and more deal-making. But an isolationist America would mean that other nations, including India, may have to shoulder more of the burden of maintaining international security.
An American retreat from either the Middle East or Afghanistan-Pakistan would directly affect Indian security as terrorist groups would get more space. The last American exit from Afghanistan made the rugged country a springboard for attacks on India.
But then Trump has also said that the US needs to stay in Afghanistan because Pakistan has nuclear weapons, which have to be guarded. Sometimes his positions change within 24 hours.
Trump has also questioned the role of the US as an anchor of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization military alliance.
US-China not bhai bhai
A Trump presidency could mean a sharp deterioration in relations with China and a possible trade war. The real estate mogul has accused China, Japan, Mexico, and sometimes India, of stealing American jobs. He wants to put huge tariffs (as much as 45%) on Chinese imports and renegotiate trade deals. Such a move would seriously impact the US economy, and by extension the global economy as well as the Indian economy.
Any US showdown with China, whether over trade or military tensions in the South China Sea, is bad news for India. It would destabilise the Indo-Asia Pacific region.
Last year, Trump caused a minor stir in South Asian policy circles when he called Pakistan “probably the most dangerous country in the world” because of its nuclear weapons.
If Pakistan becomes unstable, he said, “You (would) have to get India involved. India’s the check to Pakistan. They have their own nukes and have a very powerful army.”
This may be music to some ears, but to most it is irresponsible talk. However, to be fair, Trump’s assessment of Pakistan is not dissimilar to that of President Barack Obama, who also thinks of it as a “dangerously dysfunctional” country, according to an exhaustive piece in The Atlantic on the Obama doctrine.
On H-1B visas
Trump’s position on the H-1B visas for highly skilled foreign workers is confusing, to put it politely. His website says he is against the visas, but Trump said he is changing his position. According to the website, wages for H-1Bs should be raised which would "force" American companies to give these “coveted entry-level jobs to the existing domestic pool of unemployed workers who have been passed over in favor of the H-1B program". But during one of the Republican debates, Trump said he was "softening the position because we have to have talented people in this country".
He may be flip-flopping with an eye to the Indian American vote, but his chief foreign policy adviser, Senator Jeff Sessions, is a staunch critic of H-1B visas and immigration reform in general. As chairman of the Senate subcommittee on immigration, Sessions holds annual hearings on Capitol Hill to discredit the H-1B programme. Indian software companies can expect more pain and higher fees since they grab the largest share of H-1B visas.
Trump’s business ties with India
The Trump empire has two “super luxury” apartment projects in India – one with Panchshil Realty in Pune and the other with Lodha Group in Mumbai. Business ties could grow in the future with or without a Trump presidency. Tribeca Developers, the firm representing his interests in India, has let it be known that Trump and his sons are “extremely bullish on India” and have plans to expand to many more cities.
Xenophobia in the air
A Trump presidency could raise anti-immigrant feelings to a new high since large numbers of his supporters are loudly xenophobic, under-educated and feel powerless in today’s economy.
A Rand study found that his supporters feel “immigrants threaten American customs and values”. Trump clearly preys on those fears by comparing Mexicans to rapists and promising to deport illegal immigrants. In a pattern disturbingly similar to India, intolerance of non-white outsiders is growing. If Trump wins, his supporters would feel emboldened to attack businesses and stores owned by Indians or Indian Americans. The violence at his campaign rallies is a good indicator of what could transpire when his devotees feel truly empowered.