Americans have not shared in their country’s prosperity. In real terms median male earnings are still lower than they were in the 1970s. In the past 50 years, barring the expansion of the 1990s, middle-ranking households have taken longer to claw back lost income with each recession. Social mobility is too low to hold out the promise of something better. The resulting loss of self-respect is not neutralised by a few quarters of rising wages.
his voters took Mr Trump seriously but not literally, even as his critics took him literally but not seriously.
might even model himself on Ronald Reagan, a conservative hero who was mocked and underestimated, too.
whereas Reagan was an optimist, Mr Trump rails against the loss of an imagined past. We are deeply sceptical that he will make a good president—because of his policies, his temperament and the demands of political office.
After the sugar rush, populist policies eventually collapse under their own contradictions. Mr Trump has pledged to scrap the hated Obamacare. But that threatens to deprive over 20m hard-up Americans of health insurance. His tax cuts would chiefly benefit the rich and they would be financed by deficits that would increase debt-to-GDP by 25 percentage points by 2026. Even if he does not actually deport illegal immigrants, he will foment the divisive politics of race. Mr Trump has demanded trade concessions from China, Mexico and Canada on threat of tariffs and the scrapping of the North American Free Trade Agreement. His protectionism would further impoverish poor Americans, who gain more as consumers from cheap imports than they would as producers from suppressed competition. If he caused a trade war, the fragile global economy could tip into a recession. With interest rates near zero, policymakers would struggle to respond.
Trump says he hates the deal freezing Iran’s nuclear programme. If it fails, he would have to choose between attacking Iran’s nuclear sites and seeing nuclear proliferation in the Middle East (see article). He wants to reverse the Paris agreement on climate change; apart from harming the planet, that would undermine America as a negotiating partner. Above all, he would erode America’s alliances—its greatest strength. Mr Trump has demanded that other countries pay more towards their security or he will walk away. His bargaining would weaken NATO, leaving front-line eastern European states vulnerable to Russia. It would encourage Chinese expansion in the South China Sea. Japan and South Korea may be tempted to arm themselves with nuclear weapons.
Trump was narcissistic, thin-skinned and ill-disciplined. Yet the job of the most powerful man in the world constantly entails daily humiliations at home and abroad. When congressmen mock him, insult him and twist his words, his effectiveness will depend on his willingness to turn the other cheek and work for a deal. When a judge hears a case for fraud against Trump University in the coming weeks, or rules against his administration’s policies when he is in office, he must stand back (self-restraint that proved beyond him when he was a candidate). When journalists ridiculed him in the campaign he threatened to open up libel laws. In office he must ignore them or try to talk them round. When sovereign governments snub him he must calculate his response according to America’s interests, not his own wounded pride. If Mr Trump fails to master his resentments, his presidency will soon become bogged down in a morass of petty conflicts.
No problem comes to the president unless it is fiendishly complicated. Yet Mr Trump has shown no evidence that he has the mastery of detail or sustained concentration that the Oval Office demands.
The danger with popular anger, though, is that disillusion with Mr Trump will only add to the discontent that put him there in the first place. If so, his failure would pave the way for someone even more bent on breaking the system.
The open markets and classically liberal democracy that we defend, and which had seemed to be affirmed in 1989, have been rejected by the electorate first in Britain and now in America.