Interview with Dr. Dan Steinbock
We were able to reach Dr. Steinbock right after the US election. As you may recall, he has argued for months that there is potential for a Trump upset and a few weeks ago in the Macau Summit, he suggested that the era of US post-war liberal internationalism was fading into history. In the past 48 hours, he has given interviews on the US election from US and Europe to China and Nigeria, while answering to election questions from Ukraine and India to Iran and Brazil.
Q: You have monitored US 2016 elections for months. Here are just a few examples:
• “US 2016 election divides advanced and emerging economies”, China-US Focus, Oct 14, 2016
• “Hobbled at home, expect president Clinton to be hawkish in foreign policy”, South China Morning Post, Nov 1, 2016
• “Fight for the US Leadership begins after the election“, EconoMonitor/Roubini Global Economics, Nov 4, 2016
• “US election and Africa,” BusinessDay Nigeria, Nov 7, 2016
• “After the Trump triumph” ValueWalk, Nov 9, 2016
Prior to the election, you argued that there is room for a “Trump upset”. Why did you go against the grain?
First of all, for weeks the polls suggested a relatively tight race, which always magnifies the potential for surprises. Second, usually polls tend to reflect prevailing views in normal times; but we live in the “new normal”; that is, polls may fail to incorporate disruptive change. Third, while polls suggested that Clinton had a lead in the electoral college, too many observers ignored the very large number of “undecided” electors. As the race became particularly tight in the swing states, Trump was able to capture most of the undecided electors.
Fourth, for months there had been a theory by political scientists that this election was different: in polls, people would say that they would vote for Clinton, but in reality they would vote for Trump. Fifth, more latinos and blacks would vote for Trump than observers expected; and they would not acknowledge their actions in pre-election surveys. Sixth, in the last 2-3 weeks, the Republican leadership opted for Trump, in part to defuse a further fragmentation of the party and in part because there was an increasing sense that Clinton could be beaten.
Last but not least: Wikileaks, Wikileaks, Wikileaks. The collective weight of some 50,000 emails was massive. They provided huge evidence of the massive scope of wrongdoing by Hillary Clinton, her special assistant, Bill and Chelsea Clinton and her husband, the Democratic National Committee, and especially the Clinton Foundation which former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani has compared with “criminal racketeering”. This foundation that has been portrayed as one of the greatest global philanthropic initiatives, seems to have served as a kind of a cash machine for the Clintons, and a political influence machine for rogue country oligarchs.
Q: Some people argue that US media failed American voters. Did they?
Yes, they did. I first arrived in the US in 1986 and have not seen anything like this before. The pre-Watergate scandals pale in scope. There was broad collusion of mainstream media – including CNN, Newsweek, Time, New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post even Google – with the Clinton campaign. Even worse, both Clinton and her campaign manager John Podesta sought to deflect the charges by making President Putin and Russia the scapegoat, despite the absence of evidence, as even the FBI acknowledged. Only days before the election, some 80% of Americans, according to US polls, believed that the national media had been biased for Clinton and against Trump. As the progressive film maker Michael Moore said, the Trump win would be a massive “F- you!” by ordinary Americans against the Clinton’s and Washington’s political class.
Q: Most observers in the US and internationally say that the Trump triumph was a surprise. Was it?
No, it wasn’t. The Trump victory was a “stunning surprise” to US mainstream media and Washington. But it was very much in line with broad voter distrust in Mrs Clinton and Washington. Economically, most Americans’ wages have stagnated since the 1980s. Politically, the Congress enjoys credibility only among 10-20% of Americans. In security matters, most Americans do not believe that US should play the role of “world police” internationally.
Q: Do you still expect post-election investigations?
Yes, but in “due time”; that is, after the transition of power. Republicans want investigations about the role of the State Department, the Department of Justice and the FBI, as the Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman Reince Priebus says. Speaker Paul Ryan has promised “aggressive oversight work” of a “quid pro quo” deal between the FBI and the State Department over emails. As chair of the House Oversight Committee, Jason Chaffetz is pushing for a slate of “new hearings”. House Republicans are demanding a special prosecutor to investigate the Clinton Foundation for possible conflicts of interest. In the past three months, Republicans have issued some 20 subpoenas and over 50 letters of inquiry probing Clinton. New ones will be fuelled by tens of thousands of Clinton emails courtesy of Wikileaks.
Q: In Europe, Japan, Asia and the Middle East, not to speak of Mexico, there is much apprehension about the Trump triumph. Should they be concerned?
Well, the Mexican peso has been shaking for a reason… If international observers lack a realistic view of the US, yes, they should be concerned because their assumptions are misguided, as I have argued for a long time. There is a longstanding tradition to either ignore America as it is, or to demonise the US and its leaders. Both perspectives are flawed. The key question, of course, is whether Trump will walk the talk. If he opts for realism in international affairs, he could be the first post-war non-imperial US president. If he turns to his advisers, who reflect relatively extreme views of foreign and security policy, he could prove more hawkish than George W. Bush.
Q: Where are some of the key friction points?
Clearly, Trump’s views about the US-EU relations, the North American Treaty Organization (NATO), the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) differ drastically from those of Washington establishment. As I have argued elsewhere (see above South China Morning Post, EconoMonitor/Roubini Global Economics, ValueWalk etc), his administration may prove more combative in foreign and security policy, trade and currency policy, and so on. He could defuse current tensions with Russia. He could redefine US policies vis-a-vis the Middle East, including Saudi-Arabia and Iran. He could be particularly assertive in Asia and toward China, Japan and several ASEAN nations. If he stays true to his pre-election pledges, he could re-negotiate US pacts with Japan and South Korea, which could re-define US security system in Asia Pacific.
Q: Will Trump’s cabinet differ from those of his Republican predecessors?
Yes, it will. It will reflect his values and objectives. Overall, it will be “more white”, older and may include more billionaires and business executives than previous Republican administrations. While the appointments will take time, we know that the oil pioneer Forrest Lucas would like to be Interior secretary, Goldman Sachs veteran Steven Mnuchin would love to take over the Treasury; the hawkish Senator Jeff Sessions hopes to become secretary of Defense, along with the current chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator Bob Corker; Rudy Giuliani could serve as Attorney General; the loyalty of the old Republican hand Newt Gingrich will be rewarded; retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, former director of Defense Intelligence Agency, could become Trump’s national security adviser and so on. The list of potential candidates is long and also includes Sarah Palin, Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr, billionaire investor Wilbur Ross, and former CEO of steelmaker Nucor Corp Dan DiMicco, Trump’s current trade adviser.
Q: Many people expect markets to tank. Do you?
In the short term, the Trump triumph will mean economic uncertainty, market volatility, and strategic doubt. That was evident on the election day. After all, global markets were rocked by Trump’s victory, which was accompanied by a weakening dollar, drastic declines of the Dow Jones, S&P 500 and Nasdaq, as well as markets in Europe, Asia and elsewhere. However, the real question is whether markets responded dramatically to anticipated future realities – or their own misguided expectations.
What is certain is that, in the coming weeks, the power transition in the White House will take place amid extraordinary political animosity and very fragile stability, as evidenced by the first protest wave in the US. This time even political violence cannot be excluded.
Nevertheless, Trump’s triumph has ensured the kind of political consolidation that Clinton could only dream about. As Republican majority will prevail in both the Senate and the House, Trump will take over the White House. As a result, he will be able and willing to effect real change in America – for good or bad.
Featured image courtesy of: Getty Images
About the Author
Dan Steinbock is the founder of the Difference Group and has served as the research director at the India, China, and America Institute (USA) and a visiting fellow at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (China) and the EU Center (Singapore). For more information, see http://www.differencegroup.net/