Donald Trump elicits angst from four experts who reflect on his potentially destructive impact on human rights, the environment, the global economy and international relations.

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U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks at his election night rally in New York, 9 November 2016. (REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)
We asked four experts — Carroll Bogert (human rights), Tom Burke (environment), Alan Wheatley (international economy) and Alex Nicoll (defense & security) — for their thoughts following Donald Trump’s shock victory in the U.S. presidential election. Here are their sobering reflections.

Human Rights: Trump is a candidate who rejects basic norms.

– Carroll Bogert

America has elected a candidate who embraced racism and xenophobia on the campaign trail and went out of his way to reject basic rights norms as “political correctness.” He has denied multiple credible allegations of sexual assault but frequently used misogynist rhetoric.

carroll_400x400On the most immediate human rights issue under debate in this election, the rights of immigrants fleeing war and serious human rights abuse will almost certainly be violated as a matter of policy under President Trump.

In his campaign, he also promised the summary deportation of millions of undocumented migrants living in this country, without fair hearing or procedure.

Meanwhile, for millions of people outside the country who need a safe haven from places like Syria, hope had been extinguished. The United States was already failing to accept significant numbers of asylum-seekers from countries such as Syria. That trickle will presumably come to a complete halt.

As a candidate, Donald Trump promised to bring back water-boarding “and worse,”  a clear violation of the Convention Against Torture, and to “fill up” the detention center at Guantanamo Bay rather than closing it, as international law has always dictated.

His presidency is likely to embolden leaders who reject human rights norms such as Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, and to accelerate America’s detachment from international institutions and processes designed to promote human rights.

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Environment: America, and the world, will pay a big price for this choice.

– Tom Burke

The Obamas represented and invoked the better angels of the nature of the American people. Trump represents and has let loose the dark angels of that nature.

tburkeNothing good for America or the world will come from this and especially for the environment.

I do not believe a kinder, gentler Trump will emerge with office, and with control of Congress, a Supreme Court hostile to the environment will be built. His promises to the American people are undeliverable and will not be delivered, but in the process of appearing to deliver them, the environment will be trashed.

This will be especially true with climate change. He cannot bring coal back from the economic brink, but in propping up a dying industry he will make America a laggard not a leader in the defining struggle of this century. Americans will pay a big price for this choice. But so will everyone else on the planet.

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Economy: Dust off the screenplay of the 1930s and see how the story ends.

Alan Wheatley

Assuming Trump carries out his campaign promises, the global economy is at risk of recession, trade wars and financial instability.

Slapping a 45 percent tariff on China will fuel inflation. Slashing taxes will send the budget deficit soaring and scare the bond market. So will attacks on the Fed’s independence. Rising long-term U.S. interest rates will suck capital out of emerging markets, hurting growth.

The international economy has been built since World War Two on the foundation of ever-freer trade and investment. Trump wants to reverse that trend by blocking the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and renegotiating NAFTA. He has even raised the prospect of pulling out of the WTO.

Raising the drawbridge will shrink trade; punitive tariffs will invite retaliation. Dust off the screenplay of the 1930s and see how the story ends.

Global finance operates on the dollar standard. The dollar is the principal currency in cross-border bank lending, bond issuance, trade finance and derivatives markets. Why? Because over generations, the United States has built a deep reservoir of trust in its institutions and has largely projected its economic and political power wisely.

That reputation will lie in tatters if Trump abandons America’s allies in NATO and in Asia, undermining the dollar’s status as the world’s undisputed reserve currency. The door will be wide open for China to exercise global leadership — assuming Trump’s tariffs don’t bring its economy tumbling down with America’s.

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Defense: America’s allies have the most to worry about.

– Alex Nicoll

What kind of a country will America be? Governments around the world, whether allies or rivals, are asking themselves this question following Donald Trump’s shock victory.

anicoll3At present, all they have to go on are the remarks that the president-elect made — over and over again — during his campaign. He wants to build a wall on the Mexican border, he wants to scrap the nuclear agreement with Iran, he will closely vet Muslims wanting to enter the United States, he thinks climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese on American industry. And so on.

To what extent he will follow through on these desires and beliefs is utterly unknown. On his inauguration in January, he will cease to be a loner and an outsider, and will instead carry the responsibilities of office. The vast machine of government will be at his disposal, bringing daily briefings and policy dilemmas. Foreign policy will be but a part of his ambitious agenda, which is mostly about domestic renewal.

Much will depend on the people he nominates in the next few weeks to head the State Department and the Department of Defense, as well as to many other positions. Each of them must go through Congressional hearings in which they will be quizzed about their policy approaches.

How many Republicans with foreign policy experience will be willing to serve him, and to what extent will they stand up to him? The implications of being in government, the advice of his officials, the constraints imposed by even a Republican-controlled Congress, and the views of allies could all act as moderating influences.

China and Russia will look forward to testing him out.

The agreement with Iran on limiting its nuclear program, for example, was not simply struck by the United States, but by Russia, China and European powers as well. They will not be keen to rip it up.

The leaders of countries aspiring to compete with the United States, like China and Russia, will be looking closely at Trump’s personality. They can see that he is easily needled, and they will look forward to testing him out. They will not lose sight of their interests: Russia’s foreign policy is based on pushing back at NATO’s expansion; China’s interests are economic but also highly nationalistic and territorial. Both will see opportunities to gain an edge.

But it is America’s allies who have the most to be concerned about. Trump has frequently questioned U.S. support for Europe through the NATO alliance, which is the cornerstone of the West’s defenses. He has called NATO obsolete.

If there is tension with Russia in the Baltic or in eastern Europe, how firm will Trump’s commitment to NATO and to Europe be? And will he maintain the extensive U.S. commitment to Japan and South Korea? His approach to nuclear weapons, and to counter-proliferation, is also confusing to say the least.

Regarding one of the most immediate challenges, the war in Syria, Trump seems broadly unwilling to commit American troops to foreign adventures: he doesn’t want the United States to be the world’s policeman. But it was he who said that Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, could be captured from ISIS in a “sneak attack.” Whether he listens to military advice — and who precisely he listens to — will be important regarding Syria and any other such crises that occur during his presidency.

Finally, other Western governments will be concerned about the impact of Trump’s win on their own domestic politics. This is the second time this year — the UK’s Brexit vote was the first — that broadly white, non-urban, older voters have kicked back against globalization, immigration, local economic deprivation and a sense of disenfranchisement. In each case, it is unclear how the results will help those who feel most angry. But both could well inspire populist movements elsewhere.


Carroll Bogert is president of The Marshall Project. She was previously deputy executive director at Human Rights Watch, running its award-winning global media operations. Before joining Human Rights Watch in 1998, Bogert spent 12 years as a foreign correspondent for Newsweek in China, Southeast Asia, and the Soviet Union.

Tom Burke is Chairman and Founding Director of E3G, Third Generation Environmentalism (Environmental Think Tank). He also serves as an Environmental Policy Advisor to Rio Tinto, and is a visiting professor at University and Imperial Colleges (London). Burke played a fundamental role in creating the European Environmental Bureau and was instrumental in the European and North American NGO preparations for the Rio Earth Summit.

Alan Wheatley is an economics writer and editor based in London. Until recently, he was Reuters’s global economics correspondent, having reported from more than 40 countries and having lived in London, Frankfurt, Paris, New York, Washington, Tokyo, Singapore and Beijing. Wheatley is the editor and co-author of the book The Power of Currencies, Currencies of Power, which explores the consequences of looming challenges to the dollar’s status as the world’s pre-eminent reserve currency.

Alex Nicoll is a writer on defense and European issues. From 2003 to 2015, he was on the staff of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, where he was editor of the London think-tank’s annual review of international affairs. Previously he spent 18 years as a reporter and editor at the Financial Times, including as defense correspondent from 1997 to 2002. He began his career at Reuters as a correspondent in Hong Kong, Paris, Tehran and New York.

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