Reasons to (not) be cheerful in 2016…The US: heading into election year

After a turbulent 2015, members of DSD’s Regional Security Research Centre (@KingsRegSec) look forward to the coming year and examine the issues that they believe will be prominent in 2016, including the US presidential elections, continuing instability across the Middle East and the various coalitions seeking to counter IS, talks between India and Pakistan on Afghanistan, the UK referendum on membership of the EU and continuing concerns about Russian activity in eastern Europe.

Dr Ellen Hallams

2016 might just turn out to be the year of Donald Trump. The US presidential election is still 11 months away but the Republican presidential contender is dominating the race to succeed Barack Obama; the primary season is already an unseemly spectacle doing further damage to the reputation of the US political system and electoral cycle. Trump’s candidacy would be comical if it wasn’t a realistic prospect. Although he has peddled lies, fiction and outright xenophobia, he has tapped into a deep discontent among white working class voters alienated by eight years of an Obama presidency. Neither is he quite the aberration some have suggested. His anti-immigration rhetoric is rooted in the Nativist movement of the mid-19th century, embodied by the ‘Know-Nothing’ party and candidacy of former President Millard Fillmore who in 1856 captured 22% of the popular vote. Trump’s pledge to implement a ‘total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,’ certainly puts him at the extreme end of the nativist spectrum but the mood in Washington – and across the country – is already hardening, fuelled in large part by the Paris terror attacks, as well as the shootings in San Bernadino. The US Congress is already legislating to tighten the US visa waiver programme to prevent any foreign national who has visited Iraq, Iran, Syria or the Sudan in the past five years from entering the US without a visa, with further measures possible. Conventional wisdom would suggest Trump’s campaign will self-implode but none of the other candidates as of yet is emerging as a clear challenger. Trump’s candidacy has also overshadowed Bernie Sanders challenge to what will surely be Hilary Clinton’s last bid to be America’s first female president, but it is hard to see Clinton not emerging victorious from the Democratic primaries. Whoever wins the respective nominations, the election will hinge on domestic issues – the economy, immigration, healthcare, welfare reform – but in the context of events in Syria and the growing threat from IS, there will likely be considerable debate over what many see as a weak and ineffectual foreign policy from Obama that has eroded US influence and prestige on the world stage. Clinton has already lamented Obama’s ‘doctrine’ of ‘strategic patience’ as not worthy of a ‘great nation’ and the campaign will no doubt be filled with hubristic reassertions of America’s ‘greatness.’ Whatever happens, the election will make for compelling drama over the next 11 months.

Image: Donald Trump speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February 2015, via wikimedia commons.

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