It’s been one of the dirtiest, most headline-grabbing US elections ever. But now it’s time to forget the scandal and find out what we can expect from either result
Words: Gaby Hinsliff
It was never going to be a dull presidential race. Yet few predicted Hillary Clinton vs Donald Trump would end up being quite so combative. With its sexual harassment scandals, email accusations, epic Twitter beefs and threats to build a wall along the Mexican border, the battle for the White House has occasionally verged on the surreal. But in the end it came down to two things: sex, and money. His seeming inability to treat women with respect, her rich friends on Wall Street, and Americans’ confusion over which they disliked most, with the politics seeming to take a distant back seat.
Of course, the race actually began with three horses. Bernie Sanders was a popular choice for the Democratic candidate (celebrities from Emily Ratajkowski to Susan Sarandon pinned their colours to his mast) but he was eventually defeated by Clinton at the final primary election. And with that, the two main contenders emerged: a 69-year-old ex-lawyer from Chicago with liberal views on immigration and reproductive rights; and a billionaire reality TV star in his 70s with an extensive hotel portfolio and a penchant for professional wrestling.
At first the two played consummate politicians, laying the foundations for the arduous months of campaigning ahead of them. But it soon dissolved into public name- calling and mud-slinging. Trump hauled Clinton over hot coals for Bill’s past infidelities, and encouraged his supporters to stop her by “exercising their gun rights”. Clinton accused Trump of helping hate groups to become mainstream and labelled him a “rabid anti-woman individual”.
Read more: Beyoncé backs Hillary Clinton for President
Indeed, even before tapes surfaced of Trump boasting about “grabbing women by the pussy”, forcing him to deny allegations by 12 different women of inappropriate sexual behaviour, many female voters were alarmed by his treatment of women during the campaign – rating female celebrities on their bodies, humiliating female reporters, mansplaining and interrupting in debates.
Clinton weathered a storm of her own too – being blindsided by the 11th hour news that the FBI were re-opening an investigation into whether her use of a private email server to handle work emails posed a security risk. Nevermind all the personal attacks – being accused of smiling too little, too much or too oddly to be liked; being both too weak to be president (after falling ill on the campaign trail) and too tough; a “nasty woman” in Trump’s words. “Women of all ages expect Hillary to be perfect, but we all define that differently,” says writer and political strategist Joanne Bamberger, who argues that she was asked to meet impossibly high expectations while on the campaign trail.
It’s been one of the most memorable, tightly fought battles in political history but as with any election, the closing weeks are arguably the most crucial and they have seen Clinton inching ahead in most polls – not all.
And while the victor will prove a huge deal for the US (Clinton says she’s the only thing standing between Trump and Armageddon; Trump says the world would dissolve into war under a Clinton presidency), they will have a big impact on the UK too. So whether it’s Mr or Mrs President announced victorious today, here’s our guide on what to expect from the new president heading to the White House in January.
Hello Mrs President…
Here’s what to expect if Hillary Clinton is announced the 45th President of the United States (if Trump wins, weep and ignore this)
As well as having a strong feminist slant and publicly championing LGBT and minority rights, Clinton’s campaign focused heavily on her extensive political experience. Indeed, she was Barack Obama’s secretary of state for four tough years and she knows White House life inside out from her years as First Lady. That makes her more qualified than Obama or husband Bill were when they ran for office. But with the FBI email scandal swirling, Clinton will undoubtedly have to spend her first weeks in office ‘clearing her name’. Here’s how she will run America.
Impact on the UK
Former British Foreign Secretary William Hague got to know Clinton well when she was his opposite number in the Obama administration, and despite having quit politics, has been advising old colleagues on how to handle her.
In the UK, Theresa May’s priority will be to try and show Britain can thrive outside Europe by striking its own deal with the US on trade. “Hillary will want to get some early accomplishments in and one of the easiest is a free trade deal with Britain,” says political blogger Tim Montgomerie. “I think Hillary will be reasonable, and encourage Europe and Britain to do a deal.”
Senior Democrats like to point out American foreign policy was stronger when Clinton left the State Department than when she arrived, and she has vast experience, being integral in several high profile successes, from the killing of Osama Bin Laden to helping secure $21billion in federal aid to help New York after 9/11. Now, she has pledged to defeat ISIS by taking out their strongholds in Iraq and Syria, and to ‘stand up’ to Russian president Vladimir Putin, now moving in on countries, like Syria, where the US no longer wants to get involved. But since nobody wants World War Three (foreign policy in the US has a huge impact on political tensions across the globe), she’ll need to show Putin she means business without escalating things too far.
American women don’t currently get the right to maternity leave – something Clinton’s vowed to change, introducing a right to three months off after a newborn, plus help with childcare bills and action on the pay gap. She’s also urged employers to consider flexible working policies, like working from home – things she encouraged as a boss in the Department of State. It’s a big part of her offer to younger women, but also signals a change in American office culture.
Women’s right to choose
Clinton is pro-choice, and will defend women’s access to abortion against repeated attempts to undermine it. (Currently, except in cases of rape, incest or danger to life, many states refuse public funding for abortion or don’t allow terminations after 20 weeks.) Under a pro-life president (like Trump would have been) such restrictions could be rolled out nationwide, especially if they put pro-life judges on the Supreme Court, America’s ultimate lawmaking body (in the US, the president has to push all decisions through Congress and the Supreme Court, often with limited success).
Clinton’s stance will meanwhile be a relief not just for American pro-choicers, but to UK abortion clinics, increasingly worried about protests from US-style pro-life groups. More broadly, Clinton has experience in speaking out for women around the world. While leading the State Department she made gender equality a priority of US foreign policy and created an ambassador at large for global women’s issues.
Clinton says she will raise taxes on millionaires, create jobs and build an economy that works for everyone, using some of the money raised from taxing the top 1% to fund free college education for poorer families. Welcome news to middle-class Americans who feel they were left behind by the super-rich – but right-wing critics say her tax rises threaten economic growth, while left-wing ones think she hasn’t gone far enough. Ultimately, her choice of economic policy advisers will be crucial, with the Democrats’ rising star, senator Elizabeth Warren, said to be pushing for Clinton to pick a radical who’ll stand up to big business.
Victory for Clinton would be a crucial milestone for black and Latino Americans, and not just because she’s promising ‘humane’ immigration laws and a rebuilding of trust with the police after the recent shootings of black Americans.
The pool of ethnic minority voters in America is forecast to grow faster than that of white voters, which works in the Democrats favour. If Trump can’t win this time on an anti-immigrant ticket, it is only going to get harder for future Republican candidates to do so. In short, if Clinton wins, the benefits for legal immigrants globally could be felt for years to come.
Who else do we get?
Clinton will now have 10 weeks to pick her administration before taking the reins in January. All eyes will be on what she does with the ‘First Gentleman’. When Bill was president, he controversially asked his wife to handle healthcare reforms, and she’s hinted at returning the favour by getting him to help ‘revitalise’ rundown inner cities. But she’ll want to avoid any suggestion of him being a backseat driver.
Close aide Huma Abedin – the ‘mini-Hillary’ who knows her mind better than anyone – was expected to play a crucial role but may be too damaged by the ‘sexting’ scandal surrounding her estranged husband, ex-congressman Anthony Weiner. Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg, meanwhile, has denied rumours she’ll take a cabinet job – but Clinton is clearly keen on some high-profile female appointments.
The special relationship: Clinton and May
Oh to be a fly on the wall when Clinton meets May. Who doesn’t want to see two women who for years were patronised and underestimated – and all too often, judged on their clothes, not their ideas – having the last laugh together? That first public handshake will be a powerfully symbolic moment – an inspiration to little girls everywhere – and you can imagine them bonding over their experiences of breaking the glass ceiling. But politically, do they have much in common? Tories traditionally hanker for Republican presidents but many will probably be relieved if it’s Democrat Clinton, seeing her as someone Britain can at least do business with. It won’t be easy, however.
Clinton warned that voting for Brexit would reduce our influence in Washington – since we’d no longer be the obvious bridge between America and the EU – so she may look around for new friends in Europe. If Angela Merkel gets invited to the White House before May, alarm bells will ring in Westminster.
Hello Mr President…
Here’s what to expect if Donald Trump is announced the 45th President of the United States (if Clinton wins, cheer and ignore this)
Trump has gone from being treated like a joke – the orange-skinned businessman-turned-reality-TV-star with the crazy ideas – to scaring both the Democrat and Republican establishments witless, because nothing they did was capable of stopping him. He’s proven you can come from nowhere, with no political experience and ideas that would once have seemed wildly extreme, to run rings around experienced rivals. Of course, he won’t be the first former screen-star to have a say in running the nation (with predecessors in Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor of California and former film star Ronald Reagan as president). But now President Trump is in power, the shockwaves will be felt worldwide, as everyone wonders where the next uprising against the establishment might be brewing. Here’s what to expect from the man nobody saw coming.
Impact on the UK
He talks a tough game on ISIS, offering to “just bomb those suckers… there would be nothing left” and to bring back waterboarding (which became illegal with the adoption of the third Geneva Convention of 1929) for terror suspects.
But if anything, America under Trump will probably go to war less often, since he says he’s against regime change – which means no more invasions to topple a government, like in Iraq or Libya – and would seek to ‘get along’ with his friend, Russia’s Vladimir Putin. That might sound peaceable, but the fear is that he won’t defend countries along the Russian border (like Ukraine) from invasion and that ultimately countries like Britain would need to spend more on defence, because we couldn’t always expect the US army to ride to our rescue. In terms of Brexit, Trump famously hailed Britain’s decision to leave the EU as a “great victory”, arguing that it was a response to the world’s immigration crisis.
Trump’s big offer to women is to give them more choice over whether they work or not after having children. His daughter Ivanka, a mother of three, helped devise his plan to let parents earning less than $250,000 (£206,000) offset the cost of childcare against their tax bills – potentially saving hundreds of dollars a year.
But what sets this apart from the many other countries offering help with nursery bills is that stay-at-home parents could claim the equivalent amount for looking after their kids themselves. “I’m hearing wow,” Trump announced, unveiling the plan at a rally. If it happens, expect a big campaign back in the UK for a better deal for stay-at-home parents.
Women’s right to choose
Trump used to be pro-choice, but now says he’s changed his mind and opposes abortion. He argued on the campaign trail that women who have terminations should be “punished” and has indicated he will seek to overturn Roe v Wade, the landmark decision legalising abortion in America – so laws on abortion would be decided by individual states. Expect pro-life supporters here to be seriously emboldened from here on in.
Trump says he will “make America great again” and create 25 million jobs by slashing taxes, scrapping regulations on business (like measures to combat climate change) and getting tough with China. He’s gambling on this triggering speedy economic growth to fund expensive promises like his childcare plans. But if it doesn’t work (bearing in mind his tax plans were dubbed “pie in the sky nonsense” by William G Gale, co-director of US thinktank the Tax Policy Center) his government will have to borrow heavily, and his plans could unravel fast. History suggests that’s bad news for major trading partners, including Britain.
Famously, Trump promised to build a concrete wall 50ft high between the US and Mexico – at Mexico’s expense – to keep out immigrants he controversially described as “bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” He has also threatened to temporarily ban Muslims entering – although after warnings it would be unworkable, he promised instead to suspend immigration from politically volatile countries and introduce ‘extreme vetting’ for Muslims – and to deport 11 million illegal immigrants.
It goes without saying, this would be difficult in practice. Experts say deportations could cost up to £329billion, while some immigrants can’t be sent home as their countries of origin won’t take them. Mexico’s president is refusing to fund the wall and Trump will struggle to get a billion-pound project full of practical snags through Congress (Congress has powers to authorise budgets or decisions to go to war, but can also make a President stand trial for serious crimes like corruption or treason).
The fact that he’s been elected on these promises, even if they don’t actually happen, will boost anti-immigration parties globally from France’s neo-fascist Front National to our UKIP.
Who else do we get?
With senior Republicans saying that they wouldn’t vote for him after the sexual assault allegations, Trump may have to look harder than usual to fill his cabinet. But expect rewards for Ben Carson, a former presidential contender, and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani after they stuck by him. And Kellyanne Conway, the mother of four drafted in to manage his campaign and help win over women, could expect a big job behind the scenes. He’s also hinted at a job for Hope Hicks, the 27-year-old who had no experience of politics before she became his press secretary.
The special relationship: Trump and May
While Trump may have bonded with one British politician, the bad news for Downing Street is it’s UKIP’s Nigel Farage, who flew out to speak at a Trump rally this summer (though he did backtrack on his support after the groping allegations).
Trump’s relations with the Tories, meanwhile, are pretty frosty. Back when it looked as if he didn’t really stand a chance of winning, David Cameron famously called his threat to stop Muslims entering the US “divisive, stupid and wrong” – while the current Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson once snapped that “the only reason I wouldn’t visit some parts of New York is the real risk of meeting Donald Trump”. Ahem.
But while it’s hard to imagine the morally upright vicar’s daughter Theresa May having natural chemistry with chauvinistic Trump, she’s pragmatic enough to look for ways of making it work. That’s why her ministers were told over the summer to stop expressing opinions on the presidential race.
And if nothing else, he’s a fan of Brexit. Perhaps he can give us some pointers on how exactly to make it work?
Photography: iStock, Rex