How will the US election process impact on the trans-Atlantic relationship and global economy

It’s been nearly a year since a prominent U.S. presidential candidate laid out his now-infamous border-wall plan for Mexico, delivered in a tidy package of anger and fear laced with an undertone of racism. At the time, it seemed improbable that any Western politician could expect to survive long in today’s political milieu. Yet, surprisingly, the opposite has proven true. The reason for it is as timeworn as it is alarming. Large segments of society are dissatisfied and found a degree of political salvation in populist slogans championed by those vying for the Presidency of a country that still holds global primacy. Whether candidates are bellowing about building walls or tearing down Wall Street, the mainstream appeal of these messages carry implications for the global business community and the values that underpin our trans-Atlantic relationship. Indeed, it doesn’t even really matter whether these candidates win the ultimate prize.

Unprecedented digital connectivity can share, amplify and incite such comments with the simple swipe of a finger. It’s no secret that thanks to the ever-growing sophistication and ubiquity of the Internet, the world is much more closely knit. The mystery and fascination of meeting anyone face to face appears to have vanished. There will never be another Nixon visit to China, or the profound symbolism of John F. Kennedy proclaiming “ich bin ein Berliner.” Physical borders, time zones and language differences are no longer impediments to the forging of relationships or the changing of status quo. So, shouldn’t it thus stand to reason that we’d also be less susceptible to populist taglines and hardline platforms given extraordinary access to information and knowledge?

Apparently not. In recent years, rather than increased compassion, a rocky global economy and seemingly constant human suffering in various parts of the world seem to have warped our core values. It’s definitely not unique to the United States, as I’ve witnessed first-hand in my home country of Hungary and throughout Europe. Have we become so ‘super-saturated’ with blow-by-blow news reports and outrageous political-candidate tweets – indeed, from those expected to protect our very core values and civil liberties - that we no longer see as shameless?

Yet as the U.S. election cycle has continued – and the Syrian-refugee crisis has gradually succumbed to the digital equivalent of the back pages of most news sites – it is clear to see why candidates will continue to exploit these tactics. It is for the same reason that charisma, promissory speeches, blame-absolving one-liners are so compelling for the demos: Scapegoating, that time-tested apparent cure for whatever ails a society at any given time, is universally appealing. It is something America and Europe have in common, but all too often deepens the wedge between us.

So what does this mean for business and our trans-Atlantic partnership?  An angry electorate make spending decisions based on the goods they purchase, the services they seek and where they travel. “Made in China” has started to harm sales. Travel to Mexico is on a sharp decline. Angry constituents influence the behavior of local politicians who ultimately make real decisions affecting foreign policy and the global economy. If politicians don’t play to the angry crowd they risk being out of a job. The current rancor over trade and tariffs, not seen since the 1920s, is a dangerous portend of what may come. Neither America nor Europe want a repeat of what followed in the 1930s.

This is by no means to say that the United States, long the globe’s most generous country when it comes to foreign aid, should alone shoulder the task of effecting necessary worldwide change. But in some ways the damage from this presidential primary election will need to be undone, and will have an enormous effect on all continents for more than just the next four years of the Presidential mandate. The task at hand now is to try to shake off this growing indifference we seem to have adopted and instead do our part to harness a constructive, consensus-based, multilateral means of change. It will be good for our shared democracy, or trans-Atlantic partnership and, indeed, for all citizens in our global economy.

Edit Herczog

Edit Herczog has more than 30 years of experience in corporate communications, public affairs and government relations and served for 10 years (2004-2014) as a member of the European Parliament from Hungary. Read More