By James Fuller, an executive vice president and head of the H+K U.S. public affairs practice. This is the first in a series of analysis and commentary to come from Hill+Knowlton Strategies public affairs counselors and political experts regarding the U.S. election.
Not one political or media pundit predicted this outcome. Donald Trump: Congratulations.
Donald Trump rode a wave of anti-establishment anger to win what is perhaps the ugliest and most exhausting presidential election in history. This is our 90-second initial read on what the election of Donald Trump means for America and beyond.
This morning, the post-election process of poring through election returns and exit polls begins as Americans try to explain what is widely acknowledged to be a shocking election result. The news media and Washington are awash with data, but very few had predicted this outcome. The political lessons from yesterday’s results are just beginning to emerge. And to be sure, the failure of nearly all media and the vast majority of political pollsters to predict this outcome will get a thorough examination.
It will take weeks (if not months or years) to interpret what voters were communicating with their votes. Clearly there is anger and distrust across the country. However, even though Republicans have won unified control of U.S. policymaking and President Trump has won a solid victory, the country remains deeply divided by class, race, gender, and ethnicity. America remains united, but the strength of that unity will be tested as the government transitions to a new leader with new ideas.
The world waits with bated breath to see how a Trump presidency will impact a fragile global economy, the world’s political order and the internal divisions that have been laid bare throughout this election campaign.
We can assure you that each and every major media organization is working feverishly to rewrite the first draft of history with respect to this election. We are doing the same. But setting aside broad musings about the direction of the country, we begin with the question facing every person, business, and institution: What does a Donald Trump presidency mean? And, what does it mean for me?
The People Have Spoken
1) American voters are disgusted with Washington politics. Period. And many of these Americans – if not the majority of these Americans – felt left behind. They were just not being heard. It took a reality TV star, a billionaire real estate mogul, to understand and move that message forward. Nonetheless, this election has illustrated loudly and clearly that far too many people in America are feeling our country has left them behind, and they are sick of it. On Tuesday, they spoke out, many for the first time ever.
2) Traditional mass media and political polls have lost all credibility. It had already done so with Trump voters, while Clinton voters who still consulted mainstream media like The Washington Post, The New York Times, or hometown news outlets first thing every morning, will likely now feel misled (or even betrayed) and will board the bandwagon. Social media is now king. This president will communicate differently, and the role of media in upcoming policy debates as well as in future presidential elections may never be the same.
(We note that this loss of faith in media may well be indicative of a broader loss of faith in other traditional institutions – the business community included. This is a concern that begs, and will receive, further analysis).
3) Russia. China. Syria. Iraq. Mexico. They are listening and watching. Is the election of Donald Trump good for American international relations? Time will tell. But let us be clear: These countries are listening and each of them will pay more attention to what is said by our president-elect than ever before, most probably in the history of our nation, for better or for worse.
4) This was a class election – not a party election. By putting so much emphasis on courting older white males lacking a college degree, Trump has been able to tap into and mobilize an electorate that is angry, disenchanted, and feels left behind. These individuals and their families felt, for one of the first times in presidential election history, that they could not deliver the American dream to their children. Indeed, they may have felt this way because they saw their parents fail to do so. And they rallied together, below the survey radar, and demanded a new direction. Will the solutions from the new government meet the test of these voters? How will other voters respond to a new focus and the possible elimination of programs or rights they have come to expect?
5) President Trump promised to “Drain the swamp,” a term broadly applied to anyone who has held power for the past 30 years. However, voters returned many of the same representatives back to power. Though the balance of power has shifted, many of the players remain the same – at least for the time being. The bigger question now is how will they work together? Will new leaders emerge – will familiar ones survive? Is there any hope for bipartisanship?
The Battle Ahead
Ok. So let’s talk about policy. What will Donald trump’s first 100 days look like? Here is a guess at this early moment:
Trump will make it clear that America wants China, Mexico and several other trade partners to know that change is on its way. Trump believes our trade imbalance needs correcting and he will move aggressively on that front.
The Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare” will be repealed. There is simply no way out of that happening at some level. What Trump will do to help reform our broken healthcare system – that is left to be learned.
Tax reform, or something like it, is on the horizon. Trump understands what it means to be a corporate taxpayer. He also believes that Americans are paying far too much in federal taxes. With a majority Republican House and Senate, significant changes to the tax code may be on the way.
While the implications of yesterday’s results will continue to take shape, the full impact of the presidential campaign itself will become clearer moving forward. Deep fundamental questions remain about how the business community and the body politic will respond to the events of this historic election season, and over the next few weeks, our team of public affairs counselors and political experts will begin to unpack the impact of the 2016 election and how it changes the public affairs and communications landscape. Starting next week, you can expect new insights from some of the industry’s top minds as we look to better understand the now-shifted public affairs arena. Here are some early key takeaways we plan to address:
- Continued disruption in the way voters get information: Where do we go from here? Presidential elections have always been a communications laboratory of innovation and disruption, and this year was no exception. While the national campaigns – particularly Trump’s – brought the use of social media to a new level in driving the conversation – the mainstream media struggled to react and adapt. Moving forward, the media will have to answer to an electorate who seemingly lost the faith in the Fourth Estate. The related truth is that those who leverage media relations as a tool for social and policy influence will have to stay ahead of that curve in order to maintain relevance and effectiveness.
- Throughout the election season, the right and left flanks of the parties made their voices heard. How will the parties adapt, and what will this mean for a policy agenda moving forward? President-elect Trump and the GOP leadership in Congress will have to juggle competing policy agendas within their own parties. This will have wide-ranging implications from presidential appointments to the battle lines that party leaders in Congress pick. We’ll look at early positioning and posit what this may mean for any possibility of compromise moving forward.
- With a single party in power in Washington, what does the landscape look like at the state and local level? While the House, Senate and administration will now be under the command of one party, this race also impacted numerous state legislatures and governorships. We’ll take a deeper look at down-ballot races and initiatives and discuss implications for businesses, and explore possible new legal and political impacts on public policy.
- Across the board, there is increasing anxiety – or outright anger – around the impacts of globalization. How will this be addressed? Many of the issues that loomed largest this year were directly related to the impacts of globalization. From immigration to trade to national security, both parties put major stakes in the ground during the campaign. We’ll look at the practical implications of this and what to look for in the next Congress.
- What can business and government do to rebuild their relationships with their public stakeholders and thereby guarantee continued license to operate? Over the last several years, business and government have come under increasing attack, being perceived as “part of the problem” rather than “part of the solution.” Last night was perhaps the most stunning example of that trend. In many cases, business and political leaders have lost the trust of their own communities and lost credibility to speak on important public policy matters. Businesses will need to reframe their engagement in communities to rebuild that trust as will political leaders. Both need to forge more effective and more authentic relationships with communities to ensure they continue to have a license to operate and continue to provide the policy ideas and economic engine that drives those communities.
Cutting Through The Noise
We recognize that as we share this initial set of thoughts, you are likely besieged with assessment and analysis. Some of it will add value to your business. Some of it will be clutter.
That is why we invite you to engage with us in this process – call us, email us, tweet in our general direction – with your questions of policy direction and political impact. The advent of a new presidential administration is always an entry into unfamiliar territory to some degree. This election has led us to a strange new land to a degree we have not experienced recently in the U.S. Will that continue, or will the trappings of the Republic and the watchful eyes of an uncertain nation rein in any impulses for radical change?
We are confident our team of experts, in dialogue with you, can continue doing what we have always done – look around the corner so that you can more quickly identify public affairs threats and opportunities and more effectively manage them.