Now that financial markets have gotten over their initial shock, a more optimistic take on the unexpected election of Donald Trump as the US president is gaining currency. The argument is that the damage he might do will be less than his rhetoric suggested because: (a) Once he is in power, he will tone down his professed policies and become more pragmatic; (b) He will surround himself with competent officials who will craft sensible policies; (c) The US political system of divided government will check and balance him. We disagree. The election of Trump will pose immense risks for Asia.

Checks and balances won’t be enough to prevent policies detrimental to Asia
First, he may well walk away from some of the policy suggestions that are unworkable such as building a wall on the Mexican border and getting Mexico to pay for it. But, armed with what will seem to him as a clear and strong mandate from the people, he will feel empowered to carry out enough of his controversial policies to create some disruption, however gracious and statesmanlike his victory speech was.

Second, he may well have some competent cabinet secretaries, but he will probably also have a few highly controversial ones who share his views. George W Bush had cabinet secretaries and senior officials who were sharp, experienced and highly competent, but they still dragged the US into two disastrous wars and oversaw the worst financial crisis since the 1930s. The judgement, instincts and personality of the president matter immensely and on these scores, we cannot be optimistic.

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