Donald vs Hillary – Who's Better For Malta?
It all depends on what you care about most...
It’s been an election season unlike anything we’ve ever witnessed before, with two of the most unlikeable presidential candidates in the history of US elections trading blows for what now seems like an eternity. On the one hand, you’ve got a walking meme of corporate fat cat America: an orange-tinted, red-power-tie-wearing, loud-mouthed, narcissistic sociopath. On the other, the embodiment of everything that people love to hate about politics: a rapacious, opportunistic, pay-for-play career politician who represents another four years of establishment politics.
We’ve endured blatant xenophobia, big beautiful walls, extra-marital affairs, Wikileaks, Donald Trump’s penis, emails, bragging about sexual assault, FBI investigations, Anthony Wiener’s penis, more emails, hidden speeches, hidden tax returns, and some more emails. One might be forgiven for wondering: out of 320 million eligible citizens, were these really the two best candidates that America could come up with?
One way or another, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be president-elect next week. And it’s about time we begin to consider what each outcome could potentially mean for Malta and the European Union. While most policy issues affect Maltese citizens only indirectly (and what goes for Malta generally goes for the EU), the world tends to catch a cold when America sneezes, so it is right that we pay attention. Let’s look at the most pressing issues.
Living and Working in the United States
It should come as no surprise to anyone that the candidates have fairly opposed views when it comes to immigration, with Trump being for building a wall and applying vigorous screening on prospective immigrants, while Clinton pushing for immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship for immigrants and their families.
For EU citizens, over the last few years it has become notoriously difficult to remain in the US for anything longer than 3 months if you’re a tourist (through the ESTA visa waiver programme), or for the length of your studies if you’re pursuing a university degree. Working in the US generally means applying for an H1B visa, which for foreign-educated workers is capped at 65,000 slots per year. In some years applications have been five times this amount, resulting in an in-out lottery that takes place once a year. Clinton has been more vocal about H1B reform, proposing automatic green cards for immigrants undertaking US STEM degrees (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), as well as passing into law the “startup visa” programme, a concept conceived under the Obama administration that grants visas to entrepreneurs coming to the country to build businesses that would ultimately create jobs and support the economy.
Trump’s position is less clear: he has gone on ad nauseam about putting Americans first and curbing foreigners from taking American jobs, but his rhetoric also suggests that he is more interested in resisting downward pressure on minimum wages and protecting lower-skilled jobs from going to foreigners than in curbing all forms of immigration altogether. Higher-skilled hopeful immigrants should at best expect an extension of the H1B programme under a Trump presidency; at worst, status quo. In any case, Clinton’s presidency will undoubtedly be more immigration-friendly than Trump’s.
Who's better for Malta: Clinton. She's more immigration-friendly than Trump, and more likely to continue Obama's drive towards encouraging talent to the country.
"Clinton’s presidency will undoubtedly be more immigration-friendly than Trump’s"
For those of us interested in America’s role in the world, the US election provides us with two contrasting, seemingly counter-intuitive, outcomes. While Democrats have traditionally been the more dovish party when it comes to foreign interventionism, Clinton is undoubtedly a foreign policy hawk. She supported the Iraq war and took a leading role in the US air campaign in Libya. Under her administration, one can almost certainly expect an extension of America’s involvement in the Syrian clusterfuck civil war, with the imposition of a no-fly zone and potentially even boots on the ground. Given America’s seemingly inescapable ability to screw up every belligerent foreign policy initiative since 9/11, this means more destroyed homes, more displaced refugees, and more “collateral damage”, and in a worst case scenario a direct altercation with Russia. Expect increased pressure on the EU to take in more refugees, and with it, the continued rise of far-right wing parties and blanket xenophobia.
A Donald Trump presidency is worrying not for his hawkishness, but his inexperience. He has rightly criticised the Iraq War as an unmitigated disaster, and spoken about spending less on wars and more on domestic infrastructure. Despite his “nothing off the table” rhetoric and alleged admiration for Vladimir Putin, it is unlikely that he will commit the US to another protracted war, and one should expect high-ranking military officials to stay his hand whenever his childish insecurities inevitably emerge. However, his nonchalance in handling questions on the campaign trail about NATO and nuclear policy betray a deeply-rooted insensitivity to the subtleties of foreign diplomacy, and as such, the potential for a diplomatic misstep is not insignificant.
Who's better for Malta: Tied. Clinton has the experience but she's trigger-happy, which normally doesn't bode well for European involvement in wars we should never be a part of.
"[Trump] has rightly criticised the Iraq War as an unmitigated disaster, and spoken about spending less on wars and more on domestic infrastructure. [It's] unlikely that he will commit the US to another protracted war"
The contrast between the two positions here could not be starker. Clinton supports the Paris Agreement and considers climate change to be a threat to American security.
Trump believes it is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese to make US manufacturing non-competitive, and has stated that he would unilaterally withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement if elected.
Who's better for Malta: Clinton. Climate change is real, and even though the jury is still out on how to tackle it, complacency and finger-pointing won't solve anything.
The trade agreements that have dominated the campaign trail discourse have been NAFTA (the North American trade deal which Clinton’s husband, Bill, signed into law when he was president, and which Trump calls the worst deal the US has ever entered into) and TPP (the Pacific trade deal which Clinton has flip-flopped over but which she would likely support if elected).
Trade deals generally further a globalised agenda that hurts workers in high-wage jurisdictions but benefit internationally-minded corporations (the US has spades of both, which is were the crux lies) – Clinton is a corporation-friendly globalist while Trump is a protectionist demagogue. As far as the EU goes, they’ve been working on a trade deal with the US for 3 years now (called the TTIP) - it’s already pretty much dead in the water, and will almost certainly be killed off under a Trump presidency.
Who's better for Malta: Tied. The trade deals on the table are not European-focused, and after the battering trade deals received in general on the campaign trail, it is almost impossible that any deals will happen with Europe any time soon, by either candidate.
"The choice that Americans face are whether to elect a politically inexperienced real estate and TV-show personality, or a deeply unlikeable opportunist"
All of this sounds like an incredibly gloomy, and that’s largely because it is. Both sides ran campaigns that focused less on the issues and more on ad hominem attacks on their opponent’s personalities.
The choice that Americans face are whether to elect a politically inexperienced real estate and TV-show personality, or a deeply unlikeable opportunist who will likely be a lame duck president from the get go in a Republican-controlled congress. This really is a lesser of two evils election. Clinton should get the nod purely because a Trump presidency is unthinkable, though with the Donald catching up in the polls with days to go, a Brexit-effect scenario could see him over the line on election day.
For the rest of us looking on, all we can do is hope that it’s once bitten, twice shy.