The United States is entering a new stage in its history. Although it continues to be the leading world power, it turned out not to be immune to volatility and changes. Even worse, the changes have caught the American elite by surprise. Neither Hillary Clinton, nor Donald Trump, the two major parties’ presidential candidates, offer a program to resolve the structural problems of the country, and are themselves symptoms of these problems. Therefore, regardless of the outcome of the presidential election, uncertainty will continue to be the main feature of the United States’ political life. Taking into account the special position of the United States in the world, this uncertainty will spill over onto global processes and make an already complex picture even more complicated.
The electoral cycle of 2016 in the United States coincided with the aggravation of the two main challenges. In international life, symptoms of denying the United States’ global leadership became more apparent. However, more dangerous are the exposed threats to internal stability of the American political system. Anti-elite sentiments and protest votes have overturned the electoral picture of America and threaten to go beyond the political arena. The American elites were not ready for this challenge. That is why Robert Legvold, an American political scientist, calls the current time “an era of small minds.”
Regardless of its political program, the new US president will be held hostage by several major problems, which he or she cannot dismiss.
First, the new president will have to respond to public demand for social progress and more equitable distribution of wealth. Failure to meet these requests will cause radicalization on the “left” flank.
Second, he or she will have to form a new national consensus between the waning white majority and numerous minorities. The white population of America, including the majority of women, support Donald Trump, while the color population is almost entirely on the side of Hillary Clinton. Even in the case of defeat, the “Trump policy” will not leave the stage because it is demanded by society. The failure of the national consensus formation would lead to radicalization on the “right” flank.
Third, the White House will have to look for ways to overcome the anti-elite attitudes in society and respond to the “request for authenticity.” The elite will have to re-invent itself, abandoning the political mainstream of the last decades, including outsiders into its membership.
Finally, the key challenge will be to answer the question: What does the American leadership in the 21st century mean and how many resources the United States is ready to allocate to maintain its dominance? The painful awareness of the world influence weakening can cause a shock reaction inside the elites.
In addition to these tasks, the next president’s initiative will be hampered by a number of serious internal political constraints.
The first circumstance will be the deep political rift exacerbated by the aggressive rhetoric of the presidential candidates. Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump will have a full-scale popular mandate. Internal political problems will absorb the attention of the new president more than foreign policy issues.
The Republican majority in Congress will be equally critical to both candidates. If Donald Trump wins, he will face political sabotage by the Democrats. In case of Trump’s presidency failure, the Republicans will be hostile to him by the end of his term, pushing a new person for the next elections.
The new presidency will be marred by criminal prosecutions. The Republicans will demand to investigate Clinton’s handling of classified information and funding of the Democratic campaign from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Ukraine. The Democrats, in turn, will seek to prosecute Trump for tax evasion and sexual harassment.
Under the worst-case scenario, the United States can be hit by a constitutional crisis, which will be hard to overcome because of the parity of votes in the Supreme Court and the Republican-dominated Congress blocking the appointment of a new ninth justice.
What can await the US-Russian relations after the election? We have no grounds to forecast the would-be president’s positions on particular international issues. But the United States’ national interests will hardly change significantly as a result of the election. After the administration is formed, the new president will be focused on domestic issues. Foreign policy and relations with Russia will be dependent on the current developments.
Despite his positive public rhetoric, Donald Trump has not made any particular proposals to improve relations with Russia. His presidency means a lot of uncertainty for the bilateral relations. If Trump wins, Republicans from the establishment will join his administration to serve the country’s national interests. As a result, Washington will again be dominated by the bureaucratic apparatus, which formulated the bipartisan consensus on relations with Russia back in the 1990s.
Hillary Clinton, in turn, has many times attacked Russia and even made it part of her campaign by accusing Trump of connections to Vladimir Putin. At the same time, in October 2015, Clinton said that relations with Moscow could become more pragmatic and members of her team openly discussed more flexibility on the issue of sanctions. Even more importantly, according to media leaks, Clinton plans to scale down the massive program of nuclear arsenal upgrade. These moves would be a constructive contribution to the normalization of the Russian-American ties. However, if American intelligence concludes for a variety of reasons that Russia was involved in distortion of the presidential election results, a deep worsening of relations will come.
Most probably, in the next four years the two countries will continue their policies vis-à-vis each other. The trend can vacillate up and down, but it makes sense for Moscow and Washington to keep it plain. This will depend on particular developments in the US-Russian relations, but also in relations between third states.
The Ukrainian crisis put an end to the period when Russia and the West were believed to pursue the common goal of forming a Euro-Atlantic community. The parties do not seek unity any longer. But the anti-Russia sanctions will be gradually lifted, because they have vocal opponents in the United States and the European Union. The Ukrainian crisis pushed Russia toward China, which contradicts America’s long-term interests. One could expect the United States to seek Russia’s support on containing China. Washington will gradually lift sanctions, stimulating Russia to act more in line with the US interests. The Ukrainian issue will gradually recede into the background.
The US-Russian relations cannot be mended by a new “reset”: they need complete reconstruction, not mere renovation. In the coming years, the United States will be too focused on itself for such an undertaking. Therefore, bilateral ties will remain in the present state for quite a long time.