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TRAVEL HACK’S WORLD MARTIN FERGUSON


Our new columnist reports from Washington DC, where today’s political hot potato reflects the highs and lows of democracy...


THE TRUMP CARD O


n both sides of the Atlantic, the greatest


democratic leaders


have shared many common traits: vision, diplomacy and determination. Most notably from the US were Abraham Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson; Clement Attlee and Winston Churchill would, perhaps, be our poster boys on this side of the water. Not one of these men could boast the backing of an entire electorate. They did not wield the uncompromising power of despots and dictators. But each had the nous to unite people within the parameters of their political system. In short: they knew how to get things done.


POLLS APART In November, citizens of the United States will vote for their 45th president. So, last month, I packed my thermal long johns and a few notepads, and travelled to Washington DC, where I spent a week interviewing political operators from both sides of the aisle. Senior Senate staffers, lobbyists and consultants were keen to share their views. Opinions on most topics were relatively polarised: it certainly wasn’t difficult to tell the Blues (Democrats) from the Reds (Republicans). However, there was one issue on which everyone, almost without exception, was united: Donald Trump. His profound narcissism and bullyboy tactics make him,


50 BBT JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2016


Nothing boosts viewing figures and newspaper sales like a trash-talking celebrity


effectively, unelectable in the eyes of serious political commentators. “People who have always gotten their own way do not understand diplomacy,” said one Democratic lobbyist. But, there is growing apprehension among the political class. The Trump circus should have ended before Christmas, yet as I write this column he remains the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. Rank-and-file Democrats


are, for the most part, rubbing their hands with glee. If Trump


defies expectations to win the nomination, polling suggests Hillary Clinton would be a shoo-in to the White House. However, there are serious concerns across both parties about the media traction Trump has gained. Nothing boosts viewing figures and newspaper sales like a trash- talking celebrity – but his litany of gaffes hasn’t harmed him as many would hope. Trump has insulted Hispanics, African Americans, women, the disabled and war veterans; and all this before he called for Muslims to be banned from entering the US. This last affront sent the world’s media into meltdown, but his poll ratings held steady.


POWER SHIFT I asked each interviewee what it would mean for the US and beyond if Trump were to end up leader of the Free World. One Republican told me: “In the absence of a true statesman [in the White House] our influence and popularity on the global stage would slowly evaporate. A shift in economic power from West to East has already started. A Trump administration would expedite the weakening of our economy.”


The US is slowly losing its grip on global economic power. China now has the world’s largest economy. India is not far behind. We know from Global Business Travel Association research that business travel to and


within China, India and south- east Asia continues to grow exponentially. If the US wants to retain influence it will need respected leaders capable of diplomacy. Step back, Donald.


BUT WHAT IF... Imagine if he were to win, though: surely the world would respect the will of the American people – isn’t that what democracy is about? The modern democratic process is not perfect, especially for those who want to get things done. Last year former Labour spin-doctor Alastair Campbell recounted a story about a meeting in Dubai with businessmen from Russia, the Middle East and China. He said when it came to capital infrastructure projects, such as airports, there were no obstacles for these countries. If the ruling party gave the green light, the diggers would move in immediately. The UK – a beacon of democracy worldwide – is lame in comparison. The country has waited for a decision on a third runway at Heathrow for more years than it cares to remember. The latest delay yet again flags up the weakness of our system.


But would we swap what we have for a Russian- or Chinese-style regime? My guess is most of us would take a democratically-elected Trump every time. But as we look to the future, the UK, Europe and America must find ways to compete in a global economy increasingly dominated by those unencumbered by democratic process.


Martin Ferguson is a freelance journalist, communications consultant and event moderator.


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