When driving home from the office last night, listening to the same David Bowie compilation CD that I seem unable to have ejected since January, I realised I was muttering along to the chorus of This Is Not America. I’m more of a Life on Mars or Sound and Vision kind of guy, but it struck a chord with me in those moments.
I found myself thinking about the race to the White House, the apparent mud-slinging battle that’s been waged for what feels like much of 2016, and the seeming dearth of more credible, dynamic candidates to run – and I thought to myself, this is not America, is it? What will the America of tomorrow look like?
I can’t help thinking we’re in an almost unprecedented period of uncertainty the world over, where extremism and anti-establishment uprisings are filling the void of progressive politics built on sound policies and reasoned thinking.
Maybe it has always been this way. Perhaps it is cyclical. If so, I’m thankfully young enough to have missed out on periods like these in the past; my first such experience was the largely unforeseen ‘Brexit’ here in the UK this summer. Concurrently there’s been the continued rise of Donald Trump through the political echelons, blazing a unique and capricious election trail that has succeeding in confounding many; Europe has repeatedly pondered the break-up of its once sacred Union as a result of the Brexit; and the balance of peace and power emanating from North Korea grows ever precarious.
These are tense, often unpredictable times.
In just over 24 hours, we will know who has prevailed in the battle for White House, who will be widely acknowledged as the ‘leader of the free world’ for the next four years. The polls ahead of this year’s Brexit vote taught many of us to firmly expect the unexpected. Yet that’s easier said than done.
So many questions remain. Even when the results are in, what do we really know about the effect each candidate might have on the US economy and in turn, the global economy? What do we know about their policies and the expected implications of those? What can we feasibly expect over the next four years?
I have spoken to many learned people about this very topic, both formally and in conversation, and the answer every time seems to be, very little. So many of my American friends and peers simply don’t know what lies ahead. They can’t call it. All have expressed to me a palpable contempt for one candidate in particular (and that’s putting it politely), and yet we continue to hear how the election campaign is so tight it could swing either way on the night. We can’t even expect the unexpected.
“Based on the cast of characters that are involved in the US presidential race and their differing values, it could result in drastically differing priorities”
Worse still, from investment analysts to industrial gas consultants or professionals, none have been able to tell me with any degree of conviction what impact either candidate will have on the country from an economic or industrial point of view.
“Based on the cast of characters that are involved in the US presidential race and their differing values, it could result in drastically differing priorities,” one person told me.
From what little I can gauge from my inquisitions with peers across the Atlantic, it does not appear that any one candidate would be more likely to speed up or slow down a US economy that had been expanding for over 80 months, the third-longest such stint in its history. With a future recession, however minor, widely projected to loom large on the US horizon, it is also unlikely that any one candidate will adversely influence those at the central bank that have likely been examining possible recession triggers for some time now. By the same token, with all policy decisions having to go through the Senate and House of Representatives, the direct power of any leader is limited.
Everything else remains unclear, as I understand it. That goes for the impact on the gases industry too. I could not find one definitive statement or suggestion as to what the American gases industry of tomorrow may look like.
Back in April I wrote that underpinning all of the talk of the Brexit and its impact was a cloud of uncertainty; at the time, no-one seemed to know how the referendum might pan our or what consequence it might have on the industry. When it comes to the latter, the same is (broadly) still true. Likewise, uncertainty prevails in China, in the global steel sector, the LNG business, and the oil markets. The equivocal US leadership position is no different. It’s just another step into the unknown. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say, this is not just America.