Donald Trump’s Global Stability Risk: Why We Really Need to Care

Republican front-runner Donald Trump has been on many lists in his lifetime. He’s been called one of the richest people in the country (a title that is constantly debated), the owner of one of the tallest buildings in Chicago, and likely the most controversial candidate to ever run for the office of the president.

Last Thursday, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) Global Forecasting Service (the sister publication to the Economist newspaper) ascribed one more unprecedented rating for Mr. Trump: Should his bid for U.S. president succeed, he’d pose as great a risk to global security as terrorism. Put another way, said analysts: He’d be a greater risk to world peace and stability than if investors suddenly ditched the global oil market, or the U.K. were to walk out on its membership in the European Union.

Suffice to say, it’s not the kind of list a presidential candidate usually aims for. But according to the EIU, which supplies a full list of Trump’s qualifying attributes, being sixth on the list of 10 greatest risks to world stability is a rightfully-earned faux pas.

“First, he has been exceptionally hostile towards free trade, including notably NAFTA,” the authors said. His promise to ‘break’ the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he has referred to as a “disaster,” and his ill-timed public statements about Mexico, China, the Middle East and, well, a list of foreign governments “could escalate rapidly into a trade war” that could torpedo years of negotiations with neighbors near and far, the analysts said. So could what they refer to passingly as his “militaristic tendencies,” his additional foot-in-the mouth promise to kill the families of terrorists and his ban on Muslims entering the country — all of which offer, they suggest, a “potent recruitment tool” for terrorist groups abroad. Adding to that disturbing list is his potential to be a divisive impact in Washington once elected.

“[The] innate hostility within the Republican hierarchy,” combined with what analysts called the equally “virulent” animosity of Democrats toward Trump’s policies would be a recipe for yet another eight years of road blocks and ineffective actions in Congress.

But what is really the heart of the matter for the EIU, says Washington Post reporter Philip Bump, who has written extensively on Trump’s campaign, isn’t the Republican front-runner’s attitude toward Muslims or his potential to cause inaction on Capitol Hill, but his stance on global markets: What he has said he won’t support.

“Trump’s a risk not because of the violence that has swirled around his rallies or because of his rapidly evolving policy positions — at least not primarily.

He’s a risk because he hates free trade,” Bump wrote.

And that’s actually pretty important, the report authors said, because free-trade assurances aren’t necessarily what is going to drive Americans to vote against Trump. For the Economist newspaper’s “wealthy audience,” trade protectionism is a touchy topic. For U.S. voters concerned about jobs, cost of living, terrorism and domestic policies, not so much. U.S. voters aren’t likely to care about his danger to free-trade agreements (particularly to ones that a certain amount of the population has opposed). They are going to be concerned with how he affects their lives at home.

And, of course, that’s the point of the EIU’s shock-and-awe announcement. It isn’t what we see every day in the news on our U.S.-tailored Google news feeds or our locally-written newspapers that tell us the international ramifications of our decisions. And these outlets don’t always share with us how global communities, including our potential business contacts, may be impacted by the leader we choose. As hard as some may advocate, however, we don’t live in a North American bubble. Even Trump knows that.

Trump has invested heavily overseas. India, Canada, Ireland, Azerbaijan, Uruguay and, yes, Mexico, the seeming bane of his presidential focus, have enjoyed investment by Trump industries. He knows as well as any business investor with international aspirations that amicable relationships with other countries benefit the United States as well as communities abroad and that protectionism only encourages fractious relationships, despotic governments and diminished investment opportunities.  Like it or not, considering international views in our domestic decisions is good business.

If there is any benefit to Trump’s bid for presidency, it is that it’s awakened debate on what kind of country we want to be, and by what kind of ethics we want to define our image, both home and abroad. And judging from the EIU’s analysis and the press it has received, those are issues that the international community cares deeply about, as well.

Image: Evan Guest