What to expect from the aftermath of the US election

It’s been a gaudy, freakish circus of an election but the result affects us all – if Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump win

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It’s not fair, is it? Whether we like it or not, the choice Americans make in the Presidential election on 8 November affects all of us: rich and poor, north and south, give-a-damn or couldn’t-give-a-damn.

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The American economy is huge and vibrant, they spend more on their military than the next eight countries combined and US popular culture and technical prowess seep into all our lives. Yet when it comes to selecting the boss of all of this, we don’t get a vote.

Instead, someone who might never have been out of Ohio, or a Harvard professor, or a 25-year-old Silicon Valley billionaire, or a hippy in Oregon, spaced out on recently legalised marijuana, get to choose for us.

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They are among the millions of Americans who will go to the polls this week and, at least partly, decide the fate of much of the world over the next four years. Nice folks, many of them – but not all of them folks who see the world through our eyes.

Still, the good news is that you can watch it all unfold. Even better than that, they have put on quite a show this year. This election has been as gaudy and freakish as any circus the world has ever seen.

In fact, in these tremulous, safe-spacey times, if this election were a circus, the acts would have been banned. It has pitted two of the least popular candidates in modern American history against each other and the result has been suitably horrifying.

A poll last summer asked Americans to give their appraisal of Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. The Russian leader came first.

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To take a positive view, Trump is an outsider with a business brain and a message that appeals to people for whom life has been disappointing of late. He has energised parts of the electorate other candidates could not reach.

And Hillary Clinton is a woman who has dealt with the tough business of wielding American power during her time as Secretary of State. She would also be, of course, the first woman president. Actually, the president isn’t quite the boss that we sometimes paint him (or her) to be.

Whoever gets the job has to deal with Congress, and the Supreme Court can strike down anything they want to if they deem it unconstitutional.

The role is constrained, in other words, by politics, and by the US constitution, which ensures no single branch of government can be in charge.

So, if Trump is declared the winner in the early hours of Wednesday morning, what will happen? There will be a great deal of heated talk between then and next January’s inauguration – but less change than you might think.

Some of Trump’s plans would almost certainly fall foul of the Supreme Court, and others would get lost in the political fight following his election.

Wall Street would also have a say, and the markets would punish recklessness in a way not seen after reckless talk on the campaign trail.

There would be visible consequences – for instance, to the threat of destroying the world’s capacity to trade freely – and plenty of Trump’s Republican backers would be calling for caution.

I’m not suggesting that a Trump presidency would be dull – far from it. A typical recent assessment came from the doyenne of conservative American commentators, the former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan. Writing in the austere pages of the Republican-supporting Wall Street Journal, Ms Noonan summoned up her full rhetorical majesty and declared: “Look, he’s a nut, and you know he’s a nut.” But if Trump wins, some of the bombast of the campaign trail might well be set aside.

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He would need to have serious people willing to serve him as treasury secretary and at the Defence Department, and this would concentrate minds. If he chose unserious people (particularly at defence), there would be mass resignations and a crisis he would not want at the beginning of his time in office.

What of Clinton? She has trodden a cautious path. Against a man as unconventional and unguarded as Mr Trump, she has maintained a slightly glassy stare, fixed on the winning post she hopes to pass this week.

Her most consequential policy change might be to insist on a no-fly zone to protect civilians in Syria, which is something that could lead to Russian planes being shot down. But she’s at pains to suggest this is a long way off.

She is a gradualist: she calculates; she weighs pros and cons. And let’s be frank: the polls suggest Clinton will win.

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The margin might not be as large as some have been saying in the weeks before the election, but Trump has done himself few favours in the battle to win over new supporters before polling day.

His bizarre assertion that the poll was rigged (there is very little documented voter fraud in America) was followed by an even wilder suggestion that he might not accept the result if he lost.

This makes many Americans uncomfortable. After all, Abraham Lincoln, in the middle of the Civil War, fought an election he was willing to lose – further proof, if it were needed, that Trump is no Lincoln.

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Do watch out, too, for the results of the Congressional election that happens at the same time as the presidential. If Clinton does very well, the Democrats could retake control of the upper house of Congress, the Senate, and may even cut down the Republicans’ big majority in the lower house, the House of Representatives.

Would this be good news for Clinton? Not really. She faces a party whose heart is far to the left of hers (remember the support her challenger for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders, secured?) and if the party is in power in Congress then the pressure on her to follow their lead will be intense.

She will have no honeymoon if the Democrats win big. But if the Republicans still dominate Congress, then Clinton could face the prospect of a Congressional attempt to reopen the question of the private email server she kept while secretary of state, and to have her prosecuted amid wide suspicion that she only escaped jail this year because the FBI didn’t have the bottle to pursue her.

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Happy times in America… but they can still put on a party. It will be quite a night.