Now it is Donald Trump’s turn.
In his first act as the 45th President of the United States, Trump declared that his ascent marked a transfer of power from the elites in Washington to the people of the nation, doubling down on the populist message that won him the election.
Now the question is how that ambition will translate into new policies that will govern American life and business.
“From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land,” Trump said in his inaugural address to throngs of supporters on the National Mall, given against the backdrop of the Capitol decked out in red, white and blue.
“From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first,” he said. “Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries, making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.
“Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength,” he said. “I will fight for you with every breath in my body and I will never let you down. America will start winning again, winning like never before. We will bring back our jobs, we will bring back our borders, we will bring back our wealth and we will bring back our dreams.…Now arrives the time for action.”
That action will set the tone of the country for at least four years and potentially for some time to come beyond that.
The business world has welcomed Trump as one of their own.
After a steep decline in the hours immediately following the election, Wall Street pivoted and rallied strongly on hopes of business-friendly policies. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has gained 8.2 percent since the election and was trading up 0.3 percent to 19,787.22 as the president was sworn in on Friday.
As happy as the financial types are (for now), many designers have bristled at the thought of Trump as commander in chief, and Trump has bristled back.
On Thursday, Trump in Washington ahead of his inauguration told lunch guests, according to a source, that: “Tom Ford came out and said he was not dressing Melania. He was never asked. I never liked him or his designs. He’s never had something to dress like that [pointing to his wife, who was in the room at the time].” (Melania sported Ralph Lauren for her husband’s inauguration ceremony).
None of this is business as usual in Washington, where hundreds of thousands are preparing to march on Saturday in response to the new president.
Trump, a political novice who was best known as a flashy reality TV star and billionaire real estate tycoon, started on this path with controversy, disparaging Mexican immigrants: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
And while that alienated Hispanics, a key voting demographic, it played to a constituency underappreciated by many: The millions of working-class whites that were left behind as decades of trade deals sent jobs overseas.
He fired up the 61 million voters who gave him an electoral college win with a decidedly emotional approach, kicking off a revolving set of feuds with just about everyone.
“I could say, oh, I’m not angry,” he said a year ago. “I’m very angry because our country is being run horribly and I will gladly accept the mantle of anger.”
Now, Trump supporters are hopeful that the late-night flurry of Tweets that have fueled The Donald will lead to real change in their lives. Many companies, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Ford, have made a show of keeping jobs in the U.S. since the election, although it is sill far from clear how ambitions to bolster the U.S. by keeping tighter borders will play out in reality.
But other changes are also coming to the culture, with many pointing to Trump’s in-your-face style and his looseness with facts as influential markers of his presidency.
“The concept of truth does not exist anymore,” said Martin Lindstrom, a business consultant who mixes brand marketing and neuroscience. “You’re allowed to say whatever you want, as long as you stick with it and you’re brash. Brands will become much more opinionated now. We’ll have brands that will stand for something, these brands will not be afraid of having an enemy now.”
And while an American election always reverberates around the world, Trump’s ascendency is being watched with particular trepidation abroad with political and corporate leaders alike gauging just how much of his fiery rhetoric will turn into the sweeping changes he’s promised.
Trump has vowed to impose a tariff of up to 45 percent on goods from China, slash the U.S. corporate tax rate to 15 from 35 percent and reshape the workforce by bolstering the manufacturing sector and imposing stricter immigration rules. (On the broader scene, he has moved to strengthen ties with Russia, questioned the need for NATO, challenged the bedrock One China policy, suggested moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem — all dramatic shifts that could have far-reaching and unforeseeable consequences in the global order).
Many executives are taking a wait-and-see approach — and have little option to do otherwise.
Alibaba executive chairman Jack Ma tried to give the concept of globalization a shot in the arm with a speech at the 2017 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, this week, and urged people to give Trump a chance.
“Give President Donald Trump some time,” Ma said. “He has an open mind.”
The tech mogul and Chinese e-commerce king also noted that a trade war, which a big jump in tariffs could spark, “would be a disaster for the two countries and the world. I would do anything to stop it.”
Companies of all sorts are in a holding pattern.
U.S. retailers, already struggling with sweeping technology change, flagging foot traffic and a consumer apathy toward fashion, could be both helped and hurt by Trump’s proposals.
A lower corporate tax rate would certainly be welcome and could give many ailing companies a big bottom-line boost, but most fashion retailers primarily sell goods made oversees and are subject to tariffs or trade agreements (that could now be renegotiated).
Mariana Kou, an analyst at CLSA, this week advised investors to sell shares of sourcing giant Li & Fung given both the weakness at traditional retailers like Kohl’s Corp. and Macy’s Inc. and questions about Trump’s orientation to the rest of the world.
“There is significant uncertainty on policies of the Trump administration,” Kou said. “While we may see some support for domestic consumption, the destocking cycle and the smaller-order size amid a fast-changing retail industry mean that we may not see a pick up at Li & Fung in the next nine to 12 months. Trump’s rather protectionist stance could further hurt Li & Fung’s trading business.”
While international trade is, by its very nature a series of business transactions, the rules regulating cross-border trade have long been used as leverage by nations pursuing broader strategic goals, including for defense or coalition-building.
In the view of Wilbur Ross, the turnaround specialist who has in the past invested heavily in the textiles industry and is Trump’s pick to head the Commerce Department, trade is an area in which the buyer has a lot of leverage.
“On the topic of retaliation [to U.S. punitive tariffs], my mind-set will be that the world’s largest customer is dealing with its vendors,” he said at his Senate confirmation hearing. “I view these other countries with whom we have trade as vendors. While you need to treat the vendors with respect, they must also treat you as their largest customer both with respect and more importantly, playing by the rules of the road. To the degree they don’t, it must be enforcement.”
In times of great disruption, companies often look to strengthen their hands through mergers and acquisitions, but the landscape needs to be settled enough to get the deal done.
“Global geopolitical changes — a new U.S. presidential administration, upcoming European elections, the persisting threat of terrorist activity and the Brexit referendum — along with a strengthening U.S. dollar, will impact transaction activity, as well as consumer spending,” wrote Cathy Leonhardt and David Shiffman, co-heads of Peter J. Solomon Co.’s global retail advisory group, in an analysis.
“In the United States, uncertainty surrounding policy decisions the Trump administration will make with respect to key matters such as corporate taxes, tariffs, foreign investment and trade agreements will result in a ‘wait-and-see’ approach to deal-making, as potential acquirers await clarity on policy direction and the impacts of such policies both on the acquirers’ businesses and those of potential targets,” the bankers said.
The future path should come into sharper focus in the weeks and months ahead as Trump settles in to his new office and sets about turning his dreams for the nation into reality.