Trumpism without Trump is what the world needs right now

It's tempting to write off Donald Trump as an embarrassing interlude, but his policies bear real scrutiny

No one is going to miss the bullying, the narcissism, or the temper tantrums. They won’t be sad to see the back of his divisive language, his ugly attitudes towards women, or his rambling attempts at rhetoric. And they certainly won’t miss the burnt orange hair. But as he plays out what looks like his last few months in office, there is one thing that business, and indeed the global economy, will miss about Donald Trump. The policies.

For all the flaws, and there were plenty of those, the 45th president can claim two significant achievements. He showed that tax systems can be radically reformed, simplified and streamlined. And he showed that regulations and red tape can be cut back, and enterprise rebooted. Neither of those may have been enough to make up for his failings.

Even so, centre-Right, pro-business leaders need to work out how to build on, and carry on, that legacy – because Trumpism without Trump is exactly what the global economy, and Europe most of all, needs right now.

It remains to be seen how long it takes to finally evict Trump from the White House. But it is hard to see how even a blizzard of lawsuits can rescue him now. His Democratic challenger Joe Biden won a clear majority of the popular vote, and it looks as if he has a majority in the electoral college as well. Even if he could by some miracle cling on to power, it is hard to imagine Trump could govern for four years with any legitimacy after being rejected so decisively.

There is no shame in losing an election, and it would have been better for him to leave with dignity. Sooner or later he will be gone, and his refusal to go gracefully will only tarnish his legacy.

That matters, for a simple reason. There are parts of that legacy that are well worth preserving. There can be no debate that Trump broke with the prevailing consensus on economic policy, and pushed through reforms of global significance.

First, he reformed a corporate tax system that had made the US one of the least competitive countries in the world. Under Obama, the US corporate rate at 35pc was one of the five highest in the world; it was a higher rate than even France or Sweden. At a stroke, Trump cut it to 21pc while sweeping away reliefs and allowances.

No political leader had attempted tax cuts on that scale since Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the Eighties. The result? Corporate money that had fled the country to escape punitive taxes started to return.

Next, he launched an assault on the rising tide of regulation. Congress, and government agencies, were forced to repeal two rules for every new one they passed. At the same time, enterprise zones that sometimes measured no more than a few run-down blocks managed to revitalise urban areas.

That was a big change. For close on three decades, the consensus across the developed world had been for the state to take a larger and larger share of national income, for regulations to increase, and for the government to manage every aspect of the economy ever more intrusively. It had been a long time since anyone had successfully pushed back against that. Trump showed that it can be done and that it can work.

Before Covid-19, the US was the fastest growing major economy in the world, and apart from China it will almost certainly bounce back more strongly than any of its rivals. And, of course, structural reform of the kind Trump pushed through takes years to generate real results. President Biden will reap the rewards of that, just as Bill Clinton and Tony Blair reaped the rewards of the Reagan and Thatcher reforms 10 or 15 years later. But that shouldn’t obscure who should get the credit for them.

The challenge now for pro-business centre-Right parties is how to build on that. So what would Trumpism without Trump look like? It would have three key elements. First, it would overhaul tax systems dramatically. There is no point making minor, incremental reforms. For the political energy required you might as well make big changes, and you have to emphasise simplification and competitiveness rather than just cutting top rates.

Next, make rolling back red tape a priority and mandate it in law. There is always someone who objects to a regulation being repealed. And there are always lots of new things the government would like to control. By mandating that more rules had to be repealed than enacted the Trump administration showed how to make a sustained assault on the regulatory state. The result? Suffocating red tape was finally curbed, and the rate of new business creation – which had shockingly dipped below zero on a net basis under Obama – started to climb again.

Finally, be robust on trade. For all the bluster, Trump didn’t build a wall with Mexico, and remained inside a reformed Nafta, while volumes of trade with China continued to grow. Even so, trade deals need to be made to work for ordinary workers, as well as for banks and big corporations, otherwise they lose support, and sometimes that means acting tough to get a better deal.

It would be tempting to write off the soon-to-be-former president as an embarrassing interlude. There was nothing edifying about his four years in office. Even so, that would be a mistake. He has left behind an agenda and a legacy that deserves to be carried forward by a new generation of politicians. In truth, stripped of its ugly language and gloating narcissism, Trumpism, minus Trump himself, is precisely what the global economy needs in the 2020s.