Originally, my plan was to write about the substance of last night’s presidential debate on a few issues that I care about and would have something useful to say – AI and tech regulation, industrial policy, China. Instead, we got what we got.

I’m not so naive in thinking that presidential debates are always filled with substance. The first presidential debate I watched, as a political professional, was the Obama-McCain debate in 2008. As a campaign staffer back then, I would be hosting multiple debate watch parties for every debate. A debate was mostly an excuse to organize supporters to gin up enthusiasm (in my case, for the Obama side), not to compare and contrast between the candidates or be persuaded by their substantive argument in deciding who to vote for. 

Since then, I’ve always watched debates with that lens on: Obama-Romney, Clinton-Trump, Biden-Trump, and now Biden-Trump again. But I thought this one would be different, because it was the first presidential debate between a President and an ex-President in US history! Whether you like either of them or not, each man has at least done the job already. Usually, at least one person on stage had to look or sound “presidential” to get the job – the classic catch-22 of running for president. This time, neither needed to look “presidential”.

Yet, the irony is neither was “presidential” in any sense of the word. 

As all the speculations of whether Biden will stay in the race keep swirling in the coming days and weeks, while we recount of how many times Trump did not answer the question or lied during the debate, it is fair to say that Trump is in a stronger position than ever before to win a second term. Unlike the first time he won, when no one (including himself) expected it, there is plenty of time to intelligently guesstimate what a second Trump term may mean.

So instead, let’s discuss what Trump 2.0 could mean for AI and tech regulation, industrial policy, and US-China.

AI and Tech Regulation

It was interesting that the word “AI” did not appear at all, not even once, in last night’s debate. While the Biden administration released its AI executive order last fall, which we discussed previously, there is little information on Trump’s view of AI or technology policy this time around. (It is possible that he might have mentioned these topics during one of his rallies, I don’t track his activities closely, so please correct me here if you’ve heard him say anything related.)

Trump did sign an executive order in 2019 to launch the so-called American AI initiative, but being the chaos president, and given that AI and tech has taken on an entirely new level of relevance thanks to generative AI, you can’t assume that Trump 2.0 will simply continue what Trump 1.0 has done.

What likely will happen is that the voices of Elon Musk and the cadre of tech elites, who paid tribute at the Sacks & Palihapitiya fundraiser, will have an outsized impact on Trump's thinking on AI and tech. Any key staffing decisions on who will implement his policies will be filtered through this pipeline. Antitrust scrutiny on tech M&As will likely be loosened, which will be widely popular among everyone who works in tech, regardless of their pre-existing political leaning. (It does not take much to appeal to tech people, just let us get liquidity and make money.) Defense tech will continue to hum along, because it leverages a bipartisan consensus view that would have continued in Biden 2.0 as well.

The biggest, and perhaps the most consequential difference, in a Trump 2.0 for AI is a possible breakdown of global processes, when he taps into his “America first, America only” instinct. This instinct is the most consistent element of Trump. From Bletchley Park in the UK, to the AI Seoul Summit in South Korea, to Paris next February, there is momentum and rhythm in building a multilateral and inclusive approach to global AI policy and safety. A case in point of this inclusivity is Zhipu AI, a leading Chinese foundation AI startup, joining Meta, Google, and others in the Seoul summit AI pledge

All this momentum could come to a grinding halt in Trump 2.0, if he decides to either undermine this global effort or decide to exert the US more forcefully in the process – both are distinct possibilities. 


The same unilateral instinct will no doubt affect US-China relations materially, which was built on a multilateral, alliance-driven approach under Biden. Whether you agree with the intention of the approach or not, it has been effective in boxing China in, especially when it comes to export control of advanced technologies, because the US hardly controls any part of the supply chain of any advanced technology. Building alliances with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Netherlands, and other European countries is a necessity to make restrictions meaningful.

All that could also change on a dime under Trump 2.0, who has had a distinguished track record of torpedoing alliances, being untrustworthy or unreliable to friendly nations, while flirting with leaders of adversarial countries directly, if only to stroke his “art of the deal” ego. The clean, if not overly simplified struggle between Democracy and Autocracy, a central tenet of Biden’s foreign policy with China being at the core of that “Autocracy” label, will likely fall apart under Trump 2.0.

Like AI, China was also hardly mentioned during the debate. To the extent that it was, it was within the context of tariffs and their impact on inflation. Both presidents agree on more tariffs on China. Trump wants to take it further by imposing tariffs on all imports, with China still being the largest victim as one of the largest exporters to the US. The only daylight between the two sides is how much, on what goods, and how to sell it to the American people, so ordinary people believe more tariffs won’t drive up the cost of goods and inflation again. Trump continued to claim that tariffs would be paid by the levied countries and could be used to pay down American debt and deficit, even though by and large, the higher cost is passed onto the end consumers — the American people.

So what we can count on in Trump 2.0 when it comes to China is more tariffs and less effective export control. Other thorny issues between the US and China will come down to who Trump picks to direct his China policy in the National Security Council. There are three camps emerging – the ideologues, the isolationists, the pragmatists. This article breaks down the three camps quite well – who is in each, what they believe – though the author calls them by different, more dramatic, names: “freedom fighters”, “disentanglers”, “conservative realists”. 

Industrial Policy

Turning homeward, Trump 2.0 will likely dismantle most of Biden’s industrial policy programs, if only because they are Biden’s ideas. This “as long as it’s the other guy’s idea, it is a bad idea” playbook has been highly effective politically, though highly destructive for progress. This has been the case since Obama’s first term, when Republicans in Congress stood to obstruct his proposals at every step of the way, with no regard to their merits.

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) will be dismantled, though a repackaged set of incentives to support electric vehicles could emerge from Trump 2.0, if he drives his policymaking under the influence of Elon Musk. The CHIPS Act subsidies are mostly allocated, so it is unlikely those can be clawed back. But funding for the CHIPS Program Office to continue implementation, which is set to expire by government fiscal year 2026 (or September 2027), could be in danger. Trump 2.0 may still fight the Chip War just as vigorously as the Biden administration, but he will want to do it his way, if only to please his narcissism. 

Trump 2.0 will obviously be much less supportive of union workers. This is not automatically a bad thing for building more advanced manufacturing capabilities at home. We’ve seen how much the UAW labor strikes last year have hobbled US and foreign automakers’ expansion plans, particularly into EVs. Being too beholden to unions, especially in manufacturing (not so much in services), only detracts from building a competitive advanced manufacturing base at home when it is a global phenomenon, no matter how much deglobalization inches forward.

Being an Asian American

Lastly, to end on a more personal note, it is worth reflecting on and preparing for what Trump 2.0 means for minorities in America – in my own case, an Asian American. 

For what it’s worth, every time I’ve listened to Biden officials talk about US-China relations or competition with China (in both public and private settings), they also intentionally and emphatically note that it is important to protect the safety and civil rights of Chinese Americans at home, even though our tough foreign policy attitude towards China is in full force.

I don’t see Trump 2.0 exercising any of that type of nuance, restraint, or inclusiveness to avoid conflating an aggressive foreign policy towards one country, with stoking xenophobia towards Americans of the same skin color at home. Perhaps the most troubling lie from Trump last night is his attempt to sweep his support for white supremacist protests in Charlottesville circa 2017 under the rug, counting on the United States of Amnesia to wipe his record clean. His other lie, claiming that illegal immigrants get social security benefits, foreshadows more blunt rhetoric and treatment based on flimsy falsehoods toward all immigrants in Trump 2.0.

If Trump wins, the next four years may in fact be good for the stock market, taxes may be lower, and so will inflation – continuing a rather curious pattern of Republican presidents riding on the momentum and claiming credit for their Democratic predecessors’ (see Trump 1.0 and George W. Bush). But the daily lives for honest, patriotic, hardworking, and politically homeless minority Americans, like me and millions of others, will keep getting tougher. 

I long for the bygone days of contentious, but civil, and ultimately presidential debates.