Wednesday, July 17, 2024
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Trump’s America

The election of an inexperienced, egotistical and volatile tycoon as the 45th president of the United States is as surprising as was the victory of a black candidate eight years ago. Barack Obama’s election was uplifting for America and confirmed faith in its democracy.
Trump’s triumph, secured by rhetoric reflecting racial and religious prejudice, xenophobia, strategic incoherence and sweeping promises to “make America great again”, has divided the country as never before since the American Civil War. This time the division is along racial, religious and intellectual lines between the “progressive” eastern and western coastal states and the mostly white and conservative “middle America”. Trump’s conciliatory victory speech, promising to “bind the wounds of division”, the generous concession by Clinton and President Obama’s gestures of cooperation have not stilled the fear and loathing of Trump’s opponents: the minorities, millennials and progressive Democrats. If Trump pursues the policies he outlined in the campaign, as he can with Republican control of the US Congress, social and political divisions within the US could intensify.
The domestic battle lines are fairly clear. Trump’s policies would clearly erode the progress made on civil rights and reverse efforts to advance the economic and social position of blacks and other disadvantaged minorities. ‘Stop and frisk’ (of mainly black youth) may be institutionalised. Police violence may be tolerated. The FBI, having helped to defeat Clinton, would be more empowered. The US supreme court would remain ‘conservative’ for the foreseeable future. Although Trump has stepped back from his ‘Muslim ban’, immigration from Islamic countries (almost all affected by terrorism) would slow to a trickle; Muslim Americans subjected to close monitoring for ‘terrorist’ tendencies, and discrimination against them institutionalised. It is obvious that Trump’s external policies will be subservient to his domestic agenda. Millions of ‘illegal’ immigrants could be hounded out of the country, wrenching families and livelihoods. Most of the menial jobs they do will not be taken by white Americans. Wages would rise; the US economy contract. The US-Mexico border wall, if constructed, would do little to stop desperate people from crossing the border. An attempt to make Mexico ‘pay’ for the wall would obviously lead to a diplomatic crisis. Obamacare, which has provided health insurance to 20 million poor Americans, would be repealed. Its replacement by a better system appears improbable. Trump’s declared economic policies will have domestic and global consequences.
Protectionist barriers, such as punitive duties on imports from China and Mexico, will provoke trade retaliation; while increasing the cost of consumer goods, it will bring few jobs ‘back’ to America’s uncompetitive manufacturing industries. Lifting restraints on coal and fossil fuels will restore some jobs in the mining and energy sectors, but at a very high cost: environmental damage in the US; abrogation of US commitments to the Climate Change Treaty; the treaty’s likely collapse; the predicted rise in the planet’s temperature and accompanying global environmental disasters. Infrastructure development could generate jobs and growth. But it cannot be financed without raising revenues and savings.
The proposed lower taxes on corporations and the rich would make this difficult; escalate inequality; expand the US budget deficit and, if accompanied by higher interest rates, squeeze the ability to sustain the weak US economic recovery. Slower US growth, accompanied by protectionist policies and resultant trade conflicts, will act as a brake on the world economy and create another global economic and financial crisis.
Trump has outlined his approach to global challenges in general, often uninformed terms. Even if his approach does not add up to US isolationism, it is obvious that Trump’s external policies will be subservient to his domestic agenda. Apart from trade and energy policies, Trump’s positions may be different from the present administration on five major issues. First, relations with Russia. Trump’s expressed admiration for Putin’s strong leadership may open the door to cooperation in addressing the Syrian conflict. If Trump’s priority is to crush IS, he could agree to allow Syria’s Assad to survive, thus coalescing with Moscow’s approach.Second, Europe. Trump’s call for European allies to pull their own weight financially could result in weakening the Nato alliance. If anti-EU and anti-immigrant right-wing parties, like the Front National in France, are bolstered by Trump’s example and secure power in the forthcoming elections, Europe could turn down the same revanchist road as Trumpian America, with significant strategic consequences.
Third, the Iran deal. Trump and the Republican Party, both closer to Israel than Obama, have been sceptical of the nuclear deal with Iran. They may seek to ‘strengthen’ its non-proliferation elements, evoking a hostile response from Tehran, and probable rejection by the other powers party to the agreement. An angry Iran could complicate the conflicts in the Middle East, although it may revive US strategic relations with Saudi Arabia and the GCC countries.
Fourth, China. Trump has excoriated China’s trade policies and ‘currency manipulation’. However, he has been silent on the South China Sea and human rights. He wants to lighten the burden of US alliances with Japan and South Korea. He has criticised Obama’s opposition to China’s new development bank. It is not inconceivable for China to strike a ‘deal’ with Trump, offering concessions on trade and economic issues in exchange for accommodation of China’s regional and domestic priorities. Fifth, the UN. Like previous Republican leaders, Trump has expressed disdain for the United Nations and multilateralism. Drastic cuts in US contributions to UN organisations and multilateral processes and treaties could lead to a decline in global cooperation, unless other powers, such as China, assume the mantle of leadership in multilateral forums.
South Asia has not figured prominently in Trump’s pronouncements. However, India has been acknowledged as a ‘geopolitical ally’ and has well-established ties with the Republicans. The further deepening of the relationship will depend on the future direction of Sino-US relations. India could face complications with Trump’s administration on trade, immigration and outsourcing of US IT jobs to India.
Pakistan starts with the disadvantage of inherited problems with the US Afghanistan, terrorism and nuclear issues where Republican positions are even more hostile than those of the Obama administration. Nevertheless, the change of guard in Washington offers Pakistan an opportunity to present a clear message of willingness to forge a constructive relationship with the US that accommodates the interests and priorities of both countries.
The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.
‘Courtesy Dawn News Karachi’.

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