Murari Sharma: An uncharted territory

At his inauguration as 45th president of the United States on 20 January 2017, Donald J. Trump said, “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first — America first. . . Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength. . . We will follow two simple rules — buy American and hire American.”

Though it sounds enticing to many Americans, it is a chilling stuff. From now on, America will be self-centered, protectionist, and less generous to the rest of the world. Clearly, the United States and the world have entered an uncharted territory.

Nobody knows whether Trump is going to follow through his priorities or to grow into his job and become a mainstream president. But so far, he has essentially refused to behave like the president of a multicultural country and the most powerful country on earth. This should worry the American people more than the rest of the world.

Here is why. Trump’s racist, anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican, and misogynist language that has given wings to the white supremacists and alt-rights will further widen the fissure that already exist in American society. The spike in hate crimes, as reported by The New Yorker, will make American minorities and American street less safe for all Americans. The reversal of women’s rights under Trump will affect American women more directly and deeply than women elsewhere.

America’s protectionist policy will harm America more than other countries in the long run. Other countries will retaliate with countermeasures, triggering trade wars in which America will be fighting against the rest of the world. Though trade contributes to only 11 percent of American GDP, millions of Americans will lose their jobs that depend on the trade. Trade wars will increase tariffs on American imports and raise the cost of living for American consumers, and will put at risk the American investment in other countries, as capital controls are imposed, making most Americans worse off.

If the USA undermines and weakens NATO, as Trump has threatened, European countries will find a new modus vivendi with the resurgent Russia. China will try to fill the vacuum left by the withdrawal of America from the Tranpacific Trade Partnership in Asia and the Pacific, and the countries in the region will warm up to Beijing.

In fact, Beijing has already made such an overture with the Investment Bank, Silk Road, and free trade initiatives. The Philippines has already been looking to Beijing as the replacement for Washington.

Germany, China, and India will take the lead to contain climate change and keep the Paris Agreement alive. If Mexico is offended too much by Trump’s wall on the border and his harsh conditions for the NAFTA to survive, it will look to other countries for economic alliance and allow its citizens to cross into the US illegally.

Trump’s America First policy will reduce foreign aid and trade concessions the US gives to the developing countries and temporarily cripple those nations, until they find new sources of support or they develop their own capacity. It will also have several serious consequences for the United States.

For instance, the US will lose its global influence when other countries fill the void left by America. It will not be able to protect its military, civilian and commercial assets spread around the world and to prevent the flow of refugees headed to its shores from the conflict-ridden countries if it does not help resolve their political and economic woes at the source.

In other words, the impact of Trump’s policies will be relatively short-term for the rest of the world. But America will sustain long-term damages. It will be a mistake for the US to forget that, though the end of the British Empire unsettled the world for some time, it harmed Britain permanently and helped the United States and other countries. The end of the American Empire will not be any different in its impact.

The rest of the world is  worried about the transient impact of Trump’s posture, not permanent damage. The Guardian editorial dubbed the Trump’s inaugural speech as “a declaration of political war.” German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel predicted a “rough ride.” Concerns have been expressed in China, Mexico and several other countries.

Only two countries seem pleased with Trump: Russia and Taiwan. If the US pulls back from the world, Russia will have more room to project its power in the world. Taiwan expects Trump to water down America’s “One China” policy. But that is too few countries to sustain the American Empire.

But who knows. Trump might not do what he has said or will say and do the right things as president. Or his cabinet colleague might convince him to take the middle road. If that happens, the uncharted territory Trump is pulling the US and the world into could prove to be a good one. I wish Donald J. Trump moderation and success.


Trump’s disruptive new world order and Nepal

Donald Trump will start shattering the existing world order in less than two weeks, if he governs as he promised during his election campaign. Such disruption may benefit the US in the short run, but it will harm America in the long run. The rest of the world, including Nepal, will suffer from Trump’s policies.

Of course, leaders campaign in poetry and govern in prose. That might eventually turn out to be the case with the US president-elect Trump. But his toxic post-election Twitter messages and statements and his selection of ministers does not presage such transformation.

If Trump does not change himself, he will change the United States and the rest of the world strategically, politically, economically, environmentally and socially in the next four years. I am assuming that Trump will not be impeached during that period.

Incidentally, Professor Allan Lichtman, who forecast his victory, has predicted his impeachment as well. But that is a separate issue for the future.

In the strategic domain, Trump has threatened to pull the US out of the NATO, questioned the ‘One China policy’ adopted since 1971, supported the expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, and praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Muammar Gaddafi of Libya and Basher Assad of Syria. He has appointed Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.

A weakened NATO will embolden aspiring super powers and destabilize the world. China may take an aggressive stance towards Taiwan if Trump deviates from one China policy, destabilizing North and South East Asia.

Trump’s praise and his appointment of Tillerson, whose heels are dug deeply in Russian oil, have given heart to Putin to press on in Ukraine and Syria. His praise for dictators has strengthened the hand of existing and aspiring dictators.

Trump has undermined the two-state solution for the Middle East, a mantra of the successive American administrations. He has supported the Netanyahu government’s policy of setting up and expanding Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. He has also appointed a pro-settlement man as his ambassador to Israel.

In the political realm, Trump has failed to win the confidence of leaders at the helm of US allies across the world. He continues to root for his campaign’s “big and beautiful wall”at the US-Mexico border, which the former Mexican President Vincent Fox has called a racist monument.

In addition, Trump has promised to stop regime change and nation building outside the United States. This has encouraged the existing and aspiring tin-pot dictators, who were exercising restraints in the face of American emphasis on democracy and human rights in the past.

In the economic sphere, Trump is likely to trigger a trade war. He has vowed to crush the Trans-Pacific Trade deal, poked China in the eye by criticizing Chinese trade and threatening to impose tariff on Chinese imports and by appointing an anti-Chinese hawk as commerce secretary, and undermined the NAFTA. If America adopts protectionist policies, other countries will retaliate.

Trump might gut the environmental protection gains. He has vowed to pull the US out of the Paris agreement on climate change and appointed a climate change denier as head of the Environment Protection Agency. These measures will lead to decline in US aid to sustainable development in the developing world.

Under President Trump, US aid for developing countries may suffer a major decline in other ways as well. Trump will reduce the nation building aid, which is a significant part of the aid package. His protectionist measures will derail the capacity building efforts of developing countries, which require access to rich markets for their goods and services.

Trump may reorder social values and institutions in the US and across the globe. He has already given a new lease of life to racists and misogynists in the United States and the rest of the world. He himself has mainstreamed anti-minority tirades and misogynistic behavior. He has anointed the white supremacist outfits like the KKK and Brietbert News as mainstream organizations. The racists and misogynists in other countries will follow the American example, without the fear of sanctions.

One of the biggest contributions of Trump presidency could be the elevation of corruption into a legitimate goal of public office. America has been at the forefront of the campaign for transparency and clean government in the past. But Trump is already changing it by refusing to disengage him and his family from his global business, by using his position to make a profit for his businesses, and by appointing many ministers with similar conflicts of interest. As a leader, you lead by example in the corruption field.

All these factors will have direct and significant impact on Nepal. The renewed tension and trade will undermine Nepal’s security and affect its exports and imports. The reduction in US assistance will affect Nepal’s development and environmental protection activities. The US lack of interest in democracy, human rights, gender and racial equality, and in clean and corruption-free government will encourage Nepali leaders to disregard these fundamental values and institutions as well.

But several caveats are in order here. First, the Russian cyber war and the FBI director James Comey’s intervention to get him elected have undermined Trump’s legitimacy and position even before he has moved to the White House.

Second, Trump will be able to do only as much in many of these areas as the Republican controlled Congress will concur. While he may not have much problem with the House of Representative, where decisions are made by a simple majority, he might face major hurdles in the Senate due to its personal and institutional complexity.

Personally, every Senator sees in himself a future president. So Senators often do what is in their own best interest, rather than blindly supporting the president. They, elected for six years, afford to defy the president without the fear of public outrage. For instance, the hearing on Russian influence on the US presidential elections went forward despite Trump’s serious objections.

Institutionally, the filibuster could prove a major hurdle to Trump’s agenda. The Republicans need 8 votes from the Democrats and Independents for the filibuster-proof majority to pass major legislations or ratify major appointments. Further, the situation may worsen in two years when all members of the House and one-third members of the Senate would be due for election.

Therefore, while Trump agenda is definitely scary, how much of it is actually implemented will depend on how much he grows up in the office and how much Congress will support. Let us hope he would abandon the poetry and govern with prose as soon as he moves to the White House on 20 January.