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.

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