The Donald Trump presidency in the US harkens to a period when protectionism dominated world politics. He heralds the revival of supremacy that invigorates his base through a hegemonic exhibition of exclusion and admonishment congruently derailing allies and foes.
The 'Make America Great Again' slogan, otherwise a recycled version of isolationism, has crystallised in the form of a rigid immigration policy, a reversal of the Paris Climate Accord, tariff arrangements, and the Iran arms deal — the last of which is in striking contradiction to overtures towards North Korea.
In opposition to migration that may preference any form of amnesty the president touts a far right wing nationalist message endorsed by his Senior Policy Advisor Steven Miller, a strong border security that includes the building of a US$18-billion wall (US$33 billion for border control) he fervently claims will be financed by Mexico, and the termination of the visa lottery and chain immigration — a dispensation that profited Trump's father, mother and sisters-in-law — is not the be-all and end-all.
In less than two months following his inauguration the businessman-turned-politician, allegedly in the name of national security, imposed a countervailing measure — Executive Order 13780, a travel ban which was intended to halt travel from seven Muslim-majority nations: Syria, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Yemen, Iran, and Somalia. Unfortunately the implementation of this haphazard, ill-advised policy, which dismisses glaring local acts of terrorism, was confronted with controversy as scores of holders of visitors and student visas and green cards recipients travelling to the United States found themselves in limbo midway their destination or in holding facilities upon arrival. Moreover, US courts overturned what was deemed an ethnically oriented order and declared it unconstitutional. (The Supreme Court most recently passed, five to four, a diluted version of the travel ban that includes non-Muslim countries.)
In defiance, the commander-in-chief woefully discounted condemnation and, in an earnest gesture to achieve a comprehensive immigration policy, upended Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative, leaving 800,000 young Latin Americans in limbo — many of whom have lost the basic benefits of employment and health care at the mercy of a politically divided Congress.
Thus far, amid voicing concern for the afflicted, the Administration would rather ambitiously await the November midterm elections with the hope of gaining an outright majority in the legislature than attend to the uncertainty, or otherwise misfortune, surrounding these undocumented immigrants who came to America as children and are therefore unaware of a life elsewhere.
Most recently, the Government's zero-tolerance strategy that orchestrated the separation of over 2,300 children from their guardians in less than 7 months collided with consternation from all sectors of American society, not excluding often-silent Republicans and a sliver of the religious right. Consequently, the president capitulated under pressure by signing another executive order (# 13841) to preclude the continuation of this inhuman conduct, but he remains egotistical and adamant blaming Democrats — whom he labels advocates of open borders — for their aversion to compromise on his divisive agenda, while simultaneously criminalising migration at the southern border by way of reference to the MS-13 gang that accounts for less than two per cent of crimes committed by unsanctioned entrants.
In fact, instead of hiring judicial personnel to address the mountain of cases, he, in frustration, is suggesting the abrupt return of unauthorised immigrants to their respective homelands without due process. Is such polarity racially motivated in light of the eminence of a minority population takeover by the year 2045? Or is it simply resource-centred, as implied by the likes of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Italy, to name a few?
Against sound advice from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, his daughter Ivanka, and the world at large, Trump honoured yet another campaign pledge by rescinding the Paris Climate Accord. His misguided notification to the United Nations in part reads as follows: This is to inform the secretary general in connection with the Paris Agreement adopted in Paris on December 12, 2015 that the United States intends to exercise its rights to withdraw from the agreement.”
The president's perseverance to revitalise the coal industry in heartland America ignores the obvious — a surge in wind and solar energy that has proven to be inexpensive and sterile substitutes. In fact, for said reason US states and cities have expressed an intent to reduce carbon emissions by pursuing a green policy that secures clean air, water and climate stability in the interest of their inhabitants. In addition, while the US sits on the sidelines with war-torn Syria and poverty-stricken Nicaragua, principal players such as China, India, Russia and the European Union are committed to combat global warming, which if unchecked could result in human extinction.
As former Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg seeks to offset a key crisis of air pollution and food and water contamination with financial assistance to the tune of US$15 million, the Administration is oblivious to local and international consequences due to neglect. High carbon taxes on US exports manufactured with poisoned energy and/or reduced commercial transactions would, over time, boost unemployment to record levels and destabilise an economy that was recently party to a financial recession second only to the Great Depression of 1929. Other devastating outcomes could include the destruction of vulnerable cities and nations under the influence of rising oceans if unable to limit global temperature elevation to two degrees Celsius.
While dismissing climate change as a hoax and a costly endeavour that reduces the country's competitive edge, and overriding the opinions of 56 per cent of Americans surveyed by The Washington Post in support of the pact, a push to reduce carbon emissions is inevitable as US industries are facing competition and increased customer demand for natural gas. However, a pause converts to America's reluctance to decrease carbon emissions by 26 per cent to 28 per cent below 2005 levels for at least another 12 years, hence severely stunting progress within a global context.
By exalting neo-mercantilism, the leader of the free world hopes to appear more presidential, particularly to his Trumpeters. In essence, the occupant of the White House has tossed aside wise counsel from former advisors Gary Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council, and Rob Porter, the staff secretary, by breaking ranks with the Trans-Pacific Partnership alliance (TPP) — a pact comprised of Canada, Mexico, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, Peru, and Chile.
Despite an effort to expedite commerce on favourable terms through trade, investment, economic growth, job creation, and development and innovation to a third of global gross domestic product (GDP) valued at approximately US$28 trillion annually, the US Government is dissatisfied with its share of the spoils and is therefore swapping the Wilsonian model liberalism for a relic of the past commonly known to scholars and laypersons alike as unilateralism.
According to the reality television star, this is a horrible deal that supports other partners at the expense of American jobs and national sovereignty. In contrast, proponents of the sustenance of internationalism speak to an increase in income due to lower prices on purchased goods and services. Moreover estimates calculate an income increase valued at US$77 billion by 2025 and 650,000 new jobs with enhancement in income in the United States. Albeit fresh vocation is only one per cent of national GDP and four per cent of employment, capital would see large gains from TPP as new markets would lead to new consumers. But how does this single market initiative benefit a collective population of roughly 800,000 million responsible for 40 per cent of the world's trade if the group loses 250 million American consumers?
True to form is parallel romanticism or, in other words, a violation of the liberal proposition of natural harmony of interest pertaining to North American Free Trade Agreement. Whereas the conclusion remains undetermined, it is highly predictable if the looming trade war between America and the European Union, China, Mexico, and Canada is an indicator of accuracy.
Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary; Robert Lighthizer, the country's most senior trade negotiator; and Peter Navarro, a former academic, would have the most forget the cataclysm surrounding President George W Bush's select steel excise strategy in 2002 that in the end was reversed due to job losses as opposed to job creation. As a result, Trump has levied 25 per cent tariff on imported steel and 10 per cent of same on aluminium, thus penalising the aforementioned countries who, in return, have all pledged to retaliate by targeting items from jeans, agricultural products, and bourbon to motorcycles. To circumvent such punishment, Harley Davidson has decided to move production of motorcycles for European export to Thailand. Will others follow suit?
Presently stalled negotiations, be it individually or collectively via the EU and the G7, have created a platform for a trade showdown with a hike in the price of Canadian lumber transferable to US home buyers — just one illustration of no winners in sight. As the US forges ahead with the affirmation of American steel and aluminium interests other industries, like auto, machinery, construction, and energy, cry foul in fear of escalating fees. The domestic opposition is likewise made up of senior Republicans in Congress in the form of Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan and senators Orrin Hatch and Ben Sasse. Further external turbulence could cost the US in excess of US$20 billion with the EU reprisals assessed at US$3.5 billion, and those of Canada, Mexico, China, Russia, and others currently unknown.
Going rogue is a phrase that best describes this president. His disdain for the Iranian arms deal spurred US withdrawal, thanks to the input of hard-liners Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton — replacements for moderates Rex Tillerson and Herbert McMaster.
Donald Trump has wrongly interpreted the contract to mean expiration in seven years and, in so doing, has overlooked a cap on enriched uranium for the next 12 years following which agreements limit the development of nuclear weapons in Iran. Moreover, appeasing Israel and Saudi Arabia bear dire consequences. Apart from economic loss to American and foreign companies that seek to penetrate the Iranian market and associated retaliations, total dismantling of the agreement leaves Iran unconstrained. (Under the deal Iran abandoned 97 per cent of its stockpile of enriched uranium. It also lost 14,000 of its 20,000 centrifuges — the machines used to enrich uranium — and it agreed to only enrich uranium to a level unsuitable for weapons for 15 years. It bars plutonium reactors as well for 15 years and stipulates that Iran must dismantle its current one.)
The relinquishment of what is deemed Barack Obama's greatest foreign policy achievement could become Trump's worst nightmare. His hastily planned engagement with North Korea's Chairman Kim Jong-un has been met with mixed reactions ranging from promising to downright disappointment. What if the latter is correct? Could North Korea amidst intelligence disclosure regarding the continuation of its nuclear programme sympathise with Iran to the extent that causes her to sense military paralysis and hence renege on a vague denuclearisation arrangement?
The recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and constant scolding of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization over dues, while concurrently cuddling Vladimir Putin — the architect of atrocities in eastern Ukraine and annexation of Crimea — places this president at odds with his predecessors, as does the ongoing Mueller investigation on Russian collusion in the 2016 US election.
At term's end — whether abruptly or as defined by the constitution — will Trump's legacy be that of a conduit to global peace and security or an instigator of tribalism?
Leroy A Binns, PhD, is a lecturer in the Department of Government at The University of the West Indies, West Jamaica Campus. Send comments to the Observer or [email protected]