'President Trump' would be trouble for the Caribbean
In the last few years, the world has seen the emergence of what has become known as “post-factual politics.”
It is the practice whereby some candidates for high office speak untruths, draw factually incorrect conclusions and provide no policy detail.
Donald Trump, the Republican Party’s Presidential nominee–, has skillfully used such an approach to translate voter anger — against economic globalization, elites and immigration — to facilitate his rise to power.
It is a tactic not unlike that taken by those who, without any clear alternative or plan, encouraged the United Kingdom’s electorate to vote to leave the European Union.
It is also reflected, for example, in the remarks of President Putin, President Erdogan in Turkey, and President Assad in Syria who reject facts as simply the mistaken perceptions of others.
The inference is that rationality is dying, that democracies and voter anger can be used to drive a belief that one individual somehow has the ability to transform the life of a voter just because he says he knows best.
This has implications for the Caribbean. The region has become used to the global status quo that emerged from World War II, independence, the Cold War, the rules-driven trade system at the World Trade Organization, multilateral treaties and organizations such as the United Nations that have given even the smallest countries a global voice, based on a recognized need for consensus.
Now, in a cry of rage, huge numbers in the U.S. Republican Party have chosen as their candidate a man whose approach is so low on detail and so high on ego that it requires voters to trust him alone to make them feel great again.
This has enabled Trump — only months before the U.S. voters decide who will assume one of the most powerful positions in the world — to continue to make assertions about what he would do as president, without any substantive explanation of how his ideas are to be achieved, or of their likely consequences.
However, in Trump’s dark acceptance speech at his party’s convention and in his earlier remarks, it is possible to see common themes about his ideas about U.S. foreign, security and trade policy.
He sees no value in trying to change other countries’ systems. For him, relationships are about winning and extracting the maximum value for the United States. As an aggressive dealmaker, he places value on strong authoritarian leadership, on a huge defense budget and on decisive use of military might only when absolutely necessary.
He is adamant that other countries will in one way or another have to pay their way if they expect U.S. support. For him the strong recovery of the U.S. economy and the U.S. national interest is paramount.
He will, he says, break with the World Trade Organization if it does not accept his thinking. He will abandon existing trade deals. His policy will be isolationist and protectionist — not burdened by ideology.
One can see many practical problems emerging for the Caribbean.
First, if nations like Mexico have to pay to secure the United States from migrants, Trump’s administration may also require the Caribbean territories and countries to fully pay the costs of their own security as well as the cost of guaranteeing the safety of U.S. visitors — on the basis that through them and through investments, the U.S. is already contributing enough to the Caribbean economy and its development.
Second, if he is genuinely intent on changing U.S. trade relationships, it is not hard to see his administration making demands for access for U.S. goods and services on the basis of reciprocity. Just as likely would be a slowdown in U.S. investment in the region.
From what he has said, he may levy tax penalties on U.S. manufacturers who have offshored their manufacturing or assembly plants into the Caribbean to take advantage of a more favorable tax environment. It is also possible to imagine new, hard-to-resolve complexities in trade emerging if as president he were to abandon the WTO rules basing the global trading system.
Third, it is far from clear what his willingness to accept President Putin’s actions or what his decision to face in two directions on China at once will mean. Both nations now have a presence in the region. Russia continues to develop its ties to Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and others in Latin America. China has become a major investor and intends eventually to become a significant manufacturer and transshipper in the Caribbean. How a Trump presidency would address the effects in geostrategic or transactional terms is far from clear.
Fourth, the impact of a Trump presidency’s seemingly jaundiced view on European integration, defense and trade could be the final straw that breaks an already-divided E.U., raising questions about its viability as a single market and development partner for the region.
In short, Trump’s approach could have significant strategic implications for the Caribbean, not least because his views do not accord with the way that the region has previously tried to manage its relations with the United States.
A world dominated by ignoring facts, strategic ambiguity, traded-off spheres of influence, deniable actions in the military or cyber world by third parties acting as proxies for governments, is not one in which the Caribbean region operates.
Trump’s approach that does not relate well to the mix of intellectuality, formality, populism and the fierce, if sometimes meaningless, defense of sovereignty that defines Caribbean leadership.
The Trump doctrine would set aside the emollient approach that the region has become accustomed to since the end of the Cold War. For the Caribbean community, the implication is that what little influence they may still have in Washington could disappear entirely unless they ally themselves with much stronger regional, hemispheric or international partners. It suggests that only Cuba and perhaps the Dominican Republic will be able to find ways to exert leverage in a Trump Washington.
In the U.S. and Europe, visceral voter anger is resulting in the rise of new types of politicians and political parties — notionally anti-elite, desiring to be seen as authentic and somehow able to restore the past.
Should Trump win, the Caribbean is ill-prepared to address his brand of 21st-century politics.