By Laksiri Fernando –
At the recently concluded US presidential elections, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump represented two political extremes with dubious personal track records. It was no surprise, therefore, that in this biggest Western democracy in the world, only 56 percent of voters turned up at the polling booths to cast their votes. Another reason for this disillusionment was the acrimonious way the competition and the debates were conducted by the two candidates and the ‘two parties.’ There were many who openly said that they have no faith in either of them prior to the polling day. Now the leaders have come together at the White House, aftermath of the elections, the people are still protesting in streets misguided by acrimonious campaigns.
Bernie Sanders, the soft socialist from the democratic party could have tread a middle path both in American and world politics, if he was given a fair chance and if not for the family ambitions of the Clinton clan. While Clinton was advocating an extreme version of globalization along with some of the ‘true believers’ in European countries or the European Union, Trump went to the other extreme by denouncing globalization, free trade and most disturbingly, protection of the environment. The French Ambassador to the UN tweeted against Trump, during the elections, and then retracted after seeing the sings of defeat for Clinton.
Trump in Contrast
In his version of economics, America should get back to the old capitalism of national economy, industrial development and for the latter purpose, massive drive for infrastructural development. What it proves perhaps is Arnold Toynbee’s theory of historical circularity. It is possible that Trump might moderate some of his positions, judging from his victory speech, where he talked about ‘binding the wounds of division’ and so on. He appealed “To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people.” I am quoting verbatim from his speech. He further pledged “I will be president for all Americans, and this is so important to me.”
Trump characterized his campaign as a movement, and opted to say “It’s a movement comprised of Americans from all races, religions, backgrounds and beliefs who want and expect our government to serve the people, and serve the people it will.” It is true that at later stages of his campaign, he moderated his positions on the question of race, although he first started barraging the Muslims and the migrants to suspect his ‘movement’ to be a ‘white supremacist’ movement. Perhaps because of this change, the African Americans and Latinos are reported to have voted in significant numbers in his favor. Nevertheless, the extreme nationalist groups all over the world are jubilant about the Trump victory, including in Australia and Sri Lanka.
The main planks of his campaign or promises might not change. He talked too much of building a border wall between America and Mexico to keep away the illegal migrants whom he named as ‘drug peddlers, criminals and rapists.’ It would be interesting to watch how this promise is going to be implemented. It is possible that even the old migrants from Mexico or from other Latin American countries were not in favor of illegal migrants crossing the border, gatecrashing their opportunities. This is a sentiment prevalent even in Australia.
Another policy difference between Trump and Clinton (or Obama for that matter) was about migration in general. Trump’s opposition was not only against illegal migrants. His administration would be extremely cautious about receiving refugees, perhaps zero from Muslim countries, and negative on migrants in general except certain categories of family or selected skills. Therefore, what can be expected is more of a closed-door policy. The sailing in this policy direction might not be that difficult since a President has enormous discretion on this matter, and any legal hurdles could be overcome as the Republican Party now controls both Houses of the Congress. What might create problems in this direction would be when and if Trump intends to deport large number of refugees or illegal migrants to where they had initially come from.
During the presidential campaign, Clinton was quite flamboyant about her globalist policy of open borders, even disregarding the recent Brexit experience. Similarly, a more liberal administration in Australia is contemplating a lifetime ban on refugees who has tried to come by boat and now languishing in offshore refugee camps. Closed or guarded borders is also Australia’s current policy. Trump repeatedly complained or accused the previous administrations, including the republican ones, for creating a mess in the Middle East. In his opinion, the current refugee exodus in the world is largely a result of this mistaken or reckless policy. He was at least correct in that count.
Trump clearly said that he opposed the US intervention in Iraq. He also differed from the current Obama policy on Syria which in his opinion has created the specter of ISS in combination with the previous ousting of Saddam Hussein. He was not mincing his words however about ‘Islamic fundamentalism.’ One of his short-term objectives might be to defeat or eliminate the ISS in cooperation with Russia.
On the above Middle East policy, he was correct whether he would be able to unravel it or not. In contrast, Clinton was quite reckless even in her utterances and said during the debate with Trump that she would arm the Kurds in fighting against the ISS! The arming of different extremist groups at different times has been the US policy for some time in the Middle East and even elsewhere, with considerable repercussions. I have seen (Hilary) Clinton jubilant (said Vow!) when the news was delivered that Gaddafi was captured and killed in Libya. That time (October 2011) she was the Secretary of State and the whole thing appeared her plan and scheme. Not that anyone could approve Gaddafi’s dictatorial rule in Libya. But it was up to the people of that country and not to the US to instigate his ousting let alone killing.
The globalization, particularly in the political sphere, advocated by these ‘True Believers’ appeared a new type of imperialism. It was not internationalism or any kind of international responsibility or generosity to make the present world a better place for the billions of poor people to live. If latter was the case, then the US and the EU should have given more aid and economic assistance to the poor countries and poor people instead of placing sanctions on countries to punish finally the poor and not the rulers. The rulers in any country are the privileged lot.
What the Trump victory shows is a rebellion from below. That is what exactly happened in the Brexit vote as well. This is not to say that Trump would fulfill the aspirations of the ordinary people who voted for him; who were called ‘uneducated’ and ‘backward’ by the Clinton supporters. After all, Trump himself is part of the establishment, particularly of the business elite. The difference maybe that he was not a multinational operator. However, the educated and the so-called ‘forward people,’ including some Marxists have neglected the ordinary working class grievances and aspirations. They are mesmerized by some fancy ideas, neglecting pathetically the basic human and material needs of the working classes including the peasants and the farmers.
The ‘globalization,’ even in the economic sphere, has gone too far to the detriment of the ordinary people. It is interesting note that within America itself, a friction has been created between the ‘national bourgeoisie’ and the ‘multi-national bourgeoisie.’ The weakening national bourgeoisie has opted to utilize the situation like at the Brexit. This is not the 25th century, but just the beginning of the 21st. The information revolution undoubtedly has been progressive. As a benefit of that particularly our awareness on climate change, and solutions also have progressively increased. However, it has not reached the poor or the rural masses in many countries including America. But the open borders at this stage is questionable, along with the globalized demand to give up national sovereignty of the nation states, particularly in the Third World.
I recollect my participation at a conference on the subject at an initial stage of this global change in 1984 in Ottawa. It was on ‘New International Division of Labor (NIDL) and Trade Unions in the Third World.’ NIDL was the shorthand term for the initial globalization of that period. Participated by both academics and trade unionists, a main concern of many (also mine) was on the questions of ‘job security and wages,’ the multinationals pressing for the downgrading or freezing of both in third world countries. The current globalization since then has had a devastating effect on trade union rights and concerns. My paper was on “The Challenge of the Open Economy: Trade Unionism in Sri Lanka.” Another interesting paper was on “In Defense of Nationalism as a Trade Union Perspective” by Manfred Bienefeld. Manfred at that time was from the University of Sussex.
What Trump highlighted during his campaign was about the American workers losing their jobs because of the American companies moving from America to Mexico. ‘Jobs, jobs and more jobs’ was his slogan. He also mentioned that then they bring the goods to America without much or no tariff. In the Brexit movement, the concerns were about Europeans coming and taking the jobs of the British workers. Trump also highlighted the high skilled migrants taking the occupations of the American professionals. Everything indicated towards renewed American nationalism and the sentiment became epitomized in the slogan “Making America Great Again.”
There is much concern about his expressed foreign policy. I say ‘expressed policy’ because even Obama changed his stance after becoming the President. However, his ‘expressed’ appears to be quite in line with his other policies. He appears reversing back to a sort of ‘isolationism’ characteristic of the American foreign policy during the inter-war period. Until the last moment, the Americans did not even intervene in the war against Hitler. This may be of some worry to the Europeans and staunch globalist advocates.
Even Trump might distance himself from the NATO. Whether this is only a short term financial concern or a long-term policy is yet to be seen. His policy seems to be to tell the other countries and the ‘allies’ that they should protect themselves. He might withdraw America from the role of the ‘World Policeman.’ Mixed up with costs and benefits, he is asking particularly Japan and South Korea either to pay more or rely themselves on defense matters. This will also have some repercussions on Australia.
The threats or risks for these countries in the region would be more, as far as they rely on a Super Power. If they depend on America for security matters, they are also not completely independent on other policy matters. It is good for them to look after their own security. For example, Australia could become a stronger country of its own, if it looks after its own security. This may be costly in the short run, but at the same time it could boost the economy in many ways. Anyway, America is not going to weaken its military, security or defense. Trump was repeatedly appreciative of the Generals who have clearly supported him for the presidency. His military strategy may be to consolidate, without dispersing energies in all directions. The result at the global scale would be to have a more multi-polar world than at present and that is good for international relations and particularly for small countries like Sri Lanka.
There has been a clear preference for Russia in contrast to China in Trump’s many policy utterances. His ‘antipathy’ for China appears to be economic rather than political. During the open debates with Clinton, he said ‘China is a currency manipulator’ and blamed the democratic administration and Clinton for cuddling with China. On another occasion, he said “China goes down to 7 percent [growth], and what they do is devalue their currency and they take more of our business and they start to go up again.” The policy to stop this ‘manipulation’ appears to have high tariffs (45 percent!) on Chinese imports. This is easier said than done.
In contrast to China, Trump had many good things to say about India. This is what might matter in the case of Sri Lanka. Speaking to the CNN previously, he had said “India is doing great. Nobody talks about it. And I have big jobs going up in India. India is doing great.” Although, India did not figure during his election campaign, he has repeatedly expressed previously that the ‘US and India would be best of friends.’ This liking for India might be particularly in the context of combatting fundamentalist Islamic terrorism. However, it could move beyond, even in the economic sphere.
Trump being a Republican, it is difficult to understand his critical policy declarations on free trade and globalization. If he is going to be true to his words, there can be some reversals in the current globalization trends and free trade agreements. Didn’t Joseph Stiglitz warn about some anomalies (‘Globalization and Its Discontents’) in the current globalization Process? If there is any useful lesson from what Trump has said or what he represents, the globalization is fine if it is anchored in preserving and promoting national economies. That is what finally matters to the workers and the ordinary masses. Globalization should be up to a certain degree at least at this stage. Otherwise, political systems would be in upheavals, sooner or later, like in the Brexit or the Trump’s triumph. Treading on globalization cautiously, might be the best policy both politically and economically for any country.
When Trump contested for the presidency, all forces and apologists behind the current neo-liberal globalization process went against him. The global news media and all pollsters predicted that he would be the loser. They were pathetically biased. It is understandable if a leader of a country took a position on the American presidential elections, given the highly polarized political positions between the two candidates. Even that is within certain limits. It was quite unprecedented, however, for certain officials of the United Nations to criticize Donald Trump at this election. This revealed something fundamentally wrong in what we have been considering as the ‘international community.’