Foreign Policy, Politics
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The New Trump-ian Order

It is exhausting to write similar ledes but the subject demands special attention. The world has entered a new era, a pole was switched almost overnight, and a completely different order than the one that was followed since 1945, is upon us.

The best way to know what’s coming in front of us, is by having an open and skeptical mind, particularly towards the conventional wisdom which is now emanating from the mainstream commerical media. Unfortunately, the reactions in the last couple of days, and the hysteria which seems to be the natural state of Western politics is evidence enough that the “anti-Trump/anti-Brexit” liberals are now determined to take the completely wrong and ahistorical lessons from 2016.

The liberal reaction of Trump’s win is one of brokenness and despair, but worse than that, it is an open season of fake expertise and fairly straightforward misrepresentation. David Frum, editor of Atlantic, tweeted that Trump is the worst President in the history of US, including those who owned slaves.

Susan Hennessey, editor of Lawfare and former NSA lawyer, tweeted that Trump is already violating nepotism laws. (He isn’t.) Others were even more ridiculous, in what seemed like a sea of hysteria not seen unlike the collective wail of third world communist dictators and their apparatchiks, who lost their banker with the collapse of Soviet Union.

Almost all of these are deterministic predictions, and are therefore inevitable to fail or be proven wrong, but that’s beyond the point. I am not going to make any such predictions. Rather I will try to probabilistically chart some potential courses the new Trump administration might take. Real political scientists know, that every contingency is determined by a number of unknown variables, and it is foolish to opine a conclusion about something before it has even started.

To start things off, it should go without saying, that Trump is not a Nazi (more on that here, here, and here). It is also borderline hypocritical and absurd to accuse Trump of white supremacism, and then in the same breath accuse him of nepotism by promoting his Jewish son-in-law as the most powerful aid in the White House.

I am no fan of Trump, and I completely oppose his devastating trade war plans with China (more on that in a minute), but he knows how to communicate in a simplistic, easy to understand way to uncomplicated minds. Regardless of the content, therefore, one needs to admit, it is a very effective strategy. But we also need to ask why what he has said has resonated so strongly with the masses rather than dismiss his statements out-of-hand.

A careful analysis of Trump’s platform during campaigning, as well as in his inauguration speech will point to three broad ideas, two of which makes complete sense, and one being (in my view) absolutely insane.

The first idea is nation building. Trump wants to invest heavily in infrastructure, and focus on inner US. He constantly assures his policies will focus on bridges, cities, roads, infrastructure, space exploration, innovation and hard science. It is a commendable goal, and it is about time US refocusses on these issues. Infrastructure helps in boosting economy, and invites investment. A new space age is also needed as quite simply, humans need to be a space faring/colonising species to survive, simply because Earth’s resources are finite, and cultural and structural differences between different parts of the world will mean ever growing inequality, differing rates of births, jobs and peace, and chances of future civilisational conflict.

His second idea is of American retrenchment. Here he is a little incoherent, but one can imagine the overall drift. America is a uniquely safe country, and will now look after national interests more than safeguarding an international order. It will stop promoting democracy in geopolitically cancerous zones with ever declining geostrategic interests.

This means simply three things: firstly, the days of allies milking American taxpayers for their own security is over. The reason rich European great powers atrophied their own hard military power is because they could concentrate on increasing social spending, at the cost of American security umbrella. Those days are over.

Secondly, the U.S. will get out of the nation building business, from regions which are, quite frankly, at a different stage of societal evolution, and which have been ungrateful and antagonistic to American stabilising/nation building/democracy promoting efforts to date.

Thirdly, it will mean, the U.S. will align itself with any Great power (including secular authoritarians) which will stand against Islamism. As I have written before, this is by far the broadest departure from bipartisan “Not all Muslims” rhetoric post 9/11. One can agree or disagree with any or every of these policy choices, but the American public support him.

***

There is however, one position, which I believe is counterproductive at best and dangerous at worst. That is Trump’s idea of a brinkmanship with China.

Trump wants to get back to lily white, 1950s style manufacturing in US, as well as prescribe economic protectionism, raising tariffs and confronting China in South China sea, while simultaneously opposing TPP. Unfortunately, these policies are frankly unrealistic and are not possible without a mutually destructive trade war, or worse, outright war.

First of all, the economic center of gravity has shifted Eastward in the last twenty five years. That is an irreversible trend. There is simply no easy way to explain this, but Western societies, with their high labour wages, sky high social security, and ever growing institutional barriers, are no competition to a lean decision making apparatus and low cost state backed production system in Asia.

Raising tarrifs and making foreign production punitive will lead to either companies moving their innovation and production out of US, or raising the cost of the product, which will both be devastating for the middle and working classes. Not to mention, it could damage most vital allies of US in the region, it could lead US allies to lean towards a Chinese led globalised trade order, or it could lead to outright bandwagoning with China.

A confrontation with China over Taiwan or the South China sea would be even more baffling. Taiwan is of no vital strategic importance to US, and the simultaneous attempt at balancing China and Russia is one of the biggest geopolitical blunders of United States in recent history. To put it simply, China is not like the expansionist and confrontational Soviet Union of the 1950s-60s. It is also heavily integrated in global burden sharing, trade, and intelligence cooperation. All that can be jeopardized with needless brinkmanship.

What I have outlined above are valid critiques of Trump’s policies which need to be vigorously pursued through constitutional channels and via Senatorial and Congressional opposition.

Unfortunately, the last two days have proved that the lessons of 2016 went unheard for many middle class liberal elites. There’s a patent surrealism in Madonna calling herself marginalized in an allegedly patriarchal society, while talking about blowing up the White House. There’s a rich irony in thousands of women marching in a movement led by someone who has promoted sharia law in the US:

 

It is also ironic to see full black clad “activists and protesters” burning Limos, smashing Starbucks and the Bank of America, while apparently opposing “fascism”.

It’s unnervingly Weimarian, when a flawed — but legitimately — and democratically elected government faces relentless rioting and opposition. And an opposition that decries almost every supporter of the said government to be fascists or foreign agents. This will only accelerate polarization, and paves the way for real Nazis promising order and retribution against uncontrolled hooliganism, next time.

Chaos begs for order and revolutionary forces inevitably lead to more reactionary forces. All black clad middle class marchers burning flags and taking photos with their iPhones, while being encouraged by celebrities indulging in their five minutes of virtue signaling, will do well to remember this centuries old wisdom — because sometimes what you fear, you end up creating.

 

Sumantra Maitra is a doctoral researcher at the University of Nottingham, UK. His research is in Great power politics and Neorealism. You can find him on Twitter @MrMaitra.

Sumantra Maitra

Sumantra Maitra

Sumantra Maitra is Doctoral Researcher on Great power politics and Neo-Realism, with a special focus on Russia at the University of Nottingham, UK. He writes for War on the Rocks, The National Interest, and is a regular analyst for The Centre for Land Warfare Studies, India. He holds a Masters of Journalism and Mass Communication, and a Masters of International Studies, both with distinctions.
Sumantra Maitra
Filed under: Foreign Policy, Politics

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Sumantra Maitra is Doctoral Researcher on Great power politics and Neo-Realism, with a special focus on Russia at the University of Nottingham, UK. He writes for War on the Rocks, The National Interest, and is a regular analyst for The Centre for Land Warfare Studies, India. He holds a Masters of Journalism and Mass Communication, and a Masters of International Studies, both with distinctions.

20 Comments

  1. Although I value your insights I do feel you are lending too much of your own knowledge and interpretation to Trump’s incoherent talks about his policy.
    Secondly, can we trust him on executing his policy, when he has proved to be a liar so often before?

  2. Thanks, that is a good question and deserves a response. You’re right, this is a primary assessment, and for all we know about Trump, he might not be able to go toe to toe with China, or be constrained by structural forces, including his own party, and the laws of economics, demand and supply. If he starts protectionism, it will hurt his working class base, and he might have to reverse the trend. However, the China factor is the biggest global risk, and needs to be discussed.

    • I believe Trump’s ‘brinksmanship with China’ is simply his initial negotiating position. He is experienced in deal making. I think his present demands are not what he actually means to achieve but he made them to allow himself room to compromise. I fully expect many to be surprised at how well things will work out in that regard.
      Trump is smarter than most people give him credit for. In personal talks with the Chinese I would imagine he will be respectful and work toward a mutually beneficial agreement. I can’t say how much he will accomplish but I believe it will be more than many expect.
      I agree that an all out trade war would be a disaster. Unless the Chinese leadership is looking for that I doubt it will happen however.,

  3. John Aronsson says

    I’m surprised you named brinksmanship with China as one of Trump’s ideas. I just don’t see it. The one China policy has had its run, just like the two state policy has had its run in Israel and Palestine. Really, taking a call from ROC seem less threatening than the Obama administration’s saber rattling around the edges of the nine dash line, trolling the PRC over its land reclamation in the South China Sea and its attempts to revitalize SEATO and arm the Vietnamese.

    To my eye, the most interesting and risky thingTrump is likely to do is to hold the EU at arms length and explore the possibility of an entente cordial with the RF. If the EU and those who go poncing off to Davos want to align with the PRC, fine; it should be very interesting.

  4. First of all, Frum is not a Liberal; not by European standards and not by the standards of American politics. So to intimate that he is part of the “hysteria” of the Left is not accurate. As a Republican, he has and continues to oppose the extreme tilt to the right of the Republican party in the last eight years. And he continues to fear what a Trump Presidency may do to our Republic; a large number of conservatives and serious policy-makers join him in that concern.

    Second, you talk of policy “coherence” as if that is an expectation we can have of Trump. We cannot. Policy will be ad hoc and dependent on his mood swings and whoever last criticized him or praised him and/or largely left to a staff and cabinet with competing agendas. Trump doesn’t do policy; Trump does Trump. His pathological self-regard prevents him from spying any interests but his own. He can be a shrewd marketer of populist ideas but don’t mistake that for intellect or policy coherence.

    Thirdly, it is a mistake to judge the legitimacy of the concerns of a large, perhaps even majority, of the American public by it’s most extreme manifestations. The hysteria of the Tea Party could have been and was dismissed by many with the same contempt but that did not blunt it’s effectiveness.
    I don’t recall anyone warning the Tea Party that what they “fear they may end up creating”. And taking the now familiar and predictable cheap shot at the mainstream media that Republicans have been bench-testing for thirty years doesn’t diminish the importance of an independent Press.

    Finally, the sanguine acceptance of Trump as someone who will provide a corrective to the excesses and deficiencies of American politics is an exercise in willed cognitive dissonance. Simply look at the man. Pay attention to what his primary concerns seem to be in his public statements and his Tweets. His full-throated attack against the Press and our Intelligence establishment are all about ensuring that his supporters have nowhere else to go for information, no sanity checks that would make him accountable or dim the high opinion he has of himself.

    For many of us Trump scares the hell out of us not because of his politics but because of his character. What is even more scary are the reasoned justifications by Republicans for his behavior and language or the dismissal of our concerns as “Weimarian”. One cannot evaluate Trump solely through the lens of his opposition. He has to be evaluated as a figure who comes to the Presidency with no experience in government, contempt for the norms of political discourse and the institutions of democracy and no record of public service or any past concern other than his own self-aggrandisment.

  5. Andre says

    “A new space age is also needed as quite simply, humans need to be a space faring/colonising species to survive”

    Technically, the sun won’t be what it is now in several billion years, but we’ll be long gone before then. If you think space colonization is a solution to our problems, I don’t think you understand just how big and inhospitable space is. The argument is ludicrous.

    We may generate some helpful technology as a byproduct of investing in “spacefaring” technology, but if the goal is to solve our terrestrial problems, throwing money at space exploration is an extremely low priority.

  6. There’s a lot of debate and available discussions on that already, so I don’t want to argue here further. Google “Kardashev Scale” and NASA papers on human space colonising.

  7. Paul Plihal says

    About the worst assessment of the situation I’ve read so far! Your opinions are fallacious.

  8. SM said “If he starts protectionism, it will hurt his working class base, and he might have to reverse the trend.”

    Not necessarily, China practices protectionism and it does not seem to harm them. The problem with protectionism seems that over time it becomes a ‘too comfortable’ bed. It is not that it doesn’t work, it does but in a world of competition it needs to be relevant. I would argue that it is relevant for America and most of the western world at this time. Will it be enough to save the USA manufacturing businesses? Who knows but I do know of a couple of companies who have automated factories lost 50% of their workforce but are outselling the Chinese in terms of a small $ increase to buy a high quality product. This is far better than closing the doors and walking away.

    In Australia, we have embraced the flat earth mantra of open borders for trade and it has done us immense harm in terms of jobs. The government would argue that it has been a great success, as it has not stopped the ever increasing taxes that flow into their colander coffers. The huge increase in part time work is also a result of this policy as companies struggle to compete against cheap labour and excess production dumping practices.

  9. The Chinese economy is weakening. They need the USA more than the USA needs them.

  10. I think this is a pretty bogus analysis. While Trump is probably not a white supremacist per se, this article does nothing to prove otherwise.

    To state that he can’t be one and still promote his Jewish SIL completely ignores that even the Nazis used Jews for certain tasks. Hitler’s personal physician supposedly came from a Jewish family. Useful idiots are always, you know, useful. Besides, he’s the only one who can fix the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. So try again.

    Then to state that Linda Sarsour proves the entire movement is bogus is silly as well. There are twenty people listed on the Women’s March web site and she’s just one of four national co-chairs. To make it sound like she’s the main organizing force is silly too.

    Further, the black clad people are not helpful but to claim they are associated directly with the movement is a stretch isn’t it? It’s not like the committee organized them. I wish they had stayed away but it’s hard to control who comes to a party of 500k people.

    I think there are many more factually suspect things in this article. In sum, this article isn’t worth reading.

  11. For those of us not suffering under the weight of media induced fantasies this presidency is an exciting proposition indeed. I do wonder why the MAD principle isn’t applied to predictions regarding the possibility of trade wars. If the world’s major economies are as interdependent as they appear to be then nothing is going to be gained by overplaying a weak hand. Trump is just boorish enough to force everyone’s cards on the table. No-nonsense dealmaking will follow.

  12. Andrew West says

    That Linda Sarsour tweet doesn’t look like it’s promoting Sharia law to me. Either it’s quoting the wrong tweet, or there’s missing context…

  13. Andre, I think you’re missing the point. “throwing money at space exploration” may seem like low priority to you but you may have forgotten that NASA’s endeavors (billions and billions and yet no moon colony yet?), have resulted in technological spinoffs and overall benefit to humanity, science and engineering knowledge. LEDs, infrared technology, artificial limbs, memory foam, dry-freezing foods, solar cells, water purification, etc etc. Harnessing the most intelligent minds to tackle space exploration may very well generate the technology needed to save the planet we live on today.

  14. Andre says

    “Andre, I think you’re missing the point. “throwing money at space exploration” may seem like low priority to you but you may have forgotten that NASA’s endeavors (billions and billions and yet no moon colony yet?), have resulted in technological spinoffs and overall benefit to humanity, science and engineering knowledge.”

    Kat, I get the sense you read neither the article nor my comment.

    1. The article said “A new space age is also needed as quite simply, humans need to be a space faring/colonising species to survive,” i.e., the NASA spending is needed because we need to get off planet.

    2. I specifically said NASA spending can generate useful spinoffs: “We may generate some helpful technology as a byproduct of investing in “spacefaring” technology…”

    And yes, in spending on space exploration, we may just trip across the solution that ends up saving our species. But

    a) I wasn’t just talking about saving our environment, but tackling ALL the major human problems. and

    b) Even if we just stick to environmental salvation, the odds that THE ONE solution will come from space exploration expenditures are pretty low, assuming we’re actively throwing money DIRECTLY at solving the problem, rather than obliquely at NASA.

    I don’t even have a huge issue with throwing money at space exploration, precisely because something useful may come of it. My critique is against the idea that there is some urgency that we become a spacefaring species ~soon and that we for this reason ought to be throwing money at the issue right now. We are tied to the planet. We have to solve our big problems here first, WAY before we become spacefaring.

    Also, I highly doubt we’ll become spacefaring in any meaningful way. Not in our current meatbag form, anyway. Perhaps once we’ve morphed ourselves into digital beings that’ll be possible. At that point, though, maybe we won’t need to leave the Solar System. Hmm. Interesting premises for a story…

  15. nicky says

    Some interesting points. The brinkmanship with China is somewhat scary indeed, but not half as scary as his global warming denial. For the US itself I’d rate the planned virtual dismantling of public education by replacing it with charter schools as highly damaging.

    The hysteric marchers would do better to plan how to prevent a repetition of the electoral fraud of the 2000 and 2016 elections than ‘burning limos and smashing Starbucks and Bank of America’.
    Organising marches is easy, while countering gerrymandering, ‘Crosscheck’ and provisional votes, partisan oversight of the counting, the Jim Crow allocation of voting stations, voting day not being a public holiday, etc., etc. is not.

  16. Bill Griffiths says

    From far off Australia, my only comment is that China needs to start pulling its head in. Premier Xi’s performance at Davos was terrible. Advocating free trade when you lead the last major mercantilist nation around and are routinely engaged in stealing other people’s intellectual property takes some nerve. If President Trump is able to give China pause without too much provocation, that will surely be a good thing and might give those Chinese interested in political reform some heart.

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