Trump: One man against the world

US President Donald Trump. PHOTO: SAUL LOEB / AFP

To all intents and purposes, the indefatigable US President Donald Trump has acquired the not-so-flattering distinction of being one man against the whole wide world. And he seems to revel in it.

His “America first” agenda which is a signal tune for his economic nationalism has put him in direct confrontation against global interest and the civilised world’s economic survival.

For a clearer picture of how the world of Trump came to this pass, let’s wind back to 2016, the year, when Donald Trump, against all odds, beat the bookmakers – even against all his own expectations – to emerge as the 45th president of America, causing global consternation.

Against the backdrop of his calamitous and divisive campaign during which time he railed against convention and against orthodoxy he sought to isolate America, the biggest democracy on earth, by turning his country upside down, while the rest of the civilised world held its breath.

While Trump was waiting in the wing to take over during the January 20, 2017 inauguration, Barrack Obama, the out-going president, was in the meantime on a fair- well tour of Europe and you’d recall how he laboured, almost in vain, to reassure the rest of the world that Trump, the candidate, would be vastly different from Trump the president, the latter being more temperate, presidential and humble but more determined to promote world peace and not provoke a world war. He said campaign sound bites were entirely different from governance.

Obviously worried himself, President Obama stoically sought to allay the fears of American allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, NATO and the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA and at the United Nations as well as the Americans back home that the incoming president would work for the interest of America and the rest of the world. Obama could not fathom how anyone, who had laboured to win election, would not govern his country with the best of intention for the good of the generality of the people.

The assurance became necessary because Trump had vowed during the campaign that he would have nothing to do with these world bodies; free trade was, for him, a hideous anathema, a restrictive mechanism to short change the great America of his dream. America, he pronounced literally from the rooftop of the Trump Tower, must be great again. This was the cardinal policy of his entire administration – a credo by which he must live or die.

That was the reason he wanted out of NAFTA. Or if he could, scrap it entirely and put an end to this ambitious programme that has so far demonstrated how free trade, in no small measure, had benefitted the farmers, the artisans, the manufacturers and even the ordinary workers through wealth creation and the promotion of competitiveness to enhance quality and standard. It did not matter to him that majority of his people profited from NAFTA. He might not even be aware of the advantages.

One thing was certain. And that was the fact that Trump did not hide his disdain for trade liberalisation. He also made it clear that he hated free movement of people and goods across the international borders. Immigrants, both legal and illegal, he was convinced, crossed the borders freely along with the goods and services.

Trump’s anti-free trade policy naturally triggered worldwide alarm. It did not fail to arrest the attention of Madam Christine Lagarde, the managing director of International Monetary Fund, the world financial sheriff who, with her back to the wall, was forced to give an unsolicited lecture on the virtues of trade liberalisation, the need to create more jobs and promote inclusiveness, not exclusiveness. Lagarde, like Obama, was sorely worried about the evil that was about to befall free trade and the promotion of the greatest good for the greatest number of people in global community that would be devoid of rancour and belligerent supremacy of the mighty. She was worried that excessive rancour and resentment would put the global economy in jeopardy and the lives of the poor and the vulnerable in utter misery.

But her lecture, like other voices of reason, was destined to fall on the unhearing ears of a president that was consumed by egregious native nationalism, one who saw nothing but evil in ethnic minorities, the Hispanics, Mexican immigrants, Blacks, Muslims as well as Jews – the president, as it is now clear, who was elected not on the platform of decency and fairness and the rule of law but on the platform of hubris, resentment and vengeance.

When President Trump is not busy tweeting threats that he would press the lethal button for the ultimate nuclear annihilation against the North Korean supreme leader, Kim Jong-un and his people, he would be scheming how to provoke a trade war against all other nations.

Those, like President Obama, who had expressed hope that Trump, as president, would be confronted with the reality of office and settle down for serious business of governance, must be grossly disappointed that nothing apparently can deter this president – no reality can change his world view.

Nothing, not even the fire and fury that is turning his White House into the house of commotion, can stop him from walking the talk and keeping faith with his electoral promise, the singular mandate to take America back and send the immigrants packing.

One way, one sure way of doing that is to seek to please the steel manufactures and the aluminum industry and a host of others by gratuitously protecting them against foreign competition by slamming a tariff of 25 per cent on steel imports and 10 per cent tariff on aluminum imports. Reactions to this new policy pronouncement have been furious, in fact incandescent.

China, the largest goods trading partner – $578.2 billion in total goods trade in 2016 – has threatened retaliation. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the European Union, EU, as a bloc would respond by forcefully targeting the US iconic imports like Levi’s jeans and Kentucky bourbon whiskey, which are very popular in Europe. Canada and Germany have sent equally febrile signal.

But what can that do to Trump who may turn out to be America’s own Ivan the Terrible? He has vowed to hit back. And hit harder, too. He is angry with the German car manufacturers like the BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen for failing to assemble their cars on the American soil. He now wants to impose 35 per cent tariffs on those cars because according him, the “Germans are bad, bad.”

And, as for the EU – minus Britain – Trump has a message: “ If the EU wants to further increase their already massive tariffs and barriers on US companies doing business there we will simply apply tax on their cars which freely pour into US – Big trade imbalance,” he tweeted.

And a parting word for his predecessors in office: “Other countries laugh at what fools our leaders have been. No more!”

But there is more. Apparently Trump does not appreciate the enormity of the war he is bringing on the international trade and its web of intricacies. The Republicans, members of his own party, are worried to their marrows because they know that retaliatory measures are bound to spiral out of control with unnerving consequences on both the aggressor (US) and its allies with rising unemployment and increased social misery across the world.

But who can stop Trump, the trade war-monger, who says he is enjoying it because it is “a war that is easy to win” Who indeed can stop him?

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