Translated by Guillaume Durocher
Will He Be Worthy of the Storm He Has Provoked?
Trump as a personality is one-of-a-kind, extravagant, unpredictable: his “impolite” behavior does not sit well with the habits of the ruling classes of most countries. And yet he was elected because he represents a popular break (even though he is a billionaire), in both style and language, with the petty-political and pretentious oligarchy. As a businessman, he has a strong knack for negotiation and deal-making, which is both positive and negative, because this can lead to a weakening of his electoral program, or even to breaking his promises.
Trump declares himself to be anti-System, and described the Clinton couple as a (counter-)model of backroom dealers and con-artists of an establishment to which he does not belong. However, he did spend time with the Clintons and even invited them to his wedding . . .
What’s more, the implementation of Trump’s program, in a highly legalistic country, will have to face inevitable and many challenges from the courts and the Supreme Court with regards to unconstitutionality, notably the measures on immigration. Trump will have to fight and adopt a position of fierce resistance. Will he be able to do it? Will he want to? The central problem is not his political inexperience, because one only needs to find good people to overcome this difficulty. What really matters is to have the courage to confront the System. Will is more important than supposed competence. Trump was elected by the “little people.” But he will come up against the hostility of the powerful, or even against organized riots, sabotage, strikes, huge demonstrations. Two Americas risk fighting each other. Will he be able to resist?
Will President Trump Stay True to Candidate Donald?
Following a thundering, provocative, and polemical campaign of breaking with the past, Trump has made very conciliatory statements following the evening of his election in the New York Hilton, and again after his conversation with Obama in the White House – they had practically insulted each other two weeks before –also making flattering and friendly statements about his female opponent, who he had wanted to “put in jail.” This turnaround does not augur for a strict application of his program starting January 20 . . . Let us hope that we will not witness a “Sarkozy effect,” which is extremely typical in politics: a “loud-mouth” during the campaign, “limp-wristed” afterwards; once elected, the candidate goes back on everything and forgets his promises. Too risky. One criticizes the System before but one does not confront it in reality, afterwards. Which is normal, after all, as one is part of it.
One already sees worrying backtracking. Since November 13, Trump has gone back on his determination to “completely repeal” Obamacare, the health insurance system that was put in place by the current President. However, he explained on CBS that he will expulse two to three million illegals. That is already far less than the numbers promised during the campaign . . . Actually, we would need to expulse 11 to 15 million, and not just “Latinos,” as they are called over there, but also those of Arab, African, and Asian origin. Will Trump dare to do what he promised on the podium?
Four days after his election, Trump has nominated his lieutenants by straddling the fence: Priebus, a conservative Republican, and Bannon, supposedly “far Right,” will have to cohabitate. He plays for balance, or rather for compromise, between the elite of Republican notables and the popular base. He cannot do otherwise. But it is not certain that these alliances of oil and vinegar will last long once Trump is in charge.
The Oddities of Trumponomics
In his economic program, one observes a surprising and heterodox mix of domestic [classical] liberalism and protectionism, of drastic cost-cutting and debt-deepening budget spending. An (apparently contradictory?) mix of Thatchero-Reaganism and Roosevelt-style Keynesianism! A bit of a big gap. Some measures are excellent, many others will prove impractical, or even harmful – notably on the environment and debt.
The Trump team’s economic program is a hybrid, “liberal-protectionist,” which is entirely new in America. Interesting: this strongly resembles the Europe of the Treaty of Rome (an ideal long since betrayed): domestic liberalism and customs protection of the greater economic area. Whereas today, we do the entirely suicidal opposite, especially in France: domestic socialist-statism and international free trade.
“Trumponomics” nonetheless appears strange: budget stimulus (spending) of two percent of GDP, a significant reduction in taxes for individuals (including the richest) and especially for companies, and open currency and trade wars with Asian countries, especially China. The risk of increasing deficits and debt may create a major conflict with the central bank, the Fed, which is an independent power capable of defying the White House. As for trade war with Asia, though this has been announced, it seems extremely dangerous and difficult in practice.
This “Trumponomics” risks hitting a severe snag with a brutal exit from free trade and the subsequent reaction of the financial markets, which are volatile when cornered into facing an unknown situation. Let us note that it is irresponsible in Trump’s program, which is “climate-skeptic,” to want to revive coal and renege on agreements to limit greenhouse gases.
These promises on oil and gas development risk leading to the renunciation of American commitments regarding the reduction of greenhouse gases.
Trump also wants to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has a budget of eight billion dollars. Ben Carson, one of his supporters, a neurosurgeon and also a climate-skeptic, is incidentally a genuine Creationist, according to the beliefs of the Protestant sects and . . . Muslims. Like Mike Pence, the future Vice President . . . All this is very disorderly and not very positive. Trump should have declared himself a support of nuclear energy, the only truly environmental energy . . . which environmentalists oppose. Especially on the issue of energy, Trump has it all wrong.
An Ill-Thought Protectionism
Protectionism, whose principle is defensible, is very risky in a globalized world if it is applied brutally. The Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Roberto Azebedo, seems panicked by the future protectionist and anti-free-trade policy of the world’s leading economic power. This could create a planetary crisis and recession.
It is true that this protectionist – or even semi-autarkic – program would be better if it were applied to the Europe-Russia area, which is much bigger than the US. For Trump, the trade deficit with China is unacceptable. Since China’s entry into the WTO, fifty thousand factories have closed in the US, according to him. He is considering customs tariffs of thirty-five percent on Mexican products, forty-five percent on Chinese (!), and ten percent with the rest of the world, including Europe. Tremendous. Unprecedented. Yes, but . . . he has not mentioned retaliatory measures. Nor the global crisis which would follow such brutal measures initiated by the planet’s leading economy.
Free trade agreements are struggling: the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) and TAFTA/TTIP with the EU are dead, according to experts. After the harshness of his statements against TPP and TTIP, it is difficult to see how he could ratify them, except if this king of the deal and of negotiation changes and reverses course. No doubt he will be pressured to do this.
To impose his protectionism, he will have to fight with the defenders of free trade, elected officials, and powerful lobbies, with the military-industrial complex (which lives on exports and fears nothing as much as trade retaliation), but also the powerful US Chamber of Commerce, the pro-Republican employers’ association.
The Chinese Go Game Strategy: Suffocation
The Chinese are rubbing their hands at the prospect of the excessively aggressive and therefore heavy-handed aspects of Trump’s protectionism. Trump made a big gaffe when speaking of an “economic war” which he wanted to wage against China, putting all his cards on the table. The US could foolishly lose out due to retaliatory measures. When the US renounces the trade agreements with Asia, the Chinese hope to thus trap them and create a vast Asiatic free trade area, centered on themselves, including Oceania and Australia and attracting Japan and South Korea, who are incidentally worried about the withdrawal of American military protection. But this would be a zone excluding completely the US.
American exports to Asia, which have the strongest growth in the world, would dry up. Trump must be more subtle and think carefully: wouldn’t his program be counter-productive, strengthening China instead of weakening it, and weakening the United States instead of strengthening it? The Chinese say the following: you want to be isolationist? Do it. Isolate yourself, and we will suffocate you.
Yet, after Trump’s election, neither the markets nor the stock exchanges panicked. For some, it is the proof that they believe in his stimulus program, but not in all his protectionist whims, which are regarded as impractical electoral blah-blah.
The Mix of the Best and the Worst
The repeal of Obamacare will be difficult to manage: it would leave millions of Americans without health coverage. The alternative – general privatization – is unclear, and hasn’t been worked on by the Trump team.
The moratorium on new regulations and the repeal of all decrees dear to Obama on the environment (the precautionary principle) and labor law, in order to make things easier for companies and avoid entering into a regulated, socialo-statist and paralyzing French-style economy, are very positive points. Here, there is a much higher chance that Trump will deliver.
Trump’s provocations do not augur well. Provocateurs are often softies who are amusing themselves. His friendly campaign statements towards the psychopathic North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-Un, are deplorable. Indeed, his (verbal) questioning of America’s protection of South Korea and Japan, which is considered too expensive, could push them to acquire the atomic bomb, which would be very dangerous.
But Trump is unpredictable. His program could prove impracticable for technical, political, or human reasons. In foreign policy, his promises, which question complex international balances, are difficult if not impossible to keep. There is still an abyss between electoral statements and the decisions to be taken. The reality principle must not be forgotten.
A Geopolitical Program Difficult to Keep
To say that NATO is an “obsolete and expensive organization” is an explosive phrase from a future American President, and in this sense very welcome, like a divine surprise, in the eyes of many anti-Atlanticist European movements. But too many forces would oppose a dismantling of NATO by the US, which has been its creator and leader since 1949. In contrast, this electoral position of Trump’s could be used by France, which would say “go ahead!” and distance itself from NATO. But would the pseudo-Gaullist Right, if it returned to power in 2017, dare to do this? Very unlikely. It is too timid.
Yet the harm is done (so much the better): by questioning, even verbally, NATO’s Article 5 – the absolute commitment to mutual protection in case of aggression against one of its members – in the name of “defend and pay for your own protection,” Trump has weakened the Alliance’s credibility among its allies as well as its foes. Putin is delighted. It is another fracture in the post-1945 security system. NATO is destabilized. Even if Trump were to backtrack, to put a little water in his wine – which is more than likely – the Europeans will not be able to definitely count on the American overlord-protector. This could push them to accept a genuine effort for their own defense, and thus to become sovereign and independent again.
On the other hand, to question the treaty (which is one-sided and dangerous, it is true) regarding Iranian nuclear energy, as he has promised, will be very difficult for Trump: five other powers are party to it. And then, let us note this contradiction: Trump wants to cooperate with the Russians and Bashar al-Assad; yet Iran supports the latter and is getting closer to Russia. One cannot be both for and against Iran . . .
Trump’s Ambiguities on Russia
For Trump, “Islamic State is a far greater threat to us than Assad.” In this, he is breaking with the stupid positions of anti-Assad European diplomacy and is joining the position of the Kremlin. The latter is caught between relief (Hillary Clinton’s election would have been a disaster, perhaps entailing an armed confrontation) and perplexity. For Trump, Putin is “a stronger leader than Obama.” He has gone very far in breaking with the official ideology, stressing Russian popular support for the annexation of Crimea and denying that Moscow is intervening military in the Donbass. This pro-Russian ideological turnaround, which is unprecedented, has horrified European governments as well as the American establishment.
Yes, but . . . the future Vice President, Mike Pence, has said the exact opposite (there’s a good start . . .). He has called the Russian President a “small and bullying leader” leading a “crony, corrupt capitalist system,” denouncing the “barbaric” attacks of the Russian Air Force on Aleppo. What’s more, the Republican Party wants to push Trump to deliver weapons to the Ukrainians. The Kremlin is therefore made suspicious of this “unpredictable” Trump and fears his fickleness. Konstantin Kosachev, a Senator in the pro-Putin United Russia party, has stated, “it is clear that we must not overestimate Trump’s America.” He is expecting the new conservative Congress – in which sits John McCain, bête noire of the Kremlin – to neutralize the pro-Russian wishes of the new President Trump.
A Trump Failure Is Not Desirable
If Trump fails, this would be very grave, because he has crystallized an enormous energy of hope. Trump will have to be careful not to provoke enormous disappointment after the great expectations he has stoked, not only for the native American people but also in Europe. If he fails because of backtracking and a lack of will, sovereignist, populist, and identitarian ideas would be discouraged and discredited. Trump is a mix of excellent things, very visionary things, and delirious and misguided things. All of this exists in a manifestly inconstant personality, but one also endowed with a strong, dominant personality. We are in uncertain times.
The French ambassador to the United States, Gérard Aroud, posted the following tweet after Trump’s election: “After Brexit and this election, everything is now possible. A world is crumbling before our eyes. Vertigo.” The world which is crumbling is his and that of his masters . . . This was a serious professional mistake, and a violation of the duty to be reserved on the part of the French ambassador: these statements are insulting to the future President of the United States, who will remember it. It is also insulting for the American people, who did not vote as the elites wanted. Normally, this worthless diplomat would have been immediately and automatically recalled to France, replaced, and put out to pasture. But his unpunished statements are interesting because they show the degree to which the international oligarchy has been unsettled by Trump, and also the degree to which it is going to do everything it can to empty his program of its substance, especially, obviously, on immigration.
What may presage against a weakening of Trump’s program from the beginning of his term is that he has nominated three “hard-liners” for his administration: Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor, who is an advocate for a total war against Islamism, and is a tough enemy of Tehran and the Iranian nuclear deal; a second hard-liner, Mike Pompeo, will be Director of the CIA; and Jeff Sessions will be Attorney General (Minister of Justice), and he is an absolute anti-immigrationist. This may reassure those who put Trump in office. But we are still on shifting sands.
In any case, Hillary Clinton’s monumental defeat, as the favorite of the American and Western oligarchy, is a strong signal. If she had been elected to the White House, a catastrophe would have resulted, both for the United States and the world. As a disciple of the neoconservatives’ ideology (interventionist warmongering), advocate for uncontrolled immigration, and of a new Cold War with Russia, she was a veiled fanatic, and would have been a disaster. The advantage in Donald Trump’s election, even if he disappoints, is that we have at least avoided a Madame Clinton presidency. Let us hope that he will not disappoint and will act as a catalyst for the awakening of the people of European origin in America and, as a follow-on effect, here as well. Good luck, Mister Trump.
This article was originally run in French on Faye’s blog, J’ai tout compris, on 21 November 2016.