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Trump seeks unity after a divisive campaign

  • Published at 06:03 pm November 19th, 2016
Trump seeks unity after a divisive campaign

The weeks before the US presidential elections had major media outlets stating that the election was over and that Hillary Clinton would coast into the Oval Office. Most polls also revealed that Clinton had a comfortable lead. Many felt free to vilify Trump as a hateful bigot, misogynist, and racist.

Then, on election night, in an astonishing turn of events Trump went out and crushed Hillary Clinton. There was also the Republican Party preserving its majorities in the House and the Senate. This combination will cast its own shadow with regard to the new appointments to the Supreme Court. This in turn will help Trump to have a firmer grip on power.

This development was a watershed moment in American political history.

Trump’s success also reflected the anger of a large section of the rural white population and the working class towards a coastal elite establishment based in Washington, perceived as distant and corrupt.

To this was added the Comey FBI factor in the final days of the campaign. The FBI announcement that they were reopening investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server created a confusion which affected public perception of Hillary, lowered her popularity, and enabled Trump to successfully bring wayward conservatives back into the fold and shred Clinton’s hopes of offering a compelling closing message to US voters.

Through this measure Trump successfully mobilised a deep undercurrent in US politics that his opponents badly misunderstood and underestimated. He tapped into the politics of fear of losing jobs to foreigners and turned this factor into an avowedly nationalist, protectionist and, ultimately, a winning strategy.

This recent dynamics has surfaced at a time of deep and growing polarisation in American politics, both between and within parties. Divides are now being recognised across different lines -- ethnic background, levels of education, income, or gender. Consequently, it has been wise of Trump to strike a conciliatory tone in his first remarks after the election results, congratulating Hillary Clinton and speaking about the need to “bind the wounds of division.”

This approach has also been seen in his observations during his first meeting with President Obama in the White House. He was there to discuss aspects related to transition, that need to be completed, before his swearing in as the president in January next year. He even stressed on seeking further “counsel” from Obama in the future.

Hopefully, such an approach will encourage the US general public to move away from demonstrations, remonstrations, and violence -- and instead concentrate on constructive solution of shared priority issues.

Observers have noted that Trump, over the past few months, did not hesitate to challenge the fundamental assumptions of US foreign policy.  He has stressed that US national interests will be the basis for determination of the US position. It will be “America first.”

Analysts have however pointed out that this definition is very narrow and does not include national interests also being entrenched in alliances, commitments and multilateral structures. This ultra-nationalist narrative probably stems from his business background.

On issues related to the economic arena, Trump has been advocating a protectionist agenda as opposed to free trade deals. This outlook is based on the view that the US needs to defend American jobs from the alleged unfair practices of others, such as China.

Consequently, Trump’s trade policies would be the single biggest change in the way America does business with the rest of the world. He has threatened to scrap a number of existing free trade agreements, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and also the recently concluded Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The EU has also noted that the chance of a possible Trans Atlantic Partnership has shrunk. He also intends to revisit US membership in the WTO. He has also hinted that he is in favour of taxing imports, including possible imposition of tariffs of 45% on China and 35% on goods from Mexico (to prevent US companies moving jobs south of the border).

Such an evolving dynamics would be a catastrophe for the rest of the world in general and the developing nations in particular. In this context, the possibility of GSP being retrieved by Bangladesh might also be affected.

The basic formality of Chinese President Xi Jinping congratulating Trump has been completed but the wait and watch sign is on within the strategic paradigm. Trump’s protectionist views about tariffs, market access, and exchange rates are being monitored carefully as China considers access to US markets as vital. They also know that any increase in US isolationism will make Taiwan and the South China Sea vulnerable, and diminish American leadership in Asia at a time when states like the Philippines, Malaysia, and Thailand are all re-calculating where their strategic interests lie.

It has been wise of Trump to strike a conciliatory tone in his first remarks after the election results, speaking about the need to ‘bind the wounds of division’

Trump has also underscored that he has a transactional view of international and security affairs. He sees little value in the web of alliances that underpins US global power. He has instead accused partners of taking advantage of the American presence and commitments without paying for it. Analysts feel that such a nationalist approach to foreign policy will likely apply to the transatlantic partnership with the EU (not seen by him as a pivotal partner) and the NATO. He wants NATO allies to pay more for US protection and spend at least 2% of their GDP on defence.

Trump supports a strong military to preserve America’s edge over adversaries but apparently objects to the idea of using the US military in crises or conflicts that do not directly affect US interests. All these elements appear to have persuaded the EU Commission and EU Council to invite Donald Trump to hold an EU-US summit in the near future.

Trump also believes that he can ease tensions with Russian President Vladimir Putin and looks forward to a convergence point pertaining to current ongoing American military engagements and Russia’s foreign policy imperatives in the Middle East as well as in Ukraine.

Trump feels that US should not only get out of the war in Syria and avoid destabilising more Middle East countries but also work with Russia to defeat terrorist groups like the ISIL. This he feels would bring forth global stability.

Two other issues are also being watched with anxiety -- financing and participating by the US in future mitigation and adaptation measures related to climate change. Trump has already hinted that he wants to divert funds meant for these measures to the building of infrastructures in the US -- a possible step towards increasing employment opportunities within that country. This would indeed be unfortunate.

The second relates to the issue of Palestine. Trump’s open backing of right-wing Israeli Netanyahu has now made the Two-State theory even more unlikely.

The post-election scenario in the US has seen remonstrations and demonstrations. However major terrorist acts have been averted. One can only hope that for the sake of stability, sensitive issues related to gender, race, and Obamacare will be resolved peacefully through constructive engagement. That should ease the transition. λ

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