Commentary on global affairs and where they may be headed

Archive for February, 2017

Containing President Trump

It becomes clearer with each Tweet, Executive Order and press conference that the United States is in the throes of a chaotic attempted counter-revolution led – at least in name – by the President.

Donald Trump sees himself as a disrupter. A man who seems to respect no one, relishes in going against convention and actually abusing whoever he feels is standing in his way, including the leaders of some of America’s key allies.

Behind him are the two Stephens – Bannon and Miller – both hardline ideologues who some suspect are the real political brains in the White House.

Bannon is an extreme nationalist who, when he led the far-right website, Breitbart News, among other things, championed white supremacists. In an unprecedented move Trump put him on the National Security Council, removing key military personnel to make space.

Miller is a communications adviser who rose to prominence serving right-wing Republicans in Congress and who, at 31, is now so influential that he – rather than White House lawyers – apparently drafted Trump’s Executive Order temporarily banning immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries and the entry of all Syrian refugees (which might explain why it didn’t pass judicial scrutiny).

Some observers see Trump as Bannon’s ‘useful idiot’ but I’m not convinced.

While it’s clear Trump is ill-informed, doesn’t seem to understand the office he now holds, or be committed to much more than being the centre of attention and making money, he seems to genuinely share Bannon’s prejudices.

So, it appears those who said Trump’s opponents in the election made a mistake because they “took him literally, but not seriously”, were wrong.

They should have done both then – and certainly need to now.

Despite this, Trump’s first few weeks have shown there are some constraints on him.

Apart from the suspension of the Executive Order on immigration by the courts, his National Security Adviser, Mike Flynn, has had to resign after the media revealed he lied to the Vice President about his contacts with the Russian Ambassador in Washington, and, despite his rhetoric before taking office, he has so far maintained his predecessor’s policies on China/Taiwan and Russia.

But, he has moved to gut US action on climate change and he seems intent on neutering, if not abolishing, the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as repealing Obamacare.

Elsewhere, on the world stage, despite blinking first in his opening dealings with President Xi Jinping by assuring him the US would not depart from its traditional One-China policy, the chances of war between China and the US – either intentional or accidental – are still considerable if Trump follows through on his rhetoric on trade or the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

As a result, what many across the political spectrum are asking now is: who can protect the World from Trump and America from itself?

Ultimately, the main domestic constraint on a President is Congress. But, as yet, there is no sign enough Republicans are worried enough to take action against Trump, although they do seem concerned by his team’s contacts with Russia during and after the election, and it is always possible a Special Prosecutor could be appointed to look into this.

Whether his refusal to release his tax returns and his blurring of the lines between his personal business interests and the interests of the US government could lead to impeachment will depend on Republican Representatives and Senators deciding his actions are threatening enough to their own political interests and/or the interests of the country.

In the meantime, what can the rest of the world do?

Post-Brexit Britain – in danger, as it is, of slipping into less- than-splendid isolation – has decided to try to cosy up to Trump and is not going to publicly take him on.

China has taken the opposite tack and we’ve already seen Beijing make clear it is not going to be pushed around and – at least for now – Trump back down.

But many in the West are looking to Germany and Chancellor Merkel to stand up for them and the values of democracy and tolerance.

And Berlin seems up for it.

After Trump talked to Merkel when he first took over, the German government made clear she – albeit politely – didn’t hold back.

On the subject of refugees, Merkel’s spokesperson told the media “The Geneva Refugee Convention requires the international community to take in refugees from war on humanitarian grounds. All signatory states are expected to do so. The Chancellor explained this policy to the US President …”.

For those of a historical bent, the age old German Question has, maybe, finally found its answer with Berlin taking on the role as key defender of western values.

Quite a turnaround, given the history of the last century.

But Germany on its own can’t restrain a rogue US, so it has to be hoped the right-wing populist tide in Europe will wane, especially in France where Marine Le Pen is leading presidential opinion polls for May’s election, and the EU, which Trump wants to see collapse, will rally round Berlin and stand up to Washington.

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