The Perils of President Trump
The New Year greetings I sent to my friends and relatives this year included the hope that 2017 would be a better year for humanity than 2016.
That was from my heart rather than my head.
If I’d written “be afraid, very afraid” instead, it would have put a damper on New Year celebrations.
But as Donald Trump assumes presidency of United States – still the world’s most powerful country economically and militarily – it is difficult to avoid a sense of trepidation.
Trump’s inaugural address with its “From this day forward it’s going to be only America first, America first!” centrepiece was as crude and bombastic as his campaign speeches and gave no reassurance that the office of the presidency would moderate him.
So, all told, it’s difficult to envisage this year being better for the world than last year’s annus horribilis.
While the US and much of the western media have been obsessing about what Trump’s presidency will mean for relations with Russia, the much more alarming prospect of what it means for relations with China has taken a backseat.
During the transition, Trump and his Secretary of State-designate, Rex Tillerson, were deliberately baiting the world’s second most powerful country.
If the two men follow through on what they have been saying about slapping tariffs on Chinese goods, the one-China policy and blocking Chinese access to islands in the South China Sea, we may not only see a trade war between Washington and Beijing – damaging the global economy and making us all worse off – it could all end in a shooting war over Taiwan or the South China Sea.
Trump may well improve relations with Russia and end American attempts to prevent Moscow’s push back against western impingement on what the Russians see as their traditional sphere of influence.
But even there there’s an issue where it could all go south with the Kremlin – nuclear weapons. Trump has sent mixed signals: talking on the one hand about modernising the US arsenal and, on the other, the possibility of a deal with Russia to reduce the numbers of weapons.
Neither of these initiatives would likely be welcome in Moscow given its greater reliance on nuclear – as opposed to conventional – military forces for its security.
Then there’s the justified fear that President Trump – I have to pinch myself when I write that – is intemperate, impulsive and aggressive, and that rational discourse and policy-making will be eclipsed by the urges of this thin-skinned man.
We also have to remember that he’s surrounded himself with people who hold views that are, similarly, not always based in fact.
The most important area of policy this is likely to affect is climate change.
With climate change sceptics, and people with links to the fossil fuel industry, prominent in Trump’s incoming administration, the US contribution to fighting global warming is pretty certain to be undermined.
With NASA confirming in the past few days that 2016 was the hottest year yet on record – following 2015 which itself broke the record – action by all countries to honour the commitments they made under the Paris Climate Agreement just over a year ago are imperative.
The hope has to be that even if Trump’s “America First” sees him backsliding on climate change, other countries won’t follow suit.
China for one has indicated it will continue on the path it has set itself to reduce the intensity of its carbon emissions and many other countries should follow suit.
But can the world’s climate afford four – or possibly eight – years of Trump in the White House?
For the good of humanity and the planet, we can only hope so.