Tag Archives: Donald Trump

Trump’s arrival means it’s time for Australia to review our relationship – and perhaps learn to say ‘no’

The Conversation

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is discovering the political cliché “change the government, change the country” might have bigger implications for Australia’s relationship with the United States than anticipated.

We might re-engineer the cliché to read “change the government, change its foreign policy”, and thus how America manages its relationships with friends and foes alike.

If it has not already dawned on Turnbull and his foreign policy advisers then it should have: a new American administration like no other in recent memory will require a rethink in how Australia calibrates its relations with Washington.

Not since the Gough Whitlam’s Labor government of 1972-75 has such a potentially awkward relationship existed between Australia and its principal ally, or to use another description, custodial power.

Whitlam parted company with his predecessors in his testy interactions with the Richard Nixon White House. Whitlam felt under no obligation to espouse a “pro-American” perspective on matters relating to the war in Indo-China in particular.

Many Australians found this refreshing.

While it was inevitable that a moment would arise when Australian and US interests would find themselves out of kilter, it has perhaps come more quickly than anticipated, driven by the arrival in the White House of a man untethered from principles that have guided American foreign policy for generations.

In Trump’s Inauguration speech there was one passage that should have given Turnbull and his advisers pause, even if these words might be dismissed as a rhetorical flourish:

We assembled here today are issuing anew decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land, from this day forward, it’s going to be only American first, America first.

He added:

Protection will lead to greater prosperity and strength.

The latter observation could hardly have been more antagonistic to the free trade principles and practice on which Australian prosperity rests, or for that matter be regarded as anything more than an affront to America’s own history.

In 1930, Congressmen, Senator Reed Smoot and Representative Willis C. Hawley sponsored legislation that raised punitive tariffs on some 900 imports, and in the process added poison to the well of slowing global trade, as The Economist put it.

Smoot and Hawley did not cause the Great Depression or add significantly to it, but the legislation represented a populist response to political anxiety.

Nearly a century later, an American president appears to hold the view that an “America first” approach – or a form of isolationism – will serve his own country’s economy well and those of its friends.

This view, even if you accept that the trade liberalisation pendulum has swung too far, is not sustainable if economic growth globally is to be nurtured.

Otherwise, disaster beckons, including a global entrenchment that will serve no-one’s interests, including America’s.

Trump’s stroke-of-a-pen end to America’s involvements in the liberalising Trade Pacific Partnership gave expression to his antagonism towards trade deals generally and spelled a pause in American leadership of a laborious process of opening markets and reducing trade barriers.

From the establishment of the General Agreement on Tariffs Trade, to the formation of the World Trade Organisation, to progress towards open markets under the Uruguay Round – alongside a plethora of bilateral trade deals – an era of liberalising trade has underpinned global prosperity.

So, the question becomes: how should the Turnbull government respond to these new circumstances in a way that serves Australia’s interests, and in an environment in which the world is in disarray? And it is likely to become more so if the early stages of an idiosyncratic Trump administration is any guide.

Policymakers need to think outside the narrow confines of what has been regarded as “America first” policy postures that have dictated Australia’s foreign policy choices, to consider what might be regarded as a less dependent relationship on our security guarantor.

None of this is an argument to weaken Australia’s commitment to the ANZUS alliance, nor our alignment with what we have always regarded as America’s better angels. But the time has come for a reassessment.

Trump’s ascendancy to power reminds us there is no such thing as permanent alliances, simply permanent interests.

Australia is not obliged to make a choice between its security in the form of its treaty arrangements with the US and its commercial interests, namely with China. But it does need to move to a position where it gives itself more flexibility in addressing its security and other challenges.

In other words, arguments for greater self-reliance – including defence preparedness – grow by the day.

How Turnbull achieves such a shift will prove a test of his diplomatic and leadership skills, and indeed his understanding of our country’s history. After relying on great and powerful friends for our security, we may be entering a new and distinct phase.

Whatever judgements might be made about the likely trajectory of a Trump administration, early days suggest that what he said on the campaign trail will guide his actions in office.

So when he talks about a form of isolationism summed up by the phrase “America First” he must be taken at his word, until demonstrated otherwise.

This poses obvious challenges for Australian policy. Do we gravitate towards the sort of world defined by Trump – with its risks of a return to a 1930’s isolationism or perhaps a form of 19th century mercantilism – or do we assert our own separation from such a worldview?

Are we seeing the end of “pax Americana”, in which the US proved to be the indispensable cornerstone of global security in the rebuilding of Europe, the containment of the Soviet Union, and a security presence in Asia post the Korean war that has enabled an extraordinary economic transformation in our own region to our advantage?

Turnbull needs to ask himself whether it is in Australia’s national interest for institutions like the United Nations, World Trade Organisation, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to be weakened.

Is it in Australia’s interests for there to be a confrontation between the US and China on trade, or security in the South China Sea?

Or a return to a ground war in the Middle East that would demand a larger commitment from Australia with unknowable consequences?

Lessons might have been learned from an earlier disastrous intervention.

Finally, Turnbull should resist pressure from his the right wing of his party, salivating over the arrival of an authoritarian in the White House.

Turnbull was derided over his initial response to Trump’s decision to abandon the TPP, in which he said China may wish to fill the gap as if, reflexively, he needed to fall in line with Washington.

While the TPP may be dead, Turnbull and his ministers shouldn’t be blamed for trying to keep alive an idea that would have provided a basis for a liberalising trade and investment zone in the Asia-Pacific.

Contrary to the views of its critics, the TPP was always about more than simply a trade liberalisation mechanism. It was also aimed at providing a framework for further action in counterpoint to China’s growing dominance.

Finally, Turnbull might consider the example of former Canadian Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who politely declined when he came under pressure to join George W. Bush’s cavalry in the invasion of Iraq.

Chretien, as leader of a country that shelters under a US security umbrella and is a fellow NATO member, said “no”, or “non” in his native Quebecois.

Last time we checked the sky had not fallen in for Canada.

The ConversationTony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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All hail Trump, the great transgressor!

The Conversation

Brian McNair, Queensland University of Technology

Since Big Brother first exploded onto our screens in 2000 I’ve been a fan of reality TV. In 2002 I wrote a book that included a defence of the genre’s democratising impact on our culture.

Where many commentators and more than a few of my academic colleagues dismissed reality TV as dumbed-down trash pandering to the baser instincts of the mob, I preferred to regard it as a prime location for the untold, self-revelatory, often intimate stories of ordinary people.

Shows like Sylvania Waters, Driving School and Airline showed non-celebrities – “real people” – going about their business, revealing their emotional and psychological quirks, overcoming the obstacles of everyday, previously unexamined lives.

The Apprentice exemplified a particular sub-genre of reality TV, giving us a glimpse of what it was like to build a business and struggle for success in corporate life, the dynamics of team-building and peer rivalry, the hubris that brought down the blowhards and the self-regarding.

“You’re fired!” was the catchphrase of Donald Trump (and Sir Alan Sugar in the UK version). It was informative and also entertaining. Trump was good at it, bringing his tough, no-nonsense management style into our living rooms.

And if that’s where his “tell it like it is” approach had remained, we would probably be looking forward to four, maybe eight years of President Hillary Clinton. Instead, we face the ascendancy to the most powerful office on Earth of a man formerly known to most of his voters as a reality TV star.

It’s as if Kim Kardashian, or, god save us, Kanye West was suddenly running the country (Yeezus for POTUS in 2020, anyone?) – surreally shocking in a way that the elections of former film stars Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger to the presidency and the governorship of California respectively never were.

Trump presents himself as an outsider, though his reality TV celebrity means that he comes from the heart of mainstream popular culture, as well as being a fully paid-up member of the rich capitalist elite he affects to despise – one who proudly pays no taxes, has been near bankruptcy several times, and convicted for racial discrimination in his real-estate operations among other alleged ethics violations such as the Trump University scam (settled out of court in December).

The white working- and middle-class stiffs who voted for him in such numbers appear to have forgotten the latter, or to not care, while rewarding him for his readiness to say the refreshingly (for them) transgressive things he thinks they want to hear.

From the beginning of his campaign Trump deliberately transgressed the conventions and codes of political communication in America. He already had the “Birther” slander on his political CV, the mark of a racist who simply couldn’t bear the idea of a black man in the White House.

At the outset of his campaign he proposed his wall on the Mexican border, and insulted that nation with crude stereotypes. He expressed racist views about a judge who was handling one of the many legal actions against him because the man had Mexican roots.

He promised to ban all Muslims from entering the US until “we’ve figured out what’s going on” with Islamic State – a pledge now downsized to include only those Muslims who come from countries with a history of terrorism. Will that include France and Belgium, one wonders? Or Australia? Or the UK? All of those countries have produced homegrown Islamists who have fought and killed for IS.

None of that put off the people who would eventually vote for him. He famously mocked a disabled reporter in front of a huge rally of baying supporters. It only made them love him more.

As did the release of the recording in which he observes that when you’re famous – and you got the sense listening to that tape that he was talking from experience – you could “grope” women’s “pussies” with impunity. The man actually boasted about how easy it was for people like him to commit what most people would regard as sexual assault.

He ran beauty pageants, and it seems reasonable to speculate that he would have enjoyed groping a few of the competitors along the way, when he was not insulting them for their body shape or attitude. Miss Piggy and Miss Housekeeping were his names for Alicia Machado, Miss Universe in 1996 when Trump took over the franchise. Apparently she ate too much.

In one televised debate he obliquely referred to a female journalist’s menstrual cycle, and routine misogyny has been a key element of Trump’s transgressive pitch. He “loves” women, he insists. You can imagine him joshing to his alpha male mates – why else would he marry and grope so many of them?

He invited the Russians to hack Clinton’s emails (and they did), and praised the sound management skills of dictators such as Vladimir Putin, Saddam Hussein and Rodrigo Duterte.

In the past, the merest hint of a candidate’s admiration for the Russian Bear or Saddam would have killed a campaign stone dead. Not Trump’s.

Having spent a century denouncing the USSR and Russia as the existential enemy par excellence, the American political system and public were now embracing a man who actively favoured Putin over his own president – the same Barack Obama who Trump regarded as an imposter in the White House.

Not one of these transgressions made the slightest dent in his image, or slowed his rise. On the contrary, his supporters recognised a kindred spirit. Hell yes! Pussy groping, disability-mocking, casual racism and sexism, joking about getting away with shooting people in the street because you’re so popular – that was the American way, and after eight years of a black man running the show and spoiling their fun it was time to remind the world who’s boss.

Trump’s transgressions were not gaffes of the type that sunk Gary Hart in 1988 or Gerald Ford in 1974, but delivered with a skillful eye for the attention they would attract in the news media. He succeeded in setting the 2016 news agenda way beyond his wildest dreams.

It’s reliably reported that neither he, nor his campaign team, seriously thought they could win the presidency when the race started, but so hopeless were his 16 competitors in the GOP camp that he was able to take the nomination and go on to challenge Clinton – one of the “nasty women” he despised so much.

Clinton had her vulnerabilities too, and Trump skilfully exploited them, which is what we expect in a political campaign. But he transgressed by calling on the Russians to assist, and by – it is alleged, and currently under investigation by the US intelligence agencies – actually conspiring with Putin’s security services to damage the Clinton campaign.

Which brings us to the Buzzfeed dossier, of which the most exotic if not politically significant feature is the assertion that Trump was videoed while in Russia engaging in “perverted” sex acts with prostitutes.

Let’s tell it like it is, in the spirit of The Donald. He is alleged by a Russian source in correspondence with a senior former MI6 operative, regarded by the CIA as credible enough for the dossier to have been passed to Obama, to have employed prostitutes to piss on a hotel bed previously slept in by Barack and Michelle Obama.

It is further alleged in the unverified dossier that, as a result of this and other sexual transgressions recorded on videotape, Trump is vulnerable to blackmail in his dealings with Russia.

This may or may not be true, and we may never know now that Trump himself is in charge of the US security apparatus, but the mere fact that we regard it as even possible in the context of a US president is, when you think about it, the most transgressive thing of all. Bill Clinton was Slick Willie, but at least the Monica Lewinsky affair happened in the security of the White House, and he came close to impeachment for lying about “not having sex with that woman”.

Trump’s alleged transgression was only exposed after the election, and despite the implications for US and global security – if the allegations of conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the FSB to distort the US political process are true, Trump would be guilty of treason – it does not seem to have seriously disrupted the transition.

Neither his voters, nor the great of majority of Republicans in Congress, seem the slightest bit worried that their man in the Oval Office could be a Russian stooge with a taste for golden showers. So deep is their hatred of the “liberal elite”, political correctness and all the other bogeymen of their nightmares that they seem able to let the scandal and the sleaziness wash over them.

And that means, alas, that those who think Trump will settle into a more conventional presidency, constrained by wiser heads like Rex Tillerson or Mad Dog Mattis – Mad Dog being the voice of moderate reason in this administration – are deluding themselves.

There is no precedent for the Trump presidency in modern times, and no limit to where he can go from here. He has transgressed and broken taboos all the way to the White House, and been rewarded.

He will continue to smash political conventions built over decades and centuries, using Twitter to goad and mobilise his supporters as required, attacking the free and independent media as well as dissenters in general, embracing murderous dictators and corrupt capitalists all over the world where he has business interests.

He will start a dynasty, and use the venerable office he now occupies to boost family members and businesses, friends and cronies. No-one seriously doubts that, and no-one in the GOP except for John McCain and a few sidelined others can be relied upon to stand against it.

For Trump, transgression has worked as a campaign strategy, and he can be expected to pursue a similar approach to governance, as in his recent comments about the EU and Germany. Until he fails, and fails so badly that no amount of scapegoating muslims or liberals can cover it up, America is his to do with what he will.

His transgressions will shift the culture and may even become mainstream, so that the kinds of racist and sexist discourse we have spent decades erasing from public view will again be respectable. The new culture of unapologetic bigotry and bullying will spread. Political success in a volatile ideological market place drives imitation.

In Australia Pauline Hanson’s One Nation will have a go at emulating Trump. In the UK, Nigel Farage is hovering menacingly. In France, Marine Le Pen could easily become president of the republic, and so on.

All over the world, hitherto marginal figures who share Trump’s contempt for fact-based rationality and informed policy making, good manners and basic civility will be jumping on the populist bandwagon.

Some media organisations will strive to maintain critical scrutiny over the Trump administration, others will become cheerleaders and propagandists such as Sean Hannity on Fox News. No-one can assume that in this atmosphere what we still call “liberal” democracy will survive.

If the democracy we have built in so many places around the world since 1945 is to outlast one or perhaps two Trump terms, all who reject the political philosophy of the strongman and the bully must prepare to counter it, in their private lives and public utterances.

They should do so in the knowledge that Trump is a minority president, defeated in the popular vote, the perverse product of a dysfunctional political and media system which for too long treated him as an absurd novelty and then, having given him the opening, had no means of preventing his rise.

He won by the rules, though if the dirty dossier is even a bit accurate, he did not play fair. We must remember that when his supporters start demanding “respect” for the office, and for Trump himself.

For a president who has transgressed so many of the conventions which make our democracies civilised and decent, respect is not an entitlement. It must be earned.

So come on Donald, prove yourself fit to be president, and prove us sceptics wrong.

If in four years time the American and global economy are just as strong or stronger than Obama helped make them; if the Chinese and the Russians have been dissuaded from their expansionist and illegal activities in the South China Sea and eastern Europe; if the progressive sexual politics and multiculturalism of the past decades have not been reversed; and if Islamic jihad has indeed been defeated as you assert only you can do – then you’ll have my respect.

I’ll even eat my Make America Great Again hat.

The ConversationBrian McNair, Professor of Journalism, Media and Communication, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission).  Read the original article.

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Two cheers for Barack Obama

The Conversation

Mark Beeson, University of Western Australia

Barack Obama’s presidency was always bound to be something of a disappointment. Few presidents can have entered office with such great expectations, not least because of what went before him.

Indeed, when we try to make sense of the significance of Obama’s term in office, we need to remember the truly appalling legacy he inherited from his predecessor.

Not only did George W Bush begin an entirely unnecessary and disastrous conflict in the Middle East – the consequences of which continue to destabilise the region to this day – but he also helped trigger a major economic crisis that threatened to bring down the international banking system.

The massive spending – and deficits – required by Bush’s ruinously expensive war in Iraq contributed to America’s economic problems. But the efforts of the Bush administration to wind back a painstakingly constructed, largely effective, regulatory framework that exercised some degree of control over the banking system and its self-destructive pathologies was another entirely avoidable incidence of self-harm on an epic scale.

The first thing Obama had to do on taking office, therefore, was to stop the international financial sector from falling off a cliff and prevent icons of American manufacturing like General Motors from going bust.

The fact that the sky didn’t fall in tends to be forgotten or wilfully ignored by Obama’s growing army of critics. If he did nothing else, though, staving off the world’s second Great Depression looks pretty good on the CV.

He might have done much more if he hadn’t been so initially bogged down with cleaning up someone else’s mess, not to mention dealing with a hostile, ideologically recalcitrant Congress that remained implacably opposed to everything he did. Whatever else the Trump presidency has to deal with, the domestic institutional roadblocks should be easier to navigate.

That Obama managed to get his signature healthcare reforms through Congress is a minor miracle, although one that is likely to rapidly dismantled on ideological grounds – not to mention the fact that “big pharma” will be enthusiastically backing its repeal.

Bizarrely, some of the people who actually benefit most from Obamacare – poor, white and working class – are also the most hostile to Obama and his “socialist” policies.

It is testimony to just how difficult it is to have a rational, much less an informed, debate about key elements of public policy in the US that such counter-intuitive outcomes are possible.

It is not necessary to be a conspiracy theorist or even a critical Marxist to recognise that there’s something odd, rather sad and deeply troubling about people voting against people and policies from which they might have been the principal beneficiaries.

Sadly, the domestic agenda, disappointing as it has been in many ways, was arguably Obama’s strong suit.

Critics argue that procrastination and an unwillingness to use America’s undoubted military might decisively has made the situation in the Middle East even worse. Red lines were crossed by the likes of Bashar al-Assad with no consequences, something that encouraged Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping to test America’s commitment to maintaining its primacy, the arguments go.

Perhaps so. And yet, “don’t do stupid stuff” is not the worst strategic doctrine the world has ever seen. Indeed, when contrasted with Bush in particular, it looks entirely reasonable and in keeping with a highly complex and unstable international order that defies quick fixes.

More pointedly, we actually know what happens when American administrations are determined to do stupid stuff, no matter how implausible such a strategy may be.

If we’ve collectively learned anything over the course of the last few decades – indeed, the last few millennia – it ought to be that wars are a lot easier to start than they are to finish. They generally don’t have happy endings either.

Perhaps a few carefully calibrated surgical strikes would have made a difference in Syria, but the record of American intervention over recent years is not encouraging. The motto “if you break it you own it” is worth keeping in mind.

We will soon have the opportunity to compare and contrast Obama’s presidency with someone who is altogether more impulsive and apparently determined to act decisively.

Whether the Hulk is preferable to Hamlet we shall have to wait and see. But that we came through one of the more troubled periods in recent history more or less in one piece is perhaps as much as “we” – privileged denizens of what’s left of the Western world – can hope for.

Donald Trump may rapidly discover that there are no tweet-sized solutions to the world’s problems. Winston Churchill’s famous aphorism may prove alarmingly prescient:

Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing, but only after they have exhausted all other possibilities.

Obama’s great attribute was that he recognised in advance how dangerous and counterproductive certain actions could be. There is absolutely no guarantee that his successor does. The Obama presidency may yet go down as a relatively sane and sober period bookended by the two worst presidents in American history.

The ConversationMark Beeson, Professor of International Politics, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Surviving 2017 – a user’s guide

The Conversation

Brian McNair, Queensland University of Technology

At the peak of post-Soviet triumphalism in the west, amid all the hype about a New World Order and the end of history, historian Eric Hobsbawm rained on the parade somewhat by suggesting that we were in a pre-war, rather than post-(Cold) war period.

Hobsbawm was a Marxist, deeply concerned by what he saw even then, more than two decades ago, as the rise of nationalism and religious extremism.

The ideological vacuum left by the demise of the USSR and the broader decline of socialism was in danger of being filled by tribalism, sectarianism and ethnic conflict. Long dormant hatreds of “the Other” founded on reactionary creeds of racial and religious supremacy would now have room to breathe, he believed.

He didn’t live to see that prediction fulfilled, but as we leave 2016 behind and the world prepares for a Trump presidency built on white rage, it is clear that we are there.

The Long Peace which has lasted since 1945 – no wars between major powers, no world wars after the two that defined the 20th century, and despite the horrors of civil war such as we see in Syria today, no human casualties on the scale of 1939-45 or 1914-18 – is coming to an end.

Russia hacks US elections, and invades sovereign nations in Eastern Europe. China steals US drones in international waters, and builds military bases on artificial islands. The soon-to-be commander-in-chief of America writes this is “unpresidented” (sic), while endorsing the behaviour of the murderous president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte. And all this before Donald Trump even gets his greedy fingers on the nuclear button.

All it will take for this bizarre mix of post-factual ignorance, nationalism and religiously fuelled aggression to become full-on war is one provocative move too far, by one side or another.

It might happen in the illegal Israeli settlements next week, or around Taiwan in June. Maybe Trump will take a shot at North Korea. Who knows?

We do know that we have a tax-avoiding, pussy-grabbing reality TV star for president of the United States, who communicates his foreign policy on social media while proclaiming he has no need for such trivia as CIA national security briefings.

And if we manage to avoid that apocalyptic scenario, we will still have to deal with nationalism tearing apart the UK, the EU, and all the gains of internationalism, globalisation and multiculturalism we have painstakingly made since the cataclysm of the second world war.

The English artists Gilbert & George produced a prescient 2014 piece seen by this writer at MONA in Hobart. It declares:

Our grandparents didn’t vote for fascists. They shot them!.

Well, now they’re voting for them again – in Austria, the UK, Australia, the US, even Germany, where neo-nazism is on the verge of again becoming respectable.

We are in an historical moment never experienced by anyone born after 1945. A moment unforeseen and unprepared for.

In that respect I am guilty.

Yes, like most observers I understood that Brexit was a possibility, given the polls showing a slight majority for Remain right up to the end of the campaign. But the wishful thinker in me chose to believe that no rational person would wish to tear up the complex web of relationships between Britain and the EU, formed over 45 years, and which had contributed so much to peace and prosperity on the continent.

Sure, the EU had its problems and challenges, but nothing a determined UK government could not have resolved through firm negotiation of the type pursued by Conservative and Labour administrations for decades. To destroy the entire edifice of economic, cultural and political union between 28 countries was masochistic and self-destructive, surely?

The Scots had rejected separation from the UK just two years before, after all, a very similar issue to that pushed by the English nationalists in the EU referendum.

What we see now with the chaos and uncertainty of Brexit would have been visited on the UK in 2014, if the separatists had won the referendum – ironically, the Scottish nationalists now cite Brexit as their reason for overturning the democratic vote for Union.

My Scottish countrymen and women made the right call there, and maybe that encouraged me to think the Brits would do so in relation to the EU, and then the Americans would elect a principled and experienced public servant such as Hillary Clinton over the mean-minded man who will soon be sitting in the Oval Office.

In the US election, again, the data showed that a Trump victory was possible, if not likely. No-one, not even Nate Silver and those at FiveThirtyEight, wanted to believe the data could all be wrong, even if we knew on recent evidence that they might be.

But we were wrong, very wrong, and now we face the most serious threat to all of our livelihoods and lives – wherever in the word we call home – most of us have known. Unless you are a rich billionaire such as Trump and his super-rich cronies, it’s time to dig in and prepare for a future of chaos and austerity.

Our grandparents DID shoot fascists, and they did win the war. We 21st-century anti-fascists can prevail too, but only if we understand the enormity of what we face.

This is a culture war, first.

As I observed in Porno? Chic! three years ago there is a global reaction underway to the historic gains of feminism and gay rights, spearheaded by radical Islam and now hijacked by the white supremacist alt-right. In what remains of the liberal capitalist world we must defend and promote progressive sexual politics as never before.

We must defend multiculturalism and the values of tolerance, against not just the white nationalists but the Islamists and haters of every type.

If our leaders had been more honest about and resistant to Islam’s assault on our progressive social values we might not be where we are today, in the UK, the US, France, Germany, Australia (where One Nation is preparing to seize its historic opportunity).

We must declare zero tolerance for religious, nationalist, and ethnic intolerance, from whichever direction it comes.

We must learn to fight the alt-right with the same ferocity and fearlessness they apply to their enemies in the media, academia, everywhere.

Forget politeness, or all known rules of online etiquette. Forget turning the other cheek, or trying to be reasonable with those who ignore the facts in the hope they will be persuaded to your point of view. Challenge them now, because the deplorables will be coming for you next.

The internet is now a target, so we must relearn how to live without the digital, and how to survive when the network gets hacked or knocked out by Russia or China (or indeed Trump).

As we have just seen in the starkest possible manner, our liberal democracies have become extremely vulnerable not just to demagogues spouting populist bile on social media, but to foreign state hacking.

It’s clear that when the Long Peace does end, the internet will be taken out first. We should all be prepared to survive the abrupt withdrawal of online services which we have become reliant on.

But look on the bright side.

Buy a turntable and some vinyl records; a nice pen that you can write with, and some notepads. Start reading hard copy books again. Reduce your dependence on the digital. Rediscover the pleasures of the analogue.

Such survival tactics won’t stop what’s coming after January 20, but they might make it just that bit easier to cope. Meantime, as we approach the new year and say farewell to Barack Obama, let’s echo his sentiments of this week:

God bless us all.

The ConversationBrian McNair, Professor of Journalism, Media and Communication, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Rex Tillerson and the new transnational oligarchy

The Conversation

Mark Beeson, University of Western Australia

If it weren’t quite so serious it would be funny. A man who styles himself as a champion of the common people, who he claims have been shamefully neglected by out-of-touch, uncaring elites, plans to stuff his cabinet with billionaires.

The nomination of Rex Tillerson, chief executive of ExxonMobil, as America’s next secretary of state is the culmination of an alarming pattern that threatens to overturn the postwar international order and entrench an unelected oligarchy with no record of – or obvious interest in – public service.

Even those of us who feared the worst from a Trump presidency have been astounded by a series of changes that for once merit the adjective seismic. At least Tillerson, whose name is only familiar to those who read the business section of the papers, is not a former general. Trump’s first cabinet will look slightly less like a military junta as a consequence.

Tillerson has no experience of international diplomacy of the conventional sort. This is not to say he’s not well-connected, though. Among his friends and business associates is none other than Vladimir Putin. Given the CIA thinks Russian skullduggery tried to influence the recent US election, one might think this would immediately disqualify Tillerson for this office – or any other government position for that matter.

Perhaps it will. Even some prominent Republicans like John McCain and Marco Rubio have cast doubts on his qualifications and credibility, so it’s possible Tillerson won’t get through what is likely to be a bruising confirmation hearing.

But, then again, he just might. No-one thought Donald Trump would become president, after all, so why should we be surprised if another “decisive dealmaker with unparalleled business experience” becomes America’s foreign minister? Trump has done his bit by dismissing criticism of Russia and suggesting the CIA is partisan and incompetent.

Without wanting to sound too alarmist and conspiratorial – although what passes for political reality these days needs little embellishment in that regard – are we about to see a remarkable coming together of transnational business interests?

This may not be as fanciful as it might seem. Tillerson already has a well-established and mutually beneficial business relationship with the Russian government. His putative boss has extensive global business interests, which he is likely to “leverage” via the presidency.

Call me old-fashioned, but this is starting to look a bit like the emergence of what the Marxists used to call a global ruling class.

The great irony of the Trump presidency may be to unambiguously confirm what some of us have long suspected: that global elites have far more in common with each other than they do with the people of the countries they come from and sometimes claim to represent. It is striking that Xi Jinping is off to Davos to hobnob with the global plutocracy for the first time next year, for example.

This is not so surprising. The billionaires who make up China’s rising capitalist class also have more in common with their counterparts in the West – their membership of the Communist Party notwithstanding. The sort of “transactional approach” to international politics that team Trump seems to be intent on developing might suit China’s authoritarian oligarchs just as well as it does Russia’s.

This might give ideas about the pacifying impact of economic interdependence a real shot in the arm, but not in the way we imagined. Why would global elites want to go to war when they can come to some sort of mutually agreeable – and enriching – deal?

The other great potential advantage of the Trump presidency from the perspective of global business elites is that a little authoritarian transnational co-operation might be able to put a stop to all this endless bleating about human rights and democracy. Surely Trump can make a deal with the Chinese over the status of Taiwan and Hong Kong, too, for that matter?

Fanciful and absurd, right? I certainly hope so.

And yet when democracy is in retreat or under intense pressure around the world, and when the incoming US government shows little interest in providing leadership, much less a plausible role model for the rest of the world, even the improbable needs to be considered.

The absence of democracy is no impediment to economic development and wealth creation, as China so vividly demonstrates. Dealing effectively with unpleasant autocrats with no respect for human rights may not be so difficult with practical types like Trump and Tillerson in charge.

After all, if you can’t beat them …

The ConversationMark Beeson, Professor of International Politics, University of Western Australia

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Trump’s America: the irresponsible stakeholder?

The Conversation

Mark Beeson, University of Western Australia

How times change. A decade or so ago, former World Bank president and deputy secretary of state Robert Zoellick suggested to China that it needed to become a “responsible stakeholder”. Even at the time this advice looked slightly condescending and patronising. Now it looks bizarrely out of kilter with a rapidly evolving international order.

In the twilight of the Obama administration, Xi Jinping is the most important leader at the current APEC summit in Peru. His keynote speech in support of trade liberalisation means he is also the current standard-bearer for continuing economic integration and the sorts of institutions that are supposed to facilitate it.

Until recently the conventional wisdom had it that only the benign dominance of the US could underpin the sort of rules-based system that is thought to distinguish an effective international order. The imminent inauguration of Donald Trump threatens to permanently overturn such assumptions, not to mention the international status quo itself.

Not only is Trump seemingly no admirer of the existing array of international institutions, but his actions and mooted policies are also likely to fatally undermine whatever remains of American authority and soft power. China, on the other hand, may be about to start playing the sort of stabilising role as a “good international citizen” that many believed a uniquely American responsibility.

In one of the more striking manifestations of this role reversal, China has urged the putative Trump administration to honour its Paris Accord commitments to climate change mitigation. The fact that it is almost certain that a pro-fossil-fuel Trump administration almost certainly won’t is less significant – in the short term, at least – than the fact that China probably will.

China may be assuming the role as defender of the prevailing international order. This is not only a remarkable transformation in the roles of the US and China, but it also poses challenges for their respective friends and possible foes alike. The key question for the countries of East Asia generally and Australia in particular is: which of the rival great powers is most likely to actually preserve the existing international order on which they have come to rely?

Given the procession of Southeast Asian leaders making their way to Beijing to pay their respects, it is clear which way some regional leaders think the winds of diplomatic influence are blowing. Plainly, some of Asia’s more authoritarian regimes may have compelling short-term reasons to favour a more politically and ideologically accommodating China over the US.

China’s evident goal of reassuming its historically dominant role in East Asia may be dramatically accelerated by a Trump presidency. A paradoxical outcome, perhaps, but less surprising and outlandish than it may seem to some in Australia and the US.

On the contrary, it has been persuasively argued that when China has been strong the region of which it is the most important part has generally been stable. Only when China has been weak has the region descended into turmoil.

If this idea holds true for the contemporary era the implication is equally clear and potentially discomfiting for policymakers in Canberra: the rise of China may not be as destabilising for the region as some – especially in the US – claim. China might even provide the sort of stability that was formerly associated with the US – despite the latter’s prominent role in the Korean and Vietnam wars.

Indeed, it is important to remember – as many in China do – that China’s geopolitical track record compares rather favourably with that of the US. Historically it hasn’t been an expansionary power and it has been involved in far fewer recent wars than America has.

None of this is cause for complacency, as China’s actions in the South China Sea remind us. But if the countries most directly affected by China’s assertive policies are apparently shifting their positions and possibly even their alliances, this could make high-profile strategic gestures from Australia ineffective and contrary to our notional national interest.

More importantly from an Australian perspective, if China really does begin to underpin rather than undermine the existing regional order it might actually be in Australia’s interest not to oppose Chinese diplomacy quite so vigorously.

Such a proposition is an unthinkable heresy for most of Australia’s strategic and policymaking elites. But why would Australia want to uncritically align itself with a foreign power that may, by intention or neglect, undermine the current international order? It really does make a difference who is in power in other countries, even those upon which we have come to depend so heavily.

Precisely the same logic applies to China, too. Xi Jinping is an increasingly assertive and authoritarian figure who is directly implicated in China’s recent strategic policies.

All the more reason, therefore, that Australian policymakers should attempt to develop genuinely independent positions on critical issues, such as the growing tensions in the South China Sea or the role of the international institutions that attempt to maintain strategic stability and economic openness.

The region and the world are changing rapidly. Policy ought to reflect contemporary geopolitical realities, not anachronistic shibboleths. As Keynes famously observed, when the facts change we may need to change our minds, too – however difficult that may be for some of our leaders and policymakers.

The ConversationMark Beeson, Professor of International Politics, University of Western Australia

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Australia should assume Trump won’t step back from his campaign commitments

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John Hewson, Australian National University

World leaders have responded, variously, to the shock victory of Donald Trump in the US Presidential Election. Few took the opportunity as well as Germany’s Angela Merkel to specify their “terms of engagement” with the new President elect.

Merkel said:

“Germany and America are bound by their values: democracy, freedom, respect for the law, and the dignity of human beings, independent of their origin, their colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political position.”

She added:

“On the basis of these values I offer the future President of the US, Donald Trump, close cooperation.”

I am sure that Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, too, would claim to have made similar comments. He too would have gained “assurances” as to Trump’s attitude to our alliance, and to our region. But probably not as succinctly, and with such clear intent as Merkel.

Understandably, there is considerable global confusion, and some concern, as to just how Trump will govern. And how well. There are significant checks and balances in the US political system when it comes to the exercise of power, especially relative to the Congress, in relation to domestic policies. But the President’s role as Commander-in-Chief is much less constrained.

Just which of the myriad of “promises and commitments” will he stick with, and which will he jettison? Will he actually build “the wall,” resort to tariff protection, tear up trade deals, ban Muslim and other immigrants, dramatically cut taxes, build all those roads, bridges and other infrastructure, step back from global defence, security and climate engagements, and a veritable host of others?
Some believe now that he has won, he will step back from much of this. However, I think this view misses the very point of his victory.

He ran a consistent and focused “anti-establishment” campaign – broadly, anti-globalisation, anti-freer trade, anti-immigration, and anti-Washington. His voters see him as a “game changer”. They expect him to deliver. I believe he will do his utmost to do so.

It has been characteristic of successive, previous “Establishment Presidents” to step back from most of their campaign commitments. To meet the expectations of his constituency Trump can’t, and won’t, do this, to the maximum extent.

Not surprisingly, he would initially offer “soothing assurances” to the likes of Turnbull, just as he made “soothing and healing” utterances in his acceptance speech. These included “governing for all Americans,” “unifying America,” reiterating the promises of new infrastructure, new businesses and new jobs.

His big wins were in the mid-West, manufacturing, rust belt, states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and in small-town, regional and rural America. They want jobs, and market “protection,” and don’t want migrants, or to have to live with the dictations of minorities, and the intrusions of Washington, dominated by powerful vested interests.

So, expect tariffs on China (probably after asserting currency manipulation) and on other “trade predators”, including Mexico. The Mexicans, and financial markets, obviously believe this given the almost immediate and historically significant collapse of the Peso. The real unknown is how such countries will respond, and in what form, and with what intensity, and just where such a process would end.

Similarly, he can be expected to renegotiate, if not tear up, some existing trade deals, especially NAFTA, and not to sign any new ones, including the TPP. He can also be expected to restrict immigration, and to chase those who have arrived illegally. He can be expected to backtrack on climate change, which he described as a “hoax”.

He may well treat Congress with contempt, at least initially. He owes very few of them, very little. Indeed, he may be wise to hit the Congressional ground running, by challenging them, as an early priority, to pass a bundle of legislation consistent with his anti-establishment platform.

However, I doubt his fiscal economic agenda, as much as we can ascertain it, is deliverable. With a still significant budget deficit and debt overhang, he will have very limited capacity to fund his promised infrastructure programs, large tax cuts, and increased defence expenditure, even with significant cuts to large expenditure areas such as health.

However, to the extent Trump is able to implement his trade and economic strategies they will be disruptive to global trade, and probably global growth, and inflationary, in time. This would probably lead to higher interest rates and a higher US dollar. It will be an important question whether any boost to US growth is sustainable.

The essence of Trump’s anti-establishment program is very nationalistic and isolationist. His constituency has a very clear idea of what they expect to make “America Great” again.

Much of this could be very bad news for Australia, with far reaching national and regional consequences. We will need a very clear sense, and electoral sign off, as to what is in our national interests. It will not be good enough to rest on our laurels, and to just keep citing the importance and strength of our US alliance, in the vain hope that somehow we will be treated differently, that we will be “special”.

Indeed, we will need to earn the relationship moving forward. We will need to be proactive, and may need to be prepared to renegotiate a new “US alliance”. We would be wise to begin this process against the background of rapidly developing our alliances with key Asian neighbours, especially Japan and South Korea.

The ConversationJohn Hewson, Professor and Chair, Tax and Transfer Policy Institute, Crawford School, Australian National University

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Five things that explain Donald Trump’s stunning presidential election victory

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Anthony J. Gaughan, Drake University

A populist wave that began with Brexit in June reached the United States in stunning fashion on Tuesday night. In one of the biggest upsets in American political history, Donald Trump won a truly historic victory in the U.S. presidential election.

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Trump’s remarkably decisive win stunned most political pundits, myself included. Throughout the campaign, Trump seemed to have a polling ceiling of about 44 percent and he consistently had the highest unfavorability rating of any major party nominee in history. Accordingly, months ago I predicted that Clinton would easily beat Trump.

Then, at the beginning of October, the uproar over Trump’s lewd and offensive remarks on the “Access Hollywood” videotape, combined with the escalating number of women who accused Trump of sexual assault, seemed to finish off his campaign. Right up until Tuesday afternoon, therefore, a comfortable victory for Clinton seemed like a foregone conclusion.

But I was dead wrong. Trump won a sweeping victory in the presidential race. His night began with critical victories in Florida, North Carolina and Ohio, three states essential to his path to 270 electoral votes. As the night wore on, Clinton’s “blue wall” collapsed amid a red tide that swept across the country from the Atlantic coast to the Rocky Mountains. The blue states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa fell to Trump like dominoes. The election returns made clear that Trump would carry over 300 electoral votes, more than enough to win the presidency.

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It’s extremely early to draw conclusions about the 2016 election results, but here are five factors that at least partially explain what happened.

1. Silent Trump vote

There really was a silent Trump vote that the polls failed to pick up on. The nationwide polling average gave Clinton about a 3-point lead overall, and the state-by-state polls indicated that she would win at least 300 electoral votes.

But the polls were as wrong as the pundits. Problems with the polls’ methodologies will undoubtedly be identified in the days and weeks ahead.

It seems equally reasonable to conclude that many Trump voters kept their intentions to themselves and refused to cooperate with the pollsters.

The extraordinary role of FBI Director James Comey in the presidential campaign cannot be underestimated either. Two weeks ago Clinton seemed on the verge of winning a double-digit victory. But Comey’s Oct. 28 letter to Congress, which announced that the FBI was reopening its investigation into Clinton’s State Department emails, changed the momentum of the race. Clinton retook the polling lead at the end of last week, but the final polls masked the lasting damage that the Comey letter had done to her campaign.

Whatever the ultimate explanation for the polls’ failure to predict the election’s outcome, the future of the polling industry is in question after Tuesday. Trump’s astounding victory demonstrated that the polls simply cannot be trusted.

2. Celebrity beat organization

A longstanding assumption of political campaigns is that a first-rate “Get out the Vote” organization is indispensable. The conventional wisdom in 2016 thus held that Trump’s lack of a grassroots organization was a huge liability for his campaign.

But as it turned out, he didn’t need an organization. Trump has been in the public eye for over 30 years, which meant that he entered the race with nearly 100 percent name recognition. Trump’s longstanding status as a celebrity enabled him to garner relentless media attention from the moment he entered the race. One study found that by May 2016 Trump had received the equivalent of US$3 billion in free advertising from the media coverage his campaign commanded. Trump seemed to intuitively understand that the controversial things he said on the campaign trail captured the voters’ attention in a way that serious policy speeches never could.

Most important of all, he had highly motivated voters. Trump’s populist rhetoric and open contempt for civility and basic standards of decency enabled him to connect with the Republican base like no candidate since Ronald Reagan. Trump didn’t play by the normal rules of politics, and his voters loved him for it.

Trump’s victory would seem to herald a new era of celebrity politicians. He showed that a charismatic media-savvy outsider has significant advantages over traditional politicians and conventional political organizations in the internet age. In the future, we may see many more unconventional politicians in the Trump mold.

3. Populist revolt against immigration and trade

It will take days to sort through the data to figure out what issues resonated mostly deeply with Trump’s base.

But immigration and trade seem virtually certain to be at the top of the list. Trump bet his whole campaign on the idea that popular hostility to liberal immigration and free trade policies would propel him to the White House.

From the beginning to the end of his campaign, he returned time and again to those two cornerstone issues. In his announcement speech, he promised to build a wall on the Mexican border and deport 11 million unauthorized immigrants. He also pledged to tear up free trade agreements and bring back manufacturing jobs. From day one, he made xenophobic and nationalistic policies the centerpiece of his campaign.

Critics rightfully condemned his vicious attacks on Mexicans and Muslims, but Trump clearly understood that hostility toward immigration and globalization ran deep among a critical mass of American voters.

His decision to focus on immigration and trade paid off in spades on Election Day. It’s no coincidence that Trump did exceptionally well in the traditionally blue states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, all of which have large populations of white working-class voters. Previous Republican nominees such as John McCain, who embraced generous immigration policies, and Mitt Romney, who advocated free trade, never managed to connect with blue-collar voters in the Great Lakes region.

But Trump’s anti-immigration and protectionist trade policies gave him a unique opening with white working-class voters, and he made the most of it.

4. Outsiders against insiders

Trump will be the first president without elective office experience since Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s. Eisenhower, however, served as supreme allied commander in Europe during World War II and had unrivaled expertise in foreign affairs.

So how did Trump make his lack of government experience an asset in the campaign?

The answer lay in the intense and widespread public hostility to the political, media and business establishments that lead the country. Trust in institutions is at an all-time low and a majority of Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction.. The angry and volatile public mood made 2016 the ultimate change election.

Amid such a potent anti-establishment spirit, Trump’s vulgar, intemperate and unorthodox style struck voters as far more genuine than the highly cautious and controlled Hillary Clinton. As the brash and unpredictable Trump positioned himself as an agent of change, Clinton seemed like the establishment’s candidate, an impression that proved fatal to her campaign. Indeed, Trump used Clinton’s deep experience in the White House, Senate and State Department against her by citing it as evidence that she represented the status quo.

Ironically, Bill Clinton won the White House 24 years ago using a similar anti-establishment strategy. In the 1992 election, he successfully depicted incumbent President George H. W. Bush as an out-of-touch elitist. Eight years later Bush’s son, George W. Bush, employed the same tactic to defeat Vice President Al Gore. And in 2008 Barack Obama successfully ran as an outsider against John McCain.

Trump is thus the fourth consecutive president to win the White House by running as an “outsider” candidate. That is a lesson that future presidential candidates forget at their peril.

5. America, the divided

Above all, the 2016 election made clear that America is a nation deeply divided along racial, cultural, gender and class lines.

Under normal circumstances, one would expect the new president to attempt to rally the nation behind a message of unity.

But Trump will not be a normal president. He won the White House by waging one of the most divisive and polarizing campaigns in American political history. It is entirely possible that he may choose to govern using the same strategy of divide and conquer.

In any case, Trump will soon be the most powerful person in the world. He will enter office on Jan. 20 with Republican majorities in the House and Senate, which means Republicans will dictate the nation’s policy agenda and control Supreme Court appointments for the next four years. It seems highly likely therefore that Nov. 8, 2016 will go down in the history books as a major turning point in American history.

The 2016 election defied the conventional wisdom from start to finish. It is probably a safe bet that the Trump presidency will be just as unpredictable.

The ConversationAnthony J. Gaughan, Professor of Law, Drake University

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Trump can kill trade deals but he can’t kill globalisation

The Conversation

Remy Davison, Monash University

2016 will go down as a watershed year for all the wrong reasons: Britain’s EU exit faces strong opposition; Syria remains plunged in civil war; and in the wake of the US election politics in the two major Anglosphere democracies are now deeply polarised.

In Britain and the US, the majority of voters have embraced candidates and movements that eschew globalisation, immigration and free markets. Instead, they preach nationalism, closed borders and protectionism.

But it is hyperbolic to suggest that the post-2008 financial crisis era is beginning to look very much like the 1930s in the wake of the Wall Street crash. This is not a clash between fascism, communism and democracy. But what the Brexit and US presidential votes do show is that modern democracies have proven incapable of dealing adequately with income inequality, unemployment and declining opportunity.

With Trump as president, US policy is likely to become more unpredictable, but the business of government and policy implementation must go on nevertheless.

Despite Republican majorities in Congress, Trump will not be able to treat the legislature as a mere rubber stamp. In the US system, Congress holds the whip hand. Moreover, Trump is at war with so many senior Republicans, he is unlikely to enjoy a smooth ride. Where congressional Republicans and Trump do agree is that tax cuts are needed.

Unchartered waters

In this respect, we are really navigating unknown waters as to how Trump will behave in office as president. Trump has no public sector background. He will be the first US president to enter the office without any gubernatorial or congressional experience, or any previous role in an administration.

Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush served as state governors; John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama were junior senators (Obama also served as a state senator from 1996); George H.W. Bush served in multiple roles, including the vice presidency. In the post-war period, only Eisenhower comes close to Trump as a political cleanskin. But Eisenhower had a substantial military career, a reputation as a war hero, and had been a key adviser to both the military and the Department of Defense before and after World War II.

Trump’s victory has been built on his image as a Washington outsider. But his isolationist, nationalist and protectionist policies are not new; the first US Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, was an unabashed protectionist, viewing American infant industries as central to the US’s commercial rivalry with industrial Britain.

On defence and trade policy, Trump is close to many of the positions articulated by the America First movement in the 1930s and 1940s. Substantial figures, such as Charles Lindbergh and future president Gerald Ford, sought to keep America out of the second world war. But once Washington entered the war, it did not make the same mistake it made after Versailles in 1919; instead, the US became a global economic and military superpower, eschewing the isolationism of 1920–41.

As a self-declared neo-isolationist, one of the keys to Trump’s victory was his denunciation of the free-trade orthodoxy that has dominated Washington’s economic agenda since the Bretton Woods conference of 1944, which created the IMF, World Bank and, later, the GATT, the predecessor to the World Trade Organisation.

Let’s take a look at the state of play of the US’s current and mooted free trade negotiations. We’ll also briefly canvass how President Trump is likely to deal with Janet Yellen and the Federal Reserve.


Dead in the water. Olivia Harris/Reuters

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

The TPP was initiated under George W. Bush’s administration, but President Obama pushed the 12-member bloc, obtaining fast-track trade promotion authority from Congress in June 2015. This allowed him to press forward with the finalisation of the agreement, which was released in October 2015. However, Trump’s opposition to TPP, along with Hillary Clinton’s second thoughts about her support for it means the deal is unlikely to pushed through during Obama’s final weeks in office.

In November 2015, Trump declared TPP “insanity”. Trump’s anti-TPP campaign demonstrated how he and the Tea Partyists had so convincingly vanquished the traditionally pro free trade Republican Party. By July this year, Republicans began to erase all trace of TPP support from their websites. By September, staunch TPP supporters Marco Rubio and Pat Toomey performed a volte-face; having praised the TPP, now they sought to bury it. Both Obama and Hillary Clinton were depending on the pro-TPP Republicans to get the pact through Congress.

Verdict: Dead in the water. Many Australians will applaud Trump for killing the TPP, as it was far from popular.


A Bush legacy soon to be lost?
William Philpott/Reuters

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)

NAFTA was a product of the Reagan-Bush years, building on its 1998 predecessor, the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement (CUSTA). George H.W. Bush’s administration did most of the heavy lifting, but Bill Clinton pushed NAFTA through Congress in 1993, expending considerable political capital as he faced off against the unions, the Democrats’ biggest supporters.

Trump has labelled NAFTA “the worst trade deal ever”. True, NAFTA may have destroyed 879,000 US jobs, according to one study. But it also provided a low cost labour base for both the US and Canada, as they strove to compete with Asian manufacturing and the EU’s newly opened eastern periphery.

Verdict: No happily ever NAFTA. Likely to stay, but regulatory changes will be made.


Europeans came out in force against the TTIP. Francois Lenoir/Reuters

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)

TTIP may be dead already, mostly due to the fact that it’s as popular as Hillary Clinton. It is in Europe that TTIP has found its strongest opponents, with thousands protesting against it.

Clinton, Sanders and Trump’s position against TTIP coalesced early, as it was clear it was a vote loser within all three candidates’ voter bases. In a pitch to Sanders supporters, Clinton declared she would quash any deal that hurt American jobs.

Clinton’s opposition to free trade deals demonstrated how decisive both the Sanders and Trump campaigns had been in shaping the narrative of the anti-free trade debate. Equally, the union base of the Democratic Party had always opposed FTAs. Had Clinton won the election, it is likely she would have attempted to revive TTIP during her tenure, as both the EU and US had pushed for a transatlantic FTA in some form since 1990.

Verdict: This is an ex-parrot.


Trump wants to put Britain ‘at the front of the line’ in any trade deals. Hannah McKay/Reuters

A UK-US free trade deal?

President Obama infamously intervened in the UK Brexit debate earlier this year, declaring Britain would go “to the back of the queue” if it left the EU and sought a FTA with the US. Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Liam Fox will be hoping that President-elect Trump will welcome a special free trade relationship.

During the campaign, Trump advisers indicated that he would be willing to discuss a FTA with the UK. Indeed, Trump stated that Britain would “always be at the front of the line” when it came to trade deals. This would be critical to Brexit Britain; the US is the UK’s largest third-country market, with more than £30 billion in exports.

But the UK also enjoys a trade surplus in goods and services with the US, and Trump’s administration is unlikely to grant substantial concessions to an ally that already makes substantial hay from its existing tariff arrangements.

In other words, why would President Trump do a deal that gives UK firms more access to the US market?

Verdict: Boris needs to grab that American passport of his, head for Washington and start speed-dating. Soon.


Trump has suggested he would replace Janet Yellen as US Fed chair. Andrew Gombert/EPA/AAP

Audit the Fed!

What future for Janet Yellen, Federal Reserve Chair? The Donald has expressed his dislike of the Federal Reserve chair on more than one occasion.

In September 2016, Trump took aim at Yellen’s near zero interest-rate policy, arguing it existed only to make Obama look good. Janet Yellen wasn’t about to take this lying down. In a press conference, she responded – implicitly – to Trump, arguing that:

“I can say emphatically that partisan politics plays no role in our decisions…We do not discuss politics at our meetings.”

It’s unknown whether Trump would seriously attempt to remove Yellen. But in May this year, he did state that he would “most likely” replace her as she was “not a Republican”. In September, Trump’s position hardened; he said he would audit the Fed and replace Yellen in the first 100 days of his administration.

There are precedents; in 1981, US Treasury Secretary Donald Regan began to brow-beat Fed Chair Paul Volcker for maintaining his tight monetary policies as the Reagan administration sought to introduce wide ranging tax cuts. Despite Reagan’s early support for Volcker (a Carter appointee), by 1987, the President had had enough; he ended Volcker’s tenure, bringing in Alan Greenspan.

Verdict: Anyone looking for a central bank chief? Used for one term only. Low, low interest rates.


Apple is not about to repatriate iPhone production and establish manufacturing onshore. Bobby Yip/Reuters

Another brick in the wall

Trump’s triumph is partly built upon faulty and drastically over-simplified conceptualisations of the operation of the US and the global economy. Corporations, banks, finance and even consumers are no longer “national” entities. They have not been for many years. Manufacturing and services are not local but global. This complex web of interdependence has manifested itself over many decades.

Globalisation has even brought jobs back to America; but in the post-GFC environment, this has produced US jobs that, on average, pay 23% lower than they did prior to 2008.

Mexican walls, Chinese trade negotiations and bans on Muslims: if Trump were to implement some of these initiatives it may have some impact upon people movements. But low-tech manufacturing jobs en masse are not coming back to America. The US used to build vast numbers of radios and TVs; these have not been made in America for a long, long time. Similarly, Apple is not about to repatriate iPhone production and establish manufacturing onshore. And US corporations are not about to stop doing business with the rest of the world.

This is the brutal reality that Trump cannot smash, but his supporters appear to believe he can. He is wrong and they are wrong. And they will be bitterly disappointed.

The ConversationRemy Davison, Jean Monnet Chair in Politics and Economics, Monash University

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Trump the demagogue looks set to rule

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Mark Beeson, University of Western Australia

As political earthquakes go, they don’t get much more seismic or unexpected. All of the pointy-heads who have been assuring us for weeks that Trump couldn’t possibly win have been proved spectacularly wrong once again – just as they were with Brexit.

That’s the problem with democracies: the punters don’t always do what they’re supposed to do. We may have to live with the consequences of this decision for the next four years – always supposing President Trump doesn’t start World War 3 or suspend the “corrupt” democratic process in the United States in the interest of stability and national security, of course.

That’s an attempt at gallows humour – I think. The reality is though, that nothing can actually be ruled out from a man who is entirely unpredictable, and a long way from the sort of “rational actor” we like to think make the decisions that shape international politics.

This might be a problem in any country. We have become accustomed to Western political pundits making condescending remarks about the rise of populist strong men leaders in places like Russia, Turkey, the Philippines and – most consequentially – China. But when the most powerful country in the world elects a racist, misogynist, bully with little understanding of or interest in complex domestic or foreign policies, we’re all affected.

Part of the complacency about Trump flows from the fact that so many believe that “we” are far too sophisticated and steeped in democratic traditions for a Putinesque demagogue to emerge in the heartlands of liberal democracy. But the tough guys are back with a vengeance, and America – and the world – may have to deal with their very own proto-fascist.

Interestingly, I’ve just done an informal poll of Russian students in Vladivostok, where I’m currently teaching, and the majority welcome a Trump win. They don’t trust Clinton and tend to judge outcomes from a narrowly instrumental nationalist perspective. Such attitudes may become increasingly prevalent.

Indeed, the idea that the United States will any longer provide the bedrock of a stable, rules based international order of a sort that policymakers in this country endlessly invoke is no longer feasible. On the contrary, Trump is likely – by intent or neglect – to unleash a diplomatic wrecking ball that could plunge us back into the sort of brutal great power politics that characterised earlier periods of history.

Critics of early incarnations of US foreign policy may have to eat their words, too, as we find out what a world without a comparatively benign form of American hegemony actually looks like. For all its undoubted problems, mistakes and self interest, the US has often been a force for stability – the nightmares of Iraq and the Middle East notwithstanding.

We may also be about to find out what a less cerebral, cautious American president than the much-criticised Barack Obama looks like. The promise to “bomb the shit” out of ISIS gives a clue. Acting in tandem with Putin – a figure he admires and clearly emulates – they might reduce the rest of Syria and much else to rubble.

Alarmist nonsense? I certainly hope so. But who is going to stand up for human rights, democracy, or international cooperation in pursuit of some progressive goal? In the sort of world we may be about to enter, the simple reality is that there is no country with either the military capability or – more importantly – the political will to constrain the unprincipled, reckless use of force on America’s part.

All of this only touches the surface of the horrors a Trump presidency could unleash. It is not only Mexicans, Muslims, and minorities of one sort or another that will be anxious. The perennially skittish financial markets will no doubt have a collective seizure, revealing problems that a relatively orderly approach to economic management in the US have managed to conceal, if not correct, since the global financial crisis.

Let’s not forget that the global financial crisis was made in America, and Obama did a pretty good job of staving off the next Great Depression. Not only would Trump blame foreigners generally and China in particular for American problems, but he would also probably unleash an old-fashioned 1930s style self destructive trade war in the process.

Speaking of the 1930s, that generation of strong men didn’t work out too well either, if I recall. At least the American president of the time didn’t actually contribute to the literal and metaphorical carnage. Trump is no FDR. On the contrary, his rise, rhetoric and rationale look more reminiscent of Europe’s interwar fascists.

Admirers of the US, among whose number I count myself, may hope that political institutions and culture will have an ameliorative impact on President Trump. Perhaps they would on a normal politician, even in these highly partisan, politically poisonous times. But not Trump, I fear.

He is clearly impervious to criticism and – more worryingly – incapable of accepting advice. We know little about his advisers except that they are little known. Perhaps the Republican establishment will rein him in. But given that they, too, have also been rejected by millions of Americans and actually allowed Trump to emerge in the first place, don’t hold you breath.

What does all this mean for Australia? Nothing good, I suspect. At the very least we need to have a long overdue debate about our relationship with our most important security partner. But don’t hold your breath about that either.

Whatever happens over the next four years it won’t be boring. Let’s just hope we get through it in one piece.

The ConversationMark Beeson, Professor of International Politics, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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