Thursday, January 26, 2017

Donald Trump: Isolationism and the Long View

The current President of the United States may differ from his predecessor in many ways, but the most significant, and perhaps the one with the most repercussions, is the short-sighted nature of his decision-making. While President Obama was known and sometimes admonished for embracing Nobel Prize winner psychologist Daniel Kahneman's 'slow thinking' approach, the current President is reactive and impulsive, quick to throw punches with little regard for lasting consequences. While this has existed throughout Mr. Trump's electoral campaign, it is the groundwork he has begun to lay with not yet a fifth day in office. Strongly criticizing President Obama for having signed executive orders during his time in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump has begun his own term doing much the same and at a near hyperbolic rate.

An executive order to advance the Keystone and Dakota pipelines promises a quick fix for more American jobs, but these jobs are short-term, finished in the two to three years it will take to build the pipelines, with little to no personnel needed for oversight. Instead there emerge grave and lasting repercussions to the environment and to tribal lands, according to the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Greenpeace, among others. As of yet, no federal agency has conducted an environmental impact assessment of the entire pipeline, and with Mr. Trump declaring that "environmentalism is out of control," expecting an impartial and comprehensive review seems a stretch.

On the anniversary of the landmark abortion ruling Roe v Wade, Mr. Trump re-instated the Mexico City protocol: a global gag rule on abortion, preventing any organization worldwide receiving American funds to perform or mention abortion as a family planning method for women. While every Republican president since 1984 has enforced this protocol and every Democratic president has had it reinstated, we now live in an era where America stands alone in the developed Western world in restricting funding for abortion and repealing women's reproductive rights. A quick pleaser to the Republican right, preventing abortion has the opposite effect than intended: it ensures women will continue to access unsafe abortions, currently at 21.6 million globally per year. Women who do not have the means for more children will be further impoverished and unable to access their economic rights. Women will be prevented from choosing how to live their lives, empower their livelihoods and will be at the mercy of their partners, especially in countries where women also have little to no access to birth control or sexual health education. Women will die because of this rule. In an era where women's rights have been directly linked to economic and social development, where women's reproductive rights are understood as fundamental human rights by the UN, both short and longterm effects are abysmal.

In his inauguration speech, Mr. Trump articulated the fraught statement that now will be an era of "America first, America first." Such an isolationist view began in the 1940's, when groups of traditionalist Americans engaged in language and activity to dissuade the United States from entering the Second World War. The statements were heavily anti-semitic, and it is with some shock that Mr. Trump continues to use the same language today (although it may be that he has neither the knowledge or concern for this history). International co-operation has been fuelled by the end of the Second World War, when America assumed the role of international peacekeeper. Although Mr. Trump has chosen to portray the current state of his country in dark and pessimistic terms, the years since 1949 can widely be seen as an era of great American growth. An 'America first' trade plan ignores America's own history, when closed borders in the early 1900's caused an American 'glut', as mass production in farming and industry led to an overflow of goods that Americans could not consume. While there is much to be said, possibly in a future piece, about keeping enough jobs in-country to put a society to work (especially given Mr. Trump's incessant attacks on China), international trade also breeds co-operation and trust, hallmarks of a peaceful global arena. Isolationism, although attractively packaged with patriotic slogans, leads to fear and uncertainty in an international arena that is increasingly struggling with the negative effects of globalization and capitalism. Historically, the more fear and uncertainty, the more conflict.

When Mr. Trump speaks of NATO being obsolete, declaring that all countries must pay their fair share into the global military alliance, he neglects the great benefits that America has gained from pouring resources into playing such a powerful role in European relations. He certainly ignores the very strategic longview of Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose actions in the Ukraine and military deployments in Syria point to a country ready to pounce on territory it sees as historically its own, and seeking, for the first time since the Cold War, to build outer circles of influence. While Mr. Trump has cited NATO's Article 5 as a reason for his comments, he ignores that ensuring peace between European nations has led to America being able to trade with the second biggest economy in the world, a balance of powers and strategic military outposts vis-a-vis Russia, protection and support for European nations and Turkey dealing with the migrant crisis and effects of a Syrian war (fuelled by Russian involvement) and security among nations that not a decade ago were at war. Removing American financing would be a catastrophe for long-term security in Europe.

On Wednesday, January 25, Mr. Trump will sign another executive order ordering the restriction of refugees and commencing plans to build a wall along the southern border the United States with Mexico. In this, there is an undeniable and blatant ignoring of evidence, perhaps unsurprising given the Orwellian statement of 'alternative facts' by the Trump administration. Radical Islam is not so pernicious a threat as to have statistically affected the lives of American, but fear-mongering has raised and stoked national fear. There has not been one case of terrorism in the United States by a refugee from Syria, and despite what Mr. Trump says, the timeline and process for a Syrian refugee to reach America is two years, the longest of any country in the world. Building a wall, as has been showing in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, does not produce the results intended, but rather, intensifies discourse between two sides. As with the restriction of refugees, research overwhelmingly states that funding projects to build communities, educate people and grow an economy greatly prevents future generations from leaving their homes to illegally cross borders, or from becoming radicalized.

These many divisive, reactionary and impulsive orders, statements and actions are in line with who Mr. Trump has presented himself to be: a man whose decisions are so based on his fluctuating mood and temperament that it is difficult to conceive that he reasons or embraces deep thought beyond the immediate need for attention or to bandage a wounded ego. There is much to fear from the absence of reasoning in a Trump administration, where men with power seek seek more, forgetting a world steeped in historical precedent and where, especially in foreign relations, impulsive actions have long-term consequences and initial loss of trust may never be renewed.

It does, however, leave a global gap - not so much that other countries are rushing forth, but that America is willing, and has been, withdrawing. Already China has declared itself ready to take up the mantle of environmental protection if America steps away, especially if it backs out of the Paris Protocol. China may also be moving toward being a leader in trade: after Mr. Trump removed the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, several countries are looking to include China in a revised deal.  Estimating that the Mexico City Protocol will result in a $US600 million shortfall for family planning services to the most vulnerable women, the Netherlands announced it would create a global fund for abortion, replacing America in leading the way for family planning alternatives for women in the most vulnerable of situations. Germany, amidst far-right parties rearing their heads throughout Europe, has declared itself ready to uphold the values and ethics of rights and international co-operation as America chooses to turn away. It seems fitting that the country that knows firsthand the effects of isolationism, racism and the repudiation of rights would seek to light a path out of the return to such values.

Mr. Trump has defined in his rhetoric the supremacy of individualism, whereby only through the preservation at any cost and superiority of the self can the individual prosper.  What Mr. Trump seems to ignore is that the individual is tied to a network of institutions, of schools and churches, of markets and businesses, of communities, cities and nations. Capitalism has struggled with this concept for the past decade or so: can a system inherently built on self-interest really reward everyone in the terms globalization has laid out? In its current state, it is clear that the rising tide has not lifted all boats. How do we reconcile an individual's needs within a national sphere, and within a global arena? Individualism, further fraying the ties with a more global community, means that land, resources, goods and services are at the mercy of the individual, and so can be abused with little consideration for future generations, for other communities, and for other nations. Positioning the conflict as an either/or is too simple; we must consciously move away from believing that we cannot build bridges with others without losing ourselves. The immediate high of rewarding oneself must be replaced with a more tempered vision of America as a nation united, with the longview in sight.

The New Yorker's inauguration cartoon presented Mr. Trump with the famous Stanford marshmallow challenge on delayed gratification. Can we really envision Mr. Trump refusing the immediate satisfaction of a tweet, of a breaking story, of an attack - and instead concentrating on a long, strategic view, often more beneficial for a society? Indeed, Mr. Trump has consolidated American tribalism, and set into conflict interdependence with independence, disdaining the importance of trust that strengthens the ties of an individual to their surrounding institutions, and nations to their international relations.  With America as a global peacekeeper, international co-operation flourished. It remains to be seen what system of international relations Mr. Trump will usher in.

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