Brutally frank Trump

| Updated on: Jan 10, 2018

BL25_THINK2_DC

Shooting straight on globalisation and N Korea

Many commentators reacted to Donald Trump’s election as US President as signalling the end of globalisation. Sure, his campaign platform of ‘America First’ gave a clear signal about where his priorities lay. He was going to take care of his constituents and bring the jobs back home. And it did not help that many of his pronouncements seemed to go counter to the popularly projected view of globalisation, which is that of markets without borders. He promised to levy tariffs on Chinese imports, re-negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, and withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. After his taking office, there have been noises coming from the administration about second thoughts on all of these. Of course, he did tear up the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, but rather than concluding about his stand on globalisation, all these suggest is that his bark is most often worse than his bite.

But media fears about his isolationism continues. And he loves to keep them guessing! Why, the keenly observing Wall Street Journal even titled the report about his impending appearance at the UN General Assembly with the headline ‘Trump to push nationalistic policy.’

Trump did appear and guess what? He taught everyone a lesson that nationalism and globalisation are not contradictory terms. And that is an important lesson for everyone to learn. And it is important to quote a relevant portion of his speech in full. Trump said, “I will always put America first, just like you as leaders of your countries — put your countries first.”

Who can deny this? I challenge you to identify one leader who knowingly took a decision that would have hurt his country, but benefited the rest of the world. And if anyone did that, it must either have been out of ignorance or to line his pockets.

Let’s take the climate deal as a borderline tough case where nations may have agreed to standards that would hurt them, in the short or long term. In which case, it is better to set achievable goals rather than lofty ones that nations would cheat on, or soft pedal later.

For too long the word ‘globalisation’ has been hijacked by the economists, who see everything in terms of free trade, and the removal of barriers. It is time that idea, got buried. Even the WTO only wants to help trade opening and deal with the rules of trade between nations. With the extreme variance in incomes, living standards, and social safety nets that we see around the world, it is not even right to dream about barrier-free trade. Facilitating trade is not free trade and nations need to set their rules of engagement. Even worse culprits are the market fundamentalists who believe in a free market as solving all the problems of the world, and bristle at the thought of any regulation.

Trump can certainly learn some lessons on diplomatese and polite talking. The accepted etiquette of UN-speak encourages hypocrisy; that one should use more polite language in public forums and use sharp words in private. So, we would have expected Trump to say in public that the world will upset if North Korea threatens its neighbours with nuclear warfare and then rant in private. But that is what Trump’s predecessor did for eight years and see where that got us. It’s time we got a straight talking global leader out there, stirring the pot a bit.

The writer is a professor at Suffolk University, Boston

Published on September 24, 2017
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