The stupidest single mistake Hillary Clinton made when she was campaigning for the US Presidency was to call Trump supporters “a basket of deplorables”. The damage she did to her standing among what used to be the Democrats’ core base, the white working class, proved irrecoverable.
However, on mature reflection (as an Irish minister said once after being caught out in a colossal lie), it is clear that Clinton was right, for from the depths of their bigotry and ignorance these same white voters (women included) gifted the Oval Office to a man monumentally unsuited to the task.
The bitter irony, that will surely not be concealed beyond the 2018 mid-terms, is that what the Casino President calls America First will not even benefit those for whom it is allegedly intended. Far from lining up “real” jobs for the forgotten inhabitants of the Mid-West, Trump’s trade strategy, if ratified by Congress, will cut off whole swathes of American industry from both their customers and their supply chains. At the same time, while seeking to protect Americans from the supposed evils of Muslim and Mexican immigration, the Leader of the Free World has outraged his country’s friends and allies, confirming them in their view of him as the White House equivalent of a scary clown.
During the campaign, conservative commentators fell over themselves to explain that we should take Trump seriously, but not literally. In other words. his bark would be worse than his bite.
Not so. The man means what he says. The ultimate symbol of Trumpism, the proposed 2,000-mile wall along America’s southern border with Mexico, is, we are assured, about to become a reality.
Those who thought a physical barrier (The Really Great Wall) would be quietly dropped from the agenda once the votes were counted have been dismayed to learn that the bricks are already on order. But the truth is, the wall might as well be continued around the entire country, including the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, with neon signs every 500 yards warning intending arrivals to Keep Out.
Certainly, that was the message conveyed over the weekend to would-be immigrants and asylum-seekers, especially if they were Muslim. Even green card holders have been put on notice that their right of residence is conditional on Donald Trump’s personal regard for religion and national origin.
I am not crowing about this. Two weeks ago, I said to my American wife that she really had to stop giving off about Trump when the poor fellow hadn’t yet got his feet underneath the Resolute desk. Give him a chance, I said. If he’s as bad as everybody says, we’ll know soon enough.
Well, now we know. If anything, he is worse than we feared.
Economists of all persuasions on both sides of the Atlantic have loudly lamented his overstuffed America First policy. No one disputes that it is the first duty of national leaders to protect their own people and advance their interests. But as the President has defined it, free trade is a luxury America cannot afford. The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade deal tortuously negotiated under the Obama Administration, was the first victim, abandoned on Day One. But the long-standing Nafta treaty, linking the U.S., Mexico and Canada, is next on the list, while the still-to-be-completed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the EU (thought by many in Europe to be slanted in favour of America) looks sure to follow.
In fairness, some good may come of the madness. Mega-corporations, such as Google, Facebook and Amazon, that are American in origin and direction but pay little or no tax to the IRS could find themselves reined in. Whether or not they could continue to operate freely outside of Fortress America is another question. Similarly, thousands of jobs that have been outsourced to the likes of China, Mexico, Vietnam and Bangladesh could theoretically be repatriated to the mother country. But given that many such jobs are of a menial, repetitive nature (fitting components into an iPhone, screwing together components for a refrigerator), how likely is it that the dispossessed of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Iowa – once the proud aristocrats of organised labour – will be throwing their hats in the air?
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The buckle of the Rust Belt could even be fastened more tightly once existing workers find that the companies employing them no longer have access either to the Canadian and Mexican markets or to the vital supply chains underpinned by Nafta. Trade will either wither and die or it will be kept alive by sheer bullying.
What against this backdrop are we to make of Trump’s promise to Theresa May to offer Britain a “really great” trade deal? My answer would be, not much. When it comes to trade, the Special Relationship extends no further than Churchill’s bust in the Oval Office. Something, of course, would eventually emerge from the aftermath of Brexit, but the likelihood of its being equally beneficial to both partners is slight.
Wall Street, Big Pharma, Big Ag and the U.S. defence sector will wish to see written into any agreement the right of American companies to move in on their British counterparts, with a view to making the UK an offshore dependency. Under a moderate like Obama, some safeguards might have been built in; under Trump, these will not be worth the paper they are printed on. Never forget, the U.S. economy is many times larger than ours, and in a shrinking world its boss class – a number of whom are now in charge of the nation’s great offices of state – can be relied on to give no quarter to limeys.
If we are not on our guard, we will only have ourselves to blame.
Other issues are no less troubling. Trump, I suspect, knows that climate change is not a myth. But he doesn’t care. If he can squeeze another century of American supremacy out of ignoring the impact of man on the environment, he will do so.
Similarly, if in return for Vladimir Putin sharing destruction duties in the Muslim World he has to stand back as Russia annexes Ukraine, or even the Baltic States, so be it. These are far away countries of which he knows little and wishes to know less. Only Israel, whose prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to declare himself the President’s new best friend, will be smiling tonight.
The good news, if there is any good news, is that the Republican Party may eventually stir itself and put an end to Trump’s predations. It won’t happen today, and it probably won’t happen this year – though the first rumblings are already audible. But if he carries on like a bull in a china shop – most obviously if that shop happens to be in China – it may yet be that the party he has beaten into submission will get up off the floor and step back to the centre of the ring.
Either that or the Supreme Court could section him, declaring him to be a danger to himself and everyone around him. Beyond that, the only alternative is a defeat in the general election four years from now, which would require the Deplorables to admit they were wrong. The only thing is, can the world wait that long? The crazy clock is ticking.