Wednesday, 30 November 2016

President Trump: Significance and (Likely) Implications

In response to the surprise election victory of Donald Trump, members of the Centre for Global Politics, Economy and Society reflect on the importance, meaning and likely significance of a Trump presidency. In the first of two blogs, we cover the potential impact on the UK, Latin America and the environment.

Who now inherits the earth? Or Trump my Brexit by Barrie Axford

Like Sean O’Casey’s anti-hero Joxer Daly, post November 8th we all know that the world is in a “state of chassis” (chaos). You may also believe that this state of affairs is due to an untimely upsurge in the temerity of previously unheard Morlocks; those tired of laboring in the cause of an elite consensus on free trade, collective defence, gender and racial equality and the architectures of the rules-driven international order. Then again, you may not.

So, there is reason enough to reflect on the likely, or possible, impacts of the Trump victory on the UK; so some thoughts.  In policy terms most of these are still imponderable. Initially markets slumped in the aftermath of Trump’s victory. By the following day they had rallied. So the issue for the UK is how long and how deep is the uncertainty about the policy stance of the US president likely to last?  If market and consumer confidence in the UK were to show a secular decline the Bank of England might well decide to cut interest rates still further to allow the markets to settle.

At present the value of sterling against the US dollar is shifting around the 1.23 -1.25 mark. This is low, but not historically so. The greater impact on the value of sterling came after the decision to leave the EU and this will remain the main determinant in the coming months and years.

After campaign coolness and some derision on the part of UK politicians and their cohorts, the reality of a Trump victory has seen ministers scrambling to affirm their willingness to work with the Donald. The shibboleth of the “special relationship” has been much abroad. Trump himself appeared to reassure Theresa May about US-UK relationships and, on the face of it, the change occupant in the Oval Office may well see a reversal of Obama’s “opening to the East” that so discommoded European politicians. At the same time, the president elect is talking a hard game about “can’t pay – won’t pay” NATO allies. Here, the UK is on the side of the angels - or at least the Pentagon - and because of Brexit, will not be party to any future EU defence regime.

And if we don't know the threat or promise that resides in Mr Trump’s policy brief, how much more difficult to gauge what his victory heralds in terms of the emerging quality and direction of UK politics. Is Nigel Farage now to be Trump’s vicar on earth, or at least in Westminster, notwithstanding his subaltern status among British political elites and the distaste shown him by the chattering classes. Brexit may have begat Trump, with its brand of populism treated as a Damascene moment in the campaign, but who now inherits the earth as the grain of UK politics shifts? UKIP without Farage looks a one trick pony and struggles to overcome the vagaries of the British electoral system and the fastidiousness of large section of the electorate. Has Trump’s victory given Brexiters, Ukipers and sundry discontents in Labour and Tory ranks the belly to make a go of it at the next general election? What of Jeremy Corbyn? Leave aside his politics if you can. On the face of it Corbyn espouses the same contempt for usual politics and its vehicles as Trump. They both talk of “movements” as the wave of the future. As the mainstream parties become more and more debilitated can the forces of, admittedly different, varieties of populism capture the castle?

Barrie Axford is Professor of Politics, Oxford Brookes University

Trump and Latin America by John Crabtree

Latin America has come low down on the list of US foreign policy concerns in recent years; many Latin Americans – concerned about the implications of Donald Trump’s presidential election victory – hope that this will remain the case. 

Those most alarmed are those closest to the United States, namely Mexico, Central America and parts of the Caribbean. Here the main issues in relations with the United States have long been what Abe Lowenthal once called ‘inter-mestic’, those that for the United States are a foreign policy matters but which have a high political resonance in domestic US politics: trade, migration and drugs.
·         The threat of abrogating NAFTA would, if realised, have major economic consequences for Mexico, for which the United States buys 80% of its exports. NAFTA encouraged the industrialisation which makes Mexico exceptional in Latin America and which, according to Trump, is the most proximate cause of de-industrialisation in the United States. Tearing up other free trade agreements with countries like Colombia, Chile and Peru would have much less serious consequences than NAFTA.
·         Stopping and reversing migratory flows from Latin America was a keynote of Trump’s election discourse. Whether or not a wall is ever built along the US-Mexican border, the threat of expulsion of Mexican migrants will be a major irritant in bilateral relations.  A reduction in remittances would also be a serious blow to the Mexican economy. It would be even more serious for the countries of the ‘northern triangle’ of Central America (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador) which have been the main source of illegal immigration in recent years.
·         Halting the flow of drugs into the United States would be a secondary objective in building the Mexican wall. While Trump has said less about drugs than migration, the ‘war on drugs’ – in spite of its failure so far – is likely to remain a preoccupation in Washington, and one likely to impact on policy not just towards Mexico and Central America but Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. 
Despite their initial misgivings, most Latin American leaders have settled into a wait-and-see mode, afraid to antagonise the new administration before it takes office. Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto says he will adopt “enormous pragmatism” in his dealings with Washington. But beyond the impact of the falling peso/dollar exchange rate which threatens Mexico’s already languid growth rate, the prospect of an aggressive neighbour to the north will further reduce his centre-right PRI’s popularity in advance of the 2018 elections and boost the chances of its more nationalist presidential opponent, Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Another country immediately affected will be Cuba where a return to cold-war hostilities threatens to end any hint of the rapprochement negotiated with Obama. Raúl Castro’s first response to Trump’s election was military manoeuvres. The chance of the US Congress voting to end the Cuban embargo now seems remote indeed. For several other countries, the prospect of a Trump administration will hasten their efforts to develop closer economic and political ties with China. The collapse of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) opens the way for this.

John Crabtree is a senior member of Saint Antony’s College.

What does Trump mean for nature?  by Aarti Chauhan with Lucy Ford.

A quick glance at president-elect Donald Trump’s twitter account and you will see that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. Post-election the appointment of Myron Ebell as the lead on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) transition team and the vow to ‘get rid…of [the EPA] in almost every form’, and we have an echoing of climate change denialism that was endemic in the Bush administration. In fact, Ebell, a director at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, an ultra-conservative lobby group, is a well-documented beneficiary of funding from the fossil fuel industry and aide to the Bush administration’s supressing and discrediting of EPA reports on climate change. And yet, look to other Trump interviews and the climate change hoax statement is a ‘joke’ for the benefit of China and in a recent interview with The New York Times Trump states that there is ‘some connectivity’ between human activity and climate change, which was quickly punctuated by the remark that the amount of ‘connectivity’ depends on the level of financial impact on corporate America. Throw in the fact that the 2016 Republican manifesto pledges to reject the Paris Agreement (arguably the Kyoto Protocol of our time), the immediate halt to US funding of the UNFCCC and Trump’s rally against free-trade agreements, and all rhetoric points to the US withdrawing from the global stage, international institutions and agreements, and a reestablishment of isolationism. It would seem that Trump means a disaster for nature.

However, should the focus be on Trump himself? With the now Republican trifecta, the power and will to overturn democratic legislation is stronger than ever, take for instance the Republican-laden Supreme Court, which has halted President Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) while a federal court considers whether the legislation exceeds the executive branches’ power, a point upheld by Republican states and utilities companies. It is no coincidence that the CPP would be the first legislation of its kind in US history, giving power to the EPA to regulate carbon emissions from power plants, thus mandating state involvement in the regulation of the economy and limiting the output of utility companies, contravening neoliberal principles and conservative ideology. With a well-established network of climate change denialism in the US that involves conservative politicians, the fossil fuel industry and corporate America,  to name but a few, it seems what the Trump administration will administer is a ramped-up platform of climate change denial that stretches back to the Bill Clinton administration.     

At this point it is worth reflecting on how much of an alternative Hillary Clinton would have provided for nature? Are Democrats more environmentally progressive? Several studies say yes. Clinton’s official platform on climate change was positive, pledging to cut oil consumption by a third, to generate enough renewable power to every home in America and, uphold the Paris Agreement. However, in politics, rhetoric seldom directly translates into practice, and it is anyone’s guess as to what sort of environmental governance Clinton would have led. As much as Obama’s legacy entails environmental protection, it cannot be overlooked that the protests surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline have been met with some of the most violent crackdowns witnessed in decades, which beyond environmental protection is tied up in the struggle for civil rights. What this example highlights are the corporatist arrangements in industrialised and industrialising countries, where the forces and principles of the capitalist market operate without concern for people or planet. Ultimately the bottom line is continued exponential economic growth and anthropocentrism, and this is the concern of all government irrespective of party affiliation.

Aarti Chauhan is a final year undergraduate in International Relations with Philosophy who has recently completed a dissertation investigating climate change belief in the United States and Latin America.

Lucy Ford is Senior Lecturer in International Relations, specialising in global environmental politics.

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