Who can save the world from being trampled by Trump?
Kevin Rafferty says the US president’s apocalyptic policies pose a grave risk, not only for the future of America as a nation, but the fragile planet itself
Commentators and pundits, American and foreign, have sadly misunderstood US President Donald Trump. They expected him to calm down and become presidential, at least when he became the unlikely Republican candidate, or when he beat Hillary Clinton – or, at the very least, when he went through the solemn pomp and panoply of the inauguration and he took possession of the Oval Office.
It is now clear that Trump must be taken both literally and seriously, however outrageous his demands, however personal, dark and unrealistic his world view. He will not let it stand in his way that he was the choice of only 27 per cent of eligible voters or that he lost to Clinton by 2.8 popular million votes.
Watch: ‘Why didn’t they vote?’
He believes that if he promised or threatened it on the campaign trail, victory gives him the mandate to do it. And he has set to work like a Force 13 hurricane, caring little about anyone standing in his way.
For America itself, there will be a price to pay as Trump’s hyperactivity in producing executive orders, firing people and hectoring bosses to bring factories back raises heavy protectionist costs. But the rest of the world has greater reason to beware. Being “Trumpled”, that is, trampled by Trump, is a real danger not only for other countries but for the fragile planet itself.
In his inaugural address, Trump thumped out his determination to “Make America Great Again”. With little grace or eloquence, he let out an angry patriotic roar vowing to recreate brilliant shining America, improve education, bring back industry, create jobs, get rid of crime and restore power to the people, not the corrupt elite of Washington.
In bizarre call to Mexico’s president, Trump said he might send US troops there to fight ‘bad hombres’
He went to work immediately. His now notorious refugee and immigration ban even on people vetted and given visas was only the culmination of the first week of his hurricane. Trump claimed that all he wanted to do was keep the US safe from the “bad dudes” out there. But terrorists from the countries banned were responsible for zero American deaths between 1975 and 2015, whereas terrorists from Saudi Arabia killed 2,369 Americans, and those from the United Arab Emirates killed 314. Both these countries were missing from Trump’s list.
Everybody is arguing whether or not it is a BAN. Call it what you want, it is about keeping bad people (with bad intentions) out of country!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 1, 2017
I stand with the people gathered across the country tonight defending our values & our Constitution. This is not who we are.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) January 29, 2017
For a sense of perspective, jihadists have killed 94 people in the US since 9/11, but 301,797 Americans have been shot dead by other Americans in the past decade, 21 of them by toddlers. Between 2005 and 2014, nine Americans were killed by Islamic jihadists – who in most cases were US citizens, not immigrants.
Trump started with an order to undermine Obamacare; he went on to authorise building the infamous wall with Mexico, and perhaps impose duties of 20 per cent on Mexican goods to pay for it; to remove roadblocks from the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines; to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and promise to renegotiate the North America Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico; he expressed his personal support for torture to extract information; he promised new trade deals and pressured US firms to bring jobs back; he pledged a stronger military to crush America’s enemies; and sacked four key state department management officials with 150 years of combined experience in “house cleaning”. Dissenting bureaucrats were told to obey or quit.
In between, he attacked the media for not seeing the hundreds of thousands of invisible people really occupying the empty spaces on the National Mall at his inauguration, and for not counting up to five million fraudulent voters who had denied him victory in the popular vote.
Watch: Trump talks about fact-checkers
Americans have only themselves to blame: they voted Trump into power. Foreigners are not so lucky: they clearly get no say in Trump’s world.
If Trump carries out the foreign policies he promised, the already fragile global geopolitical, economic, trade and environment system will be devastated. Economic progress made by many developing nations will be threatened as America turns inwards and protectionist.
Watch: Wax versions of Trump and Enrique Peña Nieto meet in Mexico City
There are bigger dangers to the Earth itself. Trump’s professed policies risk subjecting the world to a slow suffocating death as he disregards international climate change treaties and encourages a new carbon economy. Or it could suffer a fiery death in war as Trump destroys old alliances and picks fights that could escalate dangerously. This, of course, is all too apocalyptic. But Trump’s policies are apocalyptic.
That’s why editors of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the hands of the “Doomsday Clock” 30 seconds closer to midnight, now just 2½ minutes away.
Trump’s way of changing the world is equally dangerous. He continues to behave like a real estate mogul, cajoling, hectoring, bullying and shaming rivals or clients to grovel to get his way.
Sadly, it is hard to see any world leader with the stature and courage to challenge Trump in the name of the fragile Earth. World Bank and International Monetary Fund leaders, quick to give their opinions on Brexit, threats from disease and other crises, have been silent, perhaps for fear of upsetting their largest shareholder, the US.
There is talk of Trump getting together with his best buddy, Russian President Vladimir Putin, to carve up the 21st-century world as Franklin Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill divided the post-second-world-war world at Yalta.
Who gets to control Europe, China, Japan and the rest of Asia, Africa and Oceania may be up for grabs, unless China is brought into a triumvirate to control the world.
This would require an unlikely deal by the dealmaker, not least because of his strident claims that China stole US jobs and sapped the strength of its industry, and his condemnation of Beijing’s island building in the South China Sea.
Watch: Shinzo Abe is first foreign head of state to meet Trump after November election
Both President Xi Jinping ( 習近平 ) and Premier Li Keqiang ( 李克強) have spoken up for the global commons but, to be a true world leader, Beijing would have to throw off centuries of history of the Middle Kingdom used to seeing neighbours as vassal states paying tribute. It would require China to join forces with other leaders in Asia and Europe in asserting the overriding needs of the Earth.
German chancellor Angela Merkel understands the need for global wisdom, but she and other European leaders are threatened by populist parties, encouraged by Trump and sometimes by Putin, who would happily break up the European Union.
Japan has been a great beneficiary of the peace and economic progress since the second world war. But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s sights are set on a deal with Trump and rewriting history, rather than seeking allies who could make common cause in keeping the world – including the US itself, which would suffer from protectionism – open and safe against Trump’s threats. Abe and UK Prime Minister Theresa May should understand that being America’s mistress can only end in disaster when Trump makes the rules.
The important point is that Trump is wrong: the fragile Earth of the 21st century needs leaders with global, not greedy nationalistic, solutions for our common problems.
Kevin Rafferty worked for the World Bank and reported from Washington DC under six US presidents