America has lost our trust. We must speak up – and retaliate

Philip Bowring says under Donald Trump, the US has turned its back on the values and principles it has long stood for, including free trade and international cooperation. Now is the time to stand up to Trump’s assault

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 July, 2018, 3:48pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 July, 2018, 6:42pm

How should America’s friends respond to Donald Trump’s assault on so much that the nation has stood for over the past 70 years? Embarrassed silence? Wait for the storm to pass? I think not.

Speak up and retaliate. If the US no longer believes it needs friends and no longer believes in open trade, there must be some response to make it plain to our American friends, and representatives such as the American Chamber of Commerce, that specific trade grievances are no excuse for policies which may have originated from the US president but have not been checked by the balances supposedly provided by the Constitution.

If, too, the US chooses backwoods opposition to huge global issues like climate change, or lesser ones such as strong-arming small countries to oppose global breast-feeding initiatives, putting formula producers’ profits ahead of public health, then it deserves a response.

While the US now claims that the trading system it created is rigged against it, as supposedly shown by its merchandise trade deficit, the overall balance is very different, thanks to the access that US services and brands have long been given as part of freer trade.

Trump wages trade war against economics, and is sure to lose

Services and investment access may not be as free as merchandise trade, but it has come just as far. Not only do we have to consider the franchise earnings and profits outside the US of the likes of Starbucks and McDonald’s, and a dozen other familiar brands, but there are also the tens of billions of dollars in profits of the internet giants which are held offshore, having been routed through small, low-tax countries in anti-social tax avoidance schemes.

The names are familiar. Microsoft, with its near monopoly of PC operating systems; Google, which makes a nonsense of intellectual property protection; and, Facebook, global leader in the propagation of false news and violent opinions.

Is it any wonder that the same US is in the grip of an opioid epidemic, which it cannot blame on Mexico, or China, or indeed perhaps anyone other than its own medical system and pharmaceutical companies.

How Donald Trump is making China, not America, great again

Yes, America’s friends (I have US ancestry) are angry at what is happening to the country they long viewed as a leader and a source of liberalism and modernity, of free trade and international cooperation.

So my advice is, speak up but let actions speak, too: choose Pacific Coffee over Starbucks, cut Facebook, find an alternative to Uber, reduce Google use, ignore Netflix and treat the intellectual property and data of such companies in the way they treat ours. Urge your government to tax their earnings where they are actually made.

Trust in America has declined faster than the vast majority of its citizens can appreciate. Telling them the truth to their face is needed. Trust is something that has to be earned, continuously.

That also applies to Hong Kong’s judiciary and police force.

Judges, it seems, have very thin skins

Lawyers were recently united in decrying insults directed at a judge because of the sentence she handed down. This was said to be likely to “erode public confidence in the judiciary”. Judges, it seems, have very thin skins, given the insults that any controversial statements in the public eye tend to draw.

Journalists, politicians, entertainers, even sports personalities know this. Public confidence in the judiciary depends on its own performance, not on the opinions of others. That performance is not above reproach.

Following the recent death of Kevin Egan, perhaps Hong Kong’s most successful criminal barrister over the past 30 years, tributes recalled that, as a government prosecutor, he won 90 per cent of his cases. A similar success rate followed him as a defence counsel. That said volumes about the ability of Egan, who took all kinds of cases and had poor as well as rich clients.

Judges are the real heroes of Hong Kong

But what did it say about the level of justice being provided, when results were so tied to the quality of the lawyer not the evidence? And what did it say about the judges (and juries) so readily swayed by Egan, whether by legal points, emotion, rhetoric or perhaps an insider’s understanding of the foibles and fallibility of judges?

From time to time, judges deserve insults, deserve questions about their motivations, particularly in being swayed in favour of those with financial or political power. This is not a comment on recent cases but on some past ones involving fraud and corruption.

As for trust in the police, how long can it survive the dismissive treatment of complaints of assault on a journalist of which there was a clear visual record? Or, at a lesser level, the de facto waiving of traffic laws to accommodate the limousines and drivers of the elite?

Do not blame the police officers on the ground, but the orders from above. One law for the rich...

Philip Bowring is a Hong Kong-based journalist and commentator