Christopher Pyne: What If Donald Trump Is Right?
I know it's de rigueur to diss US President Trump and assume that everyone who matters gets that President Trump is a buffoon.
These are some of the “accepted” assumptions:
- That Trump has a short time span in the White House;
- That the 2016 election result for the US Presidency was a terrible mistake that the American people regret and that its just a matter of time before it is put right in 2020;
- That the White House’s tariffs policy is an economic catastrophe which is hurting the US economy more than it is affecting anyone else;
- That US foreign policy in the Middle East is a mess; that Trump has upset the status quo in Israel and is playing fast and loose with policy in relation to Iran and its neighbours;
- That Kim Jong-un got the better of Trump and his advisers with respect to the denuclearisation of the Democratic Republic of North Korea;
- That Trump’s approach to NATO and the Europeans is placing that relationship at risk.
Now, all of that might be true. But what if it isn’t?
Maybe there is method to President Trump’s approach that the left-leaning Western intelligentsia just can’t see because they are blinded by their inability to accept the result of the 2016 US election?
Sure, Trump is unorthodox. He says things in ways that many find galling and surprising at the very least. But those commentators who paint him as an economic conservative miss the point. If he was an economic conservative, he wouldn’t be imposing the largest single tariff increases in recent US history on many of the US’s trading partners.
For decades, the accepted wisdom of those in power across the Western world has seen the gradual but very real nuclearisation of nations like North Korea and Iran. The peace process between Israelis and Palestinians has moved at a glacial pace (if that fast). NATO countries and other US allies reduced their spending on their military preparedness to record lows while the US has been expected to pick up the slack. The fulcrum of the manufacturing industry has shifted away from the West to Asia and elsewhere.
Trump has certainly moved the dial on these and many other issues. He has upset the status-quo ante.
It remains to be seen whether Trump will be re-elected in 2020. But I would rather be in his position electorally right now than the Democrats. The Democrats have 20, yes, 20 candidates running to be nominated as the Democratic candidate for President. They have yet to come to grips with how to defeat Trump. The commentariat exaggerated the Democrat victory in the mid-term elections late last year. Sure, the Republicans lost, but it wasn’t the earthquake many were predicting. It was in the range of defeats that incumbent governments in the US suffer in mid-term elections. More than that, the Democrats don’t seem to know what or who they stand for -- are they for the inner-city urban elites, the disposed underclass, the blue-collar workers? It’s hard to tell.
Trump’s approach has seen activity -- maybe not results, but certainly activity -- on the vexed issue of the denuclearisation of North Korea.
Trump has called out the Iranian regime on their nuclear programme and, whether he is right or not, he is getting a response.
There is evidence that the Chinese economy is hurting (whether that is purely due to the tariff war with the US or there are other factors at play as well is a moot point), and not yet much evidence that the tariffs China has imposed on US goods and services are being passed through to consumers. It may be possible, at this stage at least, that those higher costs are being absorbed by businesses that don’t believe the consumer demand will bear higher prices.
A number of NATO countries and allies are increasing their military spending or have announced plans to do so in the coming years. Perhaps they had always intended to do so, or perhaps Trump’s admonition (“I want allies not protectorates”) has encouraged them to do so?
While the US manufacturing industry is a long way from the halcyon days of decades past, the American citizens who live in the towns and cities that used to rely on manufacturing and have felt ignored and abandoned by their government in Washington DC now feel there is at least someone fighting their corner who wasn’t there before.
It’s fair to say that the scorecard of successes for Trump is not filling up just yet. But for those American voters to whom he promised, on their behalf, that he would ‘have a go’, he is not disappointing.