Trump’s brinkmanship defines his presidency

By Robin Arthur

A very ill-defined foreign policy, an impetuous and irascible character and a strong nationalist agenda mark  the Presidency of Donald Trump and the decisions taken by his administration in the early months of this year reflect that  mood in the White House. It’s almost agonising to second guess how the US President will act in a challenging moment and that is extremely worrisome.

A couple of days ago Trump dismissed any talk of war with Iran but on Sunday, in a declamatory statement, he said in a tweet:  “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran.”  Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif , of course, dismissed what he called the US President’s  “genocidal taunts” and warned him not to threaten the country. In a tweet he said: “Iranians have stood tall for millennia while aggressors (have) all gone… Try respect – it works!” The US has deployed additional warships and planes to the Gulf in recent days and there is already reason to worry: the recent sabotage against a few oil tankers and the rocket attack near the US compound in Baghdad.

The stock markets do not appear to have been rattled too much  by a deflated sentiment,  at least up until now, which might suggest  that most do not know what sense to make of these trapeze acts. A couple of months ago, we saw this see-saw in current US diplomacy with North Korea and most dismissed the swings  in political rhetoric as drab theatricals. This restraint and bluster game is old hat. The President’s ambivalence and impetuousness in international diplomacy is worrying and  destabilizing. In April, Pyongyang said it had tested a new “tactical guided weapon”. The provocation was a mercurial response  from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un,  whose chagrin has been simmering since the Vietnam summit with Trump in February, ended without agreement. What is this “Art of the Deal” really all about?

The trade war with China has been escalating for some months and how China is going to respond is a second guess.  China is reportedly the biggest foreign holder of US government bonds, and analysts believe Beijing could step up its sale of these bonds, halt the purchase of US agricultural products and energy and reduce Boeing orders. These measures would obviously hurt both sides. But in the meantime, Google has banned Huawei – the Chinese telecom giant – from some updates to the Android operating system, dealing the company a massive blow. The move was obviously influenced by the Trump administration’s decision to add Huawei to the list of companies that American firms cannot trade with. How this morass plays out on the world scene, only time will tell.

Almost in tandem with a nebulous foreign policy, the US president is forging ahead with immigration reform that reportedly is designed to favour younger, well-schooled, English-speaking workers. In an insouciant address at the White House, he argued for moving away from an immigration system that works to unite families. It’s just as well that senior Democrats dismissed his ideas as “dead-on-arrival”. The proposals, anyway, would have to be reviewed and approved by Congress where Democrats call the shots.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives dismissed the plan as “not a remotely serious proposal.” My sense is that America is beginning to forget those hardworking people who flocked to America back in the day and made it one of the most prosperous countries in the world. Could that have happened with people without merit? And yet, these were not people with engineering degrees, these were largely farmers and cotton pickers, people of the trades and of the arts, men of science and literature. It takes the merit of all to make a country great!  Did English speaking workers make Japan, or China or India what they are today in the global marketplace?

Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal is reported to have said the proposals undermined America’s family-based admissions system that she described as “the cornerstone of our country’s immigration policy”. Of course, she is right. You cannot have your cake and eat it too. Do engineering or law degrees alone change a nation’s fortunes?

Social capital theory provides a robust answer to that niggling question. The theory deems that it is strong relationships between societies and their institutions that produce vibrant economies and a well-functioning society. No man is an island. Social capital – and therefore social inclusion – is the basis of a society’s prosperity and well-being. If you’re looking for people with merit, they come in tow with the people they love, their worship mats, the spices they have been accustomed to, their native languages and custom. You either take it all together or  you throw away the baby with the bathwater.




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