Conflict and trade wars shape President Trump’s first year
World | by Gwynne Dyer
Let us suppose that it is July 19, 2017. Let us suppose that Donald Trump, nominated as the Republican candidate for the U.S. presidency exactly a year ago, won the November election — quite narrowly, perhaps, but the polls are certainly suggesting that such a thing is possible. So he was inaugurated six months ago, and has started to put his campaign promises into effect.
We may also assume that the Republican Party retains control of both houses of Congress. If it doesn’t, then Trump’s ability to execute his plans would be seriously circumscribed, but the surge of support that gives Trump victory would probably also give the Republicans a win in some close Senate races. The Republican majority in the House of Representatives, thanks to extensive gerrymandering, is practically fireproof.
Trump’s three most disruptive campaign promises were also the three that had the most appeal to his core voters, and he is implementing them fast. They are a 40 per cent tariff on all foreign imports, an end to free trade deals, and tight curbs on immigration — especially the famous “wall” on the Mexican border.
It won’t actually be a wall, of course. It will be the kind of high-tech barrier that countries build when they are really serious about closing a frontier. There will be a ditch about three metres deep and 10 metres wide extending for 3,000 km along the U.S.-Mexican border. It will have a three-metre-high razor-wire fence along the front edge of the ditch, facing Mexico, and another along the back edge.
The front fence has a high-voltage current running through it. The back fence carries the video and infrared cameras and motion sensors that detect attempts to cross the ditch, and the remotely controlled machine guns that respond to those attempts. There are also land mines down in the ditch. Why is it so lethal? Because long experience has shown that the only way to really close a border is to kill people who try to cross it.
The “wall” is not yet finished in July 2017, of course. It will take several years to complete, at a cost of $30-50 billion. Already, however, there are daily deaths among the tens of thousands of Mexican protesters who gather at the construction sites — and a few among Mexican-American protesters on the other side of the fence as well.
The Mexican government, faced with economic disaster as the millions of manufacturing jobs created in Mexico to export back to the United States evaporate, has broken diplomatic relations with Washington, as have several other Latin American nations. State Department experts are worried that a radical nationalist regime may come to power in Mexico, but “establishment experts” are not welcome in the new White House.
Negotiations for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the U.S. and European Union have been broken off, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership will never be ratified by Congress. The legislation for a 40 per cent tariff on foreign imports is still making its way through Congress, as is the bill to end the North American Free Trade Agreement (which is causing panic in Canada, 73 per cent of whose exports go to the United States).
The new laws will go through in the end, and the most important casualty will be U.S.-China trade (as Trump fully intends it to be). China is already in a thinly disguised recession, and the impact of the new trade measures will turn it into a political crisis that threatens the survival of the Communist regime.
Beijing will certainly respond by pushing forward with the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which would include 16 nations of the Asia-Pacific region but exclude the United States. However, it may also manufacture a military confrontation with the United States to distract popular discontent at home with a foreign threat. The dispute over the South China Sea would do nicely.
Japan, which is starting a major military build-up after Prime Minister Abe finally removed the anti-war Article 9 from the constitution in March 2017, will be at America’s side in this confrontation, but its European allies may not. Trump’s pro-Putin posture has not gone down well in the EU, which worries about Russia’s intentions, and his demands that Europe’s NATO members pay more of the alliance’s costs have not helped either.
The European Union, still in shock after Britain’s Brexit vote in 2016, has been further shaken by the near-win of Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far right, anti-EU National Front, in the May run-off of the French presidential elections. The spectre of EU collapse comes nearer, and Europe has no time for America’s Asian quarrels.
In the United States, the economy is still chugging along despite the stock-market crash of November 2016. Trump’s big increase in the military budget, his huge expansion of infrastructure spending (with borrowed money) and the rise in the minimum wage have kept the machine turning over for the time being. The effect of declaring a trade war on the rest of the world is not yet being felt at home — but it will be.
And it’s only July 19, 2017. Trump still has another three-and-a-half years in the White House.