Amer­i­can pop­ulism is bad news for us

Country Life Every Week - - Letters To The Editor -

AGROMENES has been on his trav­els. Re­luc­tantly leav­ing be­hind his best har­vest of pears for 30 years and the English coun­try­side at its au­tumn best, he flew to the USA, only to find that em­bar­rass­ment there at the an­tics of Don­ald Trump ex­actly par­al­lels our own in­creas­ing be­wil­der­ment at the Brexit process. Even the staunch­est Repub­li­cans—bankers, cor­po­rate lawyers and fund man­agers—are ever more ex­as­per­ated by the vacu­ity of this pres­i­dent.

Their fierce loy­alty to the Con­sti­tu­tion is deeply trou­bled, yet the in­creas­ing po­lar­i­sa­tion of pol­i­tics pro­vides them with lit­tle hope of any bi­par­ti­san re­sis­tance. Many years of ger­ry­man­der­ing of elec­toral bound­aries means that most mem­bers of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives have to sat­isfy their core sup­port­ers, not the wider elec­torate. Repub­li­cans are, there­fore, pushed fur­ther and fur­ther to the right if they are to avoid los­ing.

The fact that the pop­ulist can­di­date Pres­i­dent Trump vig­or­ously sup­ported lost the pri­mary in Alabama—over­whelm­ingly beaten by an even more fire­brand Repub­li­can—was a cruel re­minder to the mod­er­ates. For many Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, it means that abor­tion, im­mi­gra­tion and cli­mate change are no-go ar­eas—any at­tempt at com­pro­mise would lead to their rejection in the next round of pri­maries. The re­sult is a hard­en­ing of at­ti­tudes un­par­al­leled in re­cent times.

That, in its turn, has led to a se­ri­ous change in busi­ness at­ti­tudes. Com­pa­nies that once kept their heads be­low the para­pet, qui­etly sup­port­ing and lob­by­ing both sides in the po­lit­i­cal bat­tle, now feel driven to take a stand on is­sues that paral­yse politi­cians. The change is re­mark­able.

Who would have thought that J. P. Mor­gan, long-term banker to Exxon Mo­bil, with huge in­vest­ments in fos­sil fu­els, would trash its pol­icy of avoid­ing po­lit­i­cal con­tro­versy and lead a busi­ness ri­poste to Pres­i­dent Trump de­mand­ing sup­port for the Paris cli­mate-change agree­ment? The global un­der­stand­ing of world-class in­sti­tu­tions in­evitably puts them at odds with the in­creas­ingly iso­la­tion­ist and pro­tec­tion­ist at­ti­tudes that pop­ulism spawns.

For Bri­tain, too, this pop­ulist pro­gramme rep­re­sents a real threat. We’ve led the EU in pro­mot­ing free trade, yet we’ve found the USA’S en­trenched po­si­tion dif­fi­cult even in more favourable times. The farm lobby, in par­tic­u­lar, has hin­dered progress; its in­sis­tence upon re­tain­ing sub­sidy and pro­tec­tion has been in­de­fati­ga­ble. Now, it will be in­sur­mount­able be­cause both sides of the po­lit­i­cal di­vide owe too much to the sec­tor to com­pro­mise.

That will mean no free­trade ar­range­ments with the EU or with Bri­tain. Our Trade Sec­re­tary Liam Fox may sug­gest oth­er­wise, but sweettalk­ing his arch Repub­li­can bud­dies can­not de­liver: it’s po­lit­i­cally im­pos­si­ble for the USA to of­fer any­thing other than a one-sided deal. How­ever ad­van­ta­geous freer trade may be, the USA is not in the mood for it. In­ter­na­tional busi­ness gets the ar­gu­ment for lib­er­al­i­sa­tion, but most busi­ness in the USA isn’t in­ter­na­tional and Pres­i­dent Trump’s ef­forts to repa­tri­ate in­vest­ment funds will only re­in­force that.

If Bri­tain, out­side the EU, were still to per­sist in its ef­forts to close a deal, it could only be by sign­ing a trade-sur­ren­der doc­u­ment. We would have to ac­cept their stan­dards and open our mar­ket with­out reser­va­tion. Chlo­ri­nated chicken, hor­mone-in­jected meat and lower an­i­mal-wel­fare re­quire­ments would be nec­es­sary con­di­tions.

Cit­i­zens who don’t care for these prac­tices didn’t vote for Pres­i­dent Trump. Those who did dis­miss all such con­cerns as ‘coastal elitism’ and pre­fer the mar­ket­ing blurb of the fast-food chains to the ev­i­dence of the sci­en­tists. Mid­dle Amer­ica is in re­volt against the ex­perts. We have been warned.

‘Mid­dle Amer­ica is in re­volt against ex­perts’

Fol­low @agromenes on Twit­ter

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