Phil Thomas

Fish Farmer - - Contents - BY PRO­FES­SOR PHIL THOMAS

ISPENT a good part of the morn­ing re­cently in the Barnes & Noble book­store, across the Mid­dle­sex Turn­pike from the Burling­ton Mall near Lex­ing­ton. I am in the last week of my reg­u­lar sum­mer visit to the Amer­ica, which this year has taken me through Rhode Is­land, Con­necti­cut and fi­nally to Mas­sachusetts.

Barnes & Noble is a favourite haunt of mine. It is one of the clas­sic ‘big-box book­stores’ which once were a dis­tinc­tive fea­ture of Amer­i­can towns and cities. Un­der pres­sure from the low cost and con­ve­nience of Ama on, many such stores have dis­ap­peared and those that re­main have needed to ad­just their busi­ness mod­els.

Barnes Noble, as a case in point, has repo­si­tioned it­self as a books and things’ re­tailer. None­the­less, it still of­fers an ex­cep­tion­ally well se­lected cat­a­logue of pub­li­ca­tions and brings back mem­o­ries of what a good book­store can of­fer.

It also pro­vides some poin­t­ers to the po­lit­i­cal, so­cial and busi­ness books that many mind­ful and en­gaged Amer­i­cans are buy­ing and read­ing at the pre­sent time.

On my visit, the amount of shelf space de­voted to Don­ald Trump was strik­ing. It’s as if over the past two years or so, so­cio-po­lit­i­cal dis­course in Amer­ica has be­come wholly fo­cused on the Trump phe­nom­e­non, from the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, to Trump’s po­lit­i­cal be­liefs and poli­cies, to the what hap­pens next’ in the evo­lu­tion of the coun­try’s pol­i­tics and po­si­tion in the world.

More­over, this fo­cus not only con­cerns those who study and write about such mat­ters. It rep­re­sents an en­dur­ing pre­oc­cu­pa­tion among al­most any group of peo­ple you meet.

In­ter­est­ingly, the views you find in the com­mu­nity cre­ate a rather dif­fer­ent pic­ture to the one you would gain from fol­low­ing the UK print and broad­cast­ing me­dia. Whereas, our me­dia tend to por­tray a White House in con­stant con­fu­sion bor­der­ing on chaos, the view of the citi ens on the side­walk is much more nu­anced and much more in­for­ma­tive.

While on my trip I have come to the con­clu­sion that a range of fac­tors are con­tribut­ing to this sit­u­a­tion.

Firstly, the US econ­omy is cur­rently strong. While Pres­i­dent Trump is not nec­es­sar­ily due any credit for this, there is wide­spread voter recog­ni­tion that he hasn’t messed it up, at least to this point.

While there may be some un­em­ploy­ment blackspots in the coun­try, busi­ness in gen­eral is do­ing well, and on the east coast I was told more about short­ages of spe­cial­ist per­son­nel than lack of job op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Re ect­ing this, there is a re­newed em­pha­sis on train­ing and on new de­gree level and post-grad­u­ate train­ing cour­ses some uni­ver­si­ties are us­ing in­dus­try spe­cial­ists as short course providers, ac­cept­ing that their own staff may not be at the cu ng edge in all spe­cialisms.

Con­trary to the per­cep­tions pro­vided by the UK me­dia, Trump is ac­knowl­edged to have made progress on sig­nif­i­cant parts of his agenda, both in terms of leg­isla­tive im­pacts and through im­ple­ment­ing com­mit­ments he made dur­ing his elec­tion cam­paign.

Ad­di­tion­ally, through the ex­pe­di­ency of ei­ther fill­ing or not fill­ing posts, he is per­ceived to have shi ed the di­rec­tion of Amer­i­can poli­cies to the po­lit­i­cal right in a way that will po­ten­tially have long-term im­pli­ca­tions.

Even among those who dis­like the di­rec­tion of pol­icy travel and have lit­tle time for Pres­i­dent Trump as a na­tional leader, there is an ac­knowl­edge­ment that he has got things done.

At pre­sent, opin­ion polls sug­gest the Pres­i­dent’s sup­port from Re­pub­li­can vot­ers is hold­ing up rather well, and although Demo­crat vot­ers may not like what is hap­pen­ing, they are find­ing it di cult to build an ef­fec­tive surge of op­po­si­tion. A sec­ond term for Trump is thus be­ing re­garded as a dis­tinct prospect.

Among the busi­ness sec­tor there has been un­der­stand­able sup­port for a range of busi­ness pos­i­tive mea­sures that have been ini­ti­ated by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

How­ever, ex­port­ing busi­nesses and in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies are said to be voic­ing some con­cerns about iso­la­tion­ist poli­cies and the down­side risks of in­ter­na­tional trade dis­putes. These voices seem un­likely to grow un­less US trade is ad­versely af­fected. And, in that case, there is noth­ing to sug­gest that any of Pres­i­dent Trump’s poli­cies will be in ex­i­ble to changed cir­cum­stances.

As an ex­am­ple, the re­cent hard line poli­cies on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion across the Mex­ico bor­der, which in­volved the en­forced sep­a­ra­tion of chil­dren from their par­ents as the lat­ter were taken into cus­tody, were rapidly hauled back last week be­cause of wide­spread public crit­i­cism in the US and in­ter­na­tion­ally.

That Pres­i­dent Trump lis­tened and changed his mind has been re­garded as a sign he is not im­mune to public pres­sure, if ap­plied at the right in­ten­sity and in the cor­rect way.

This sig­nal event is im­por­tant since it could lead to a new era in which public crit­i­cism, protest and ef­fec­tive lob­by­ing are re­dis­cov­ered as forces for good in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics.

There are signs he is not im­mune to public pres­sure, if ap­plied at the right way” in­ten­sity and in the cor­rect

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