The never end­ing Trump cam­paign

The Star Malaysia - StarBiz - - Viewpoint - Think Asian AN­DREW SHENG Tan Sri An­drew Sheng writes on in­ter­na­tional is­sues from an Asian per­spec­tive.

ELEC­TIONS are sup­posed to be a pe­riod of ex­cit­ing cam­paigns, af­ter which ev­ery­one goes back to busi­ness as usual.

In last Tues­day’s US mid-term elec­tions, the Democrats re­gained the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and the Repub­li­cans in­creased their ma­jor­ity in the Se­nate. The next day, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump held an ill-tem­pered press con­fer­ence when he called CNN an en­emy of the peo­ple and then im­me­di­ately af­ter the con­fer­ence, tweeted thanks to At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions for his ser­vices.

In this fir­ing, Trump did not lose a beat in his re­lent­less cam­paign for 2020 re-elec­tion. Ex­pect in the next two years more fire and fury for not just Amer­ica, but the rest of the world.

Trump saw the mid-term re­sults as a “tremen­dous suc­cess and Big Vic­tory”, mainly be­cause his cam­paign­ing for three key Se­nate seats made the dif­fer­ence for his Repub­li­can can­di­dates. More­over, large num­bers of his sup­port­ers came out to vote, cre­at­ing the big­gest turnout in mid-term since 1970 at 114 mil­lion. The Repub­li­can party is now his to di­rect.

Nev­er­the­less, the elec­tion was a vote on his per­for­mance to date. Sur­pris­ingly, even though the US econ­omy has been do­ing well, the swing to the Democrats showed that Amer­ica is fun­da­men­tally di­vided over dif­fer­ent val­ues.

By get­ting 83 Demo­crat women elected com­pared with 14 Repub­li­can women, in­clud­ing two Mus­lim and the first Na­tive Amer­i­can woman rep­re­sen­ta­tive, the Democrats showed that they now have cor­nered the di­ver­sity, youth, sub­ur­bia and women’s votes. In con­trast, the Repub­li­can Grand Old Party ap­pears more like be­ing led by Grumpy Old White Men with ru­ral sup­port.

For those who are sur­prised that the Democrats can garner more than 9% ma­jor­ity votes but still lose the Se­nate, it is be­cause the Se­nate is bi­ased for the ru­ral vote. Twenty sen­a­tors from ur­ban states rep­re­sent roughly half the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion, but 80 sen­a­tors rep­re­sent the smaller ru­ral states.

Fur­ther­more, op­ti­mists on this side of the Pa­cific who think that the elec­tions might tone down the un­fold­ing US-China trade dis­pute are likely to be dis­ap­pointed. As for­mer US Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Hank Paul­son re­marked in Sin­ga­pore this week, an eco­nomic Iron Cur­tain is be­ing built around China, with sup­port from both sides of the US po­lit­i­cal spec­trum. This is go­ing to be a long-haul dis­en­gage­ment on mul­ti­ple fronts. Paul­son rightly pointed out that this is not a di­vorce be­tween two par­ties, be­cause the dif­fer­ences in­volve many other par­ties.

Euro­pean com­men­ta­tor Jean Pisani-Ferry (http://bruegel. org/2018/10/the-global-econ­o­mys­three-games/) calls the new or­der as a chess game with three play­ers, the US, China and a loose coali­tion of other G-20 coun­tries. Wel­come to the New Ro­mance of Three King­doms. G-2 alone can try to shape the new or­der, but can­not dic­tate how it will emerge with­out the con­sent of the oth­ers.

For­mer US Sec­re­tary of State Henry Kissinger got it right in his July in­ter­view with FT: “I think Trump may be one of those fig­ures in his­tory who ap­pears from time to time to mark the end of an era and to force it to give up its old pre­tences.”


One of the crit­i­cal pre­tences is that since it be­gan to shape world af­fairs af­ter the First World War, Amer­ica “con­sid­ers it­self unique – that is “ex­cep­tional” but with a mo­ral obli­ga­tion to sup­port its val­ues around the world for rea­sons be­yond rai­son d’etat.”

Fur­ther­more, the real vic­tor of the Sec­ond World War, Pres­i­dent Franklin Roo­sevelt was mag­nan­i­mous in lead­er­ship “the only way to have a friend is to be one. We can gain no last­ing peace if we ap­proach it with sus­pi­cion and mis­trust or with fear”.

But for Trump, “power is fear”, as quoted by Bob Wood­ward in his new book.

Why is fear and anger driv­ing the rise of the pop­ulist right?

Re­cent sur­veys in Eu­rope sug­gest that the ex­treme right’s anger comes not from neo-Nazis, but mid­dle and low in­come peo­ple who feel in­se­cure be­cause they felt aban­doned by the estab­lish­ment. While the neo-lib­eral ethos preached glob­al­i­sa­tion, di­ver­sity and po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness, it tended to solve all prob­lems by writ­ing more and more laws that gave more power to the bu­reau­cracy.

The mid­dle class felt that the estab­lish­ment was cap­tured by the 1% for the 1%, and com­pletely ignored their ba­sic needs for more so­cial se­cu­rity, ed­u­ca­tion, health and sta­ble in­come and less cor­rup­tion or red tape. The neo-lib­eral ide­ol­ogy fails be­cause it fa­tally promised to de­liver to the ma­jor­ity what only the mi­nor­ity can en­joy un­der the lim­ited re­sources of One Earth. Worse, the sys­tem has been cap­tured by the 0.1% for its own in­ter­ests.

These were the oxy­gen that fu­elled the pop­ulist de­sire by erst­while White House ad­viser Steve Ban­non to “de­con­struct the ad­min­is­tra­tive state”. The irony is that the 90% is vot­ing in the 0.1%, who are more likely to change the game, not to fix the 90% prob­lem, but to con­sol­i­date their hold on power.

The un­der­ly­ing rea­son that en­ables cap­ture and con­cen­tra­tion is tech­nol­ogy, which ac­tu­ally is dom­i­nated by tech gi­ants and the state. Metcalfe’s Law states that the value of net­work hubs rises ex­po­nen­tially with the num­ber of users. Glob­al­i­sa­tion and tech­nol­ogy en­abled a win­ner-take-all ef­fect, in which those with ac­cess to Big Data and Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence (AI) have huge ad­van­tages for the in­cum­bents.

This ex­plains why the largest mar­kets in China and Amer­ica are the sources of fastest tech gi­ant growth.

Hence the 90% feels help­less in the threat of job loss, not blam­ing face­less al­go­rithms, but by lash­ing out against for­eign­ers and hu­man im­mi­grants.

The US-China com­pe­ti­tion is there­fore not about trade, but about re­ally who com­mands the Big Data and AI that will de­ter­mine their fu­ture com­pet­i­tive edge. The Amer­i­cans feel that they should have ac­cess to global Big Data, China thinks that this is a sovereign mat­ter, whereas the Euro­peans think that this is a pri­vate in­di­vid­ual right.

On these dif­fer­ences of val­ues and per­spec­tives, the new In­ter­na­tional Or­der is un­fold­ing in dis­or­derly fash­ion. Elec­tion cam­paign noises serve to blind our at­ten­tion to the key sig­nals of this fun­da­men­tal change.

To the me­dia, please give us some Trump-free time to think. Fat hope.


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