Trump and the World: A Liberal Arts Faculty Forum
by Mark Pollack
Director of Global Studies
In 2016, Donald Trump campaigned as a transformative candidate, both at home and abroad, promising to disrupt the ways in which the United States had engaged with the rest of the world for generations. Indeed, Trump was the first major-party presidential candidate to run on a platform that was both anti-globalization and anti-globalist.
By contrast with previous presidents who had lauded or at least accepted the globalization of the world economy, candidate Trump decried globalization as a disaster for the American people, declaring a clear opposition to international trade agreements, foreign investment and immigration. In a variety of ways, Trump promised to roll back the tide of globalization and protect Americans against what, in his inaugural address, he would refer to as “the ravages of other countries.”
Candidate Trump was also anti-globalist, in the sense that, rather than seeking to lead and engage international organizations as his predecessors had done, Trump denounced these organizations as harmful to America and Americans. Trump declared the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to be a “disaster,” pronounced the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) “obsolete,” and celebrated the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union. Trump also regularly attacked America’s longstanding allies in Europe and Asia, while expressing admiration for authoritarian rulers like Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and promising to deliver the United States from what he called “the false song of globalism.”
Donald Trump, in short, ran as a candidate promising to upend America’s role in the world. But would President Trump govern the same way?
On April 7, as the administration was approaching the milestone of its first 100 days, the Global Studies program, together with the Department of Political Science and the Dissent in America Teach-In, brought together four College of Liberal Arts faculty members in a forum to analyze how Trump has governed in practice – the extent to which he has, in fact, tried to roll back globalization, undermine global institutions, and disrupt traditional U.S. relations with allies and adversaries around the world.
In this forum, the same four professors reflect on Trump’s initial impact on U.S. foreign policy in areas as diverse as international trade, security, and human rights and democracy promotion. In many ways, they find, Trump’s foreign policy has indeed proven radical, representing (for better or worse) a sharp break with the policies of the past, while in other areas the checks and balances of the American political system have moderated Trump’s most radical impulses.
Trump, Trade, and Protectionism
Alexandra Guisinger, Department of Political Science
The American public has long held more protectionist opinions than those of political elites. In 2016, an election cycle in which the media frequently touted the return of trade to political prominence, only one of the 17 Republican presidential candidates — Donald Trump, a party outsider — included a position on trade tariffs within his announcement speech.
Trump prevailed in first the Republican primary and then the presidential campaign; and in his first week in office, President Trump formally withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, pledged to renegotiate NAFTA, and threatened to impose tariffs on Mexican imports to pay for a border wall. More recently the President has railed against Canada’s “unfair” milk policy, admonished Japan for its role in the US-Japan trade deficit, and signed a “Buy American” order for government procurement.
The new president’s policies threaten to upend decades of American-led global integration and have appeared to have shaken a decades-long lull in the political salience of trade policy. Increased discussion of trade may serve to change underlying opinion. Research for my new book American Public Opinion on Trade: Preferences without Politics shows that while more Americans express support for greater protection rather than greater liberalization, the majority attest to having “no opinion” or having “not thought much about the issue.” Furthermore, my research finds that the majority of Americans see little impact on trade on their own lives, but instead, are concerned about trade’s effects on others.
In the last few years, the “others” receiving the majority of the attention in political campaigns and media reports have been the “losers” of globalization. Trump’s overturning of the status quo leads to a new environment which has begun to highlight to losers from protection – consumers who will pay, agricultural interests that may lose markets, those service and retail sectors, and even those in manufacturing. Indeed, Trump’s own statements have reframed the debate in ways that highlight the costs to the United States. He was the only candidate to use the term “tariffs” with a positive connotation (generally politicians use vague euphemisms such as “standing tough”) and more recently has begun using the even more direct term “tax” on imports. The TRIPS agreement, NTBs, and harmonized tariff codes are not terms that resonated with most Americans. But almost all Americans understand the meaning of a “tax.”
At the end of the day, Americans may continue to support protectionist policies for a variety of non-economic reasons; but hopefully, they will do so with a better understanding of not only the costs of liberalization but also the costs of protection to themselves and to different segments of American society.
Trump, China, and the Backlash Against Globalization
Roselyn Hsueh, Department of Political Science
U.S. missile strikes in Syria during the meetings between President Trump and Chinese president Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago on April 6 and 7 overshadowed the issues on the agenda: North Korea and trade. China watchers and analysts around the world speculated that the missile strikes signaled to the Chinese government that the United States is willing to act unilaterally toward North Korea. A week later Trump announced that the United States was “sending an armada” into the Sea of Japan, displaying the United States’ various options in response to North Korea’s missile tests. The aircraft carrier was, in fact, first going in the opposition direction for military exercises in Australia.
In early January I wrote an analysis in The Washington Post on “what will Trump change about trade policy with China.” I questioned how much progress would be made on President Trump’s threats to impose a 45 percent tariff on Chinese goods and use Taiwan as a bargaining chip to motivate the Chinese government to move on trade. As it turns out, the Trump administration scaled back its aggressive tone on China’s role in currency manipulation and the U.S. trade deficit. Moreover, Trump reiterated the One China Policy, which acknowledges but does not accept China’s claim over Taiwan. This is unsurprising because grounded in the Taiwan Relations Act passed by Congress in 1979, existing terms of the U.S.’s engagement with China is not something the Trump Administration could easily bargain away.
President Trump’s anti-trade rhetoric has alienated trade partners, and does not fully consider the various interests, including importers, exporters and import-competing industries, and American consumers, within the United States. It further shifts focus away from constructive strategies, such as job training, vocational education, research and development, and healthcare, to grow the U.S. economy and cushion those affected by industrial restructuring and global economic integration.
The backlash against globalization, which also saw President Trump’s executive order to withdraw from the Trans Pacific Partnership, emboldens China, exemplified by Xi Jinping’s speech at Davos, to fill the political vacuum on the global economic stage by becoming the torchbearer of globalization. China as synonymous with globalization is ironic indeed. My first book, China’s Regulatory State: A New Strategy for Globalization, shows that China employs both liberal and illiberal tools to introduce competition and regulate its economy and industries to maximize the benefits and minimize the costs of globalization. China’s distinctive globalization enables the Chinese government (at least so far) to achieve economic development, maintain social and political stability, and legitimate one-party rule.
Originally published by The Conversation
Sarah Bush, Department of Political Science
President Donald Trump’s proposed budget would slash State Department spending by 28 percent, drastically reducing U.S. foreign aid flows.
Will he prevail? Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, has said bluntly, “It’s not going to happen.” But the White House’s proposal is emblematic of an ongoing, broader foreign policy shift.
Specifically, Trump’s actions and comments suggest a deep skepticism regarding support for democracy abroad. Consequently, democracy assistance – a relatively small but often pivotal type of foreign aid on which the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the State Department plan to spend US$2.72 billion in 2017 – seems likely to be hit hard.
Democracy assistance is a type of foreign aid the U.S. government funds in nearly 100 countries with the explicit goal of supporting democracy. Whether it consists of encouraging women to run for office in Kyrgyzstan or building the capacity of local civil society organizations in Tunisia, this form of assistance always aims to enhance some aspect of democracy. It supports transitions to democracy and shores up existing democratic institutions.
Democracy assistance rarely grabs headlines. Indeed, as I explained on the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog, it has become rare for these programs to promote radical political change today.
Look at What the Trump Administration is Not Doing
Orfeo Fioretos, Department of Political Science
Sometimes what politicians don't do is as telling as what they do.
Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric and inaugural speech were widely interpreted to signal a radical break in U.S. foreign economic policy, away from supporting economic globalization and toward confrontations with its biggest commercial partners.
In quick succession, the Trump administration withdrew U.S. support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, threatened to rip up NAFTA, and denounced the policies of long-standing partners like the European Union and Germany. During the first meeting of treasury officials of the Group of 20, who represent some 80 percent of global GDP, the Trump administration refused in unprecedented fashion to endorse global free trade. These acts have been Exhibit A for observers who expect Trump to govern as he campaigned, namely by putting a sledgehammer to the liberal economic order that has prevailed since 1945.
Students of the liberal arts know to be wary of sledgehammers, especially rhetorical ones. There is little question that members of the Trump Administration have strong unilateral and nationalist impulses. At the same time, the imminent withdrawal of the United States from the liberal international order may be greatly exaggerated. Even before the first 100 days of the Trump administration passed, it has significantly softened its tone on international economic confrontation. More tellingly, actions that it would have taken early were it indeed intent on undermining the international liberal order have yet to materialize.
To figure out whether the Trump Administration is intent on governing as it campaigned and on matching its rhetoric with actions that would undercut the liberal global economic system, one can learn much from what the administration has not done in its early months in office. If the Trump administration were intent on putting a sledgehammer to the international economic system, there would have been no greater signal to the world than for the president not to attend two summits this spring and summer when the world's largest trading nations gather, first as the Group of 7 and then as the Group of 20. In particular, distancing itself from the G7 would have been a radical and powerful signal that the Trump team was intent on asserting a protectionist America First, anti-globalization strategy, even vis-a-vis its closest commercial partners.
The G7 was established in 1975 after a period in which U.S. unilateralism had proven too costly for Republican administrations. The Ford administration, which sought to restore U.S. relations with its primary economic partners after the Nixon Aadministration had antagonized them, saw the G7 as a means of resisting protectionist impulses and restoring stability in the global economic system. Since then, the G7 has been a bulwark against protectionism and a champion for a liberal global economic system.
By not stepping back from the G7 or questioning its legitimacy early on, especially as it made overtures to non-members such as Russia and Turkey, the Trump team reveals in what it has not done and not said that it will govern differently than it campaigned. For now, the Trump team has yet to raise a sledgehammer to the liberal international economic order.