Rethinking America

Lessons for the World from Trump’s Win

An emerging market perspective on a presumed American cataclysm.

Credit: Gage Skidmore www.flickr.com

Takeaways


  • Trump represents an emerging global mindset: clean up one's own home first and leave others alone.
  • Elites of China & India have more in common with liberals for Hillary than those voting for Trump.
  • Turning in: China's Emperor Qianlong once said his empire had "all things in prolific abundance."

Donald Trump’s “surprise” victory in the U.S. elections should be a wake-up call for pundits and pollsters everywhere. It marks a turning point, less from the post-Second World War order than from two-and-a-half centuries of Enlightenment thinking, which conceived of a common world of ideas, values and more.

Trump does not simply represent angry, white Americans or “rednecks.” (Indeed, exit polling suggests quite a few categories of white Americans backed him.) He is unlikely to come up with eloquent “wordbites” for his presidential vision, or be rushed into a Trump Doctrine.

Symbol of a new world view

What Donald Trump does very well is to symbolize an emerging global mindset. This Weltanschauung considers it prudent to clean up one’s own home first, generally mind one’s own business and leave others alone.

It stands in sharp contrast to weekend warriors such as David Cameron and Francois Hollande, as well as their forays into nation building – and leader removal.

Indeed, Trump may also well make a complete break with Barack Obama’s ad hoc skirmishing in Ukraine and, potentially far more riskily, in Syria.

Beyond U.S. isolationism

Many postmortems are likely to be made about presumed parallels between Trump and early 19th century U.S. noninterventionism — in the traditions of Woodrow Wilson and Henry Cabot Lodge.

They would do better to go back further in time, to the Whigs in Britain and Robert Walpole who pledged to “keep free from all engagements as long as we possibly can.” That statement was made just before the Enlightenment.

Trump’s advisers may also be taking a leaf from Asia. History books seldom note the blue-water naval capabilities of the Cholas in 10th century south India, Zheng He in 15th-century Ming China and Japan’s Tokugawa shogunate in the 17th century. In spite of this, none were unduly interested in the West or globalization.

Vasco da Gama’s gifts to the ruler of Calicut in 1498 were refused due to poor workmanship. Japanese rulers, too, shut their doors to the West from the mid-17th to the mid-19th century.

In his famous letter to Britain’s King George III in 1792, China’s Emperor Qianlong rebuffed a request for free trade, since the Celestial Empire possessed “all things in prolific abundance.”

Beneficiaries of globalization

Today, Asia’s (and the world’s) two largest countries, China and India, are arguably the biggest beneficiaries of free trade and globalization.

China began by exporting its labor cost advantage, and did so in such an exemplary fashion that it has effectively become the world’s central banker.

India, for its part, exported its know-how, from IT startups in Silicon Valley to global CEOs, educated in top Indian universities via generous government subsidies before a stint at finishing school in the US.

Though the vast majority of the Chinese and Indian populations have yet to derive any tangible benefits, their educated, business-class traveling elites clearly have. The bulk of them have also been enfranchised recently, via globalization. In other words, they have more in common with the liberals who voted for Hillary than those voting for Trump.

It was this very selective cohort, to which the media, in the US, Europe and elsewhere, catered, in a cycle of self-deception. The pundits were not just being subjective about Trump. Viewing the world through the prism of Enlightenment thinking and the color-neutral realities of globalization, they were almost laughably prejudiced.

Trump and Modi

Likewise with the pollsters. They failed to appreciate that not everyone likes their two minutes of fame or seeks to express opinions which are deeply personal — such as supporting what the media portrayed as a loudmouthed buffoon, a racist, and worse.

A direct parallel here may be the arrival of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the cosmopolitan, English-speaking corridors of power in New Delhi. Neither the media nor the polls got it quite right about the underlying Modi Wave.

Indeed, “global” Indians like Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy — who were loudest in their opposition to Trump — had been equally incensed about Modi, for much the same reasons. Both are interlopers, who distort the vision of Enlightenment angels.

Jobs or careers, skills and survival

Donald Trump may not have answers to everything. He does, however, raise questions few have dared to before him. As a Trump presidency arrives, some of these issues may well be worth considering.

Most of the world today, from Syrians and Libyans through Chinese and Indians, to Europeans, Russians and Americans, are less interested in political concepts and debate than skills and survival.

They need work rather than careers. They also care little about whether their job pushes someone else out — be this Chinese on American, American on European, or Indian on American.

In terms of the unhealthy symbiosis between Enlightenment thinking and the winners/victims of globalization, Trump stands in stark contrast to the Clintons and the Blairs (or the Clooney-Alamuddins). He clearly has no time for foundations, consultants and NGOs or dubious donor-clients in order to find causes, billing millions of dollars along the way.

For example, in terms of the U.S. workforce, an outsourcing “ban” may well do more harm than good. This, however, need not be true with imaginative, new U.S. approaches to exchange rates and taxes that create American jobs — especially for voters who brought Trump to power. It is precisely this kind of out-of-the-box thinking that the world should expect from Trump.

Geopolitics of zero-sum mathematics

Globalization has zero-sum elements. Not everyone wins under the current set of rules or conditions.

For example, for Indians to attain the world’s average income within a U.S. dollar-based system ($1,627 versus $10,136 per capita), the country’s economy would need to grow from $2.25 to $14.2 trillion — according to figures from the IMF.

The difference, of $12.6 trillion, is not only five times larger than the Indian economy today, but roughly equivalent to the combined economies of Germany, the United Kingdom, France — as well as India itself. Few would agree that this is environmentally sustainable.

The numbers are different on a purchasing power (PPP) rather than U.S. dollar basis. In PPP terms, average incomes in India are $6,187 per capita, compared to $15,536 for the world’s population as a whole — once again, according to the IMF.

For Indians to attain the latter, the country’s economy would have to grow from $8.7 to $21.9 trillion. The difference of $13.18 trillion is less than twice the size of India’s economy today in PP terms, and thus more tenable, environmentally speaking.

Both the scenarios would, however, mean India’s economic output is comfortably ahead of the United States. Alongside China, can the United States easily countenance such a shift in global power?

On the other hand, will India’s democracy tolerate leaders happy with leaving Indians at the bottom of the global opportunity league?

Beneath his bluster, not a little of Donald Trump’s talk hints at such awareness. Two points may be central to his stance in the coming years.

First, U.S. power risks overextension, and therefore, alliances in the still-emerging global order must be reevaluated in terms of cost and benefit. Second, America goes beyond Beverly Hills and Wall Street.

“The heart of America”

Many of those who voted for Trump (as well as many of those who failed to show up to vote for his opponent) are globalization’s clear losers — whether their jobs went to China or India, or seem to be at risk of doing so.

As with Modi and New Delhi’s chatterati, Beltway pundits may have done better to listen to those who simply enjoy a good beer or Jack, drive trucks on mud tracks in the weekend, hunt deer with Marlin 336 rifles and go to church. Many of them also like country music, its heart and soul.

Indeed, country music fans turned out in force to vote Trump. Should one use blogger Estately’s rankings of U.S. States where country music rules, Trump won in every single one of the Top 18.

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About Ashutosh Sheshabalaya

Ashutosh Sheshabalaya heads SolvX, a global security services and research firm.

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