June 12, 1017, from Da Lat, Vietnam
Donald Trump won his populist campaign on an isolationist agenda for the US. In the process of his feeble attempts to deliver on that set of promises, he has not only surrendered world leadership, but embarrassed a great nation in the eyes of the rest of the world.
World leadership is a combination of three factors: Military power, economic power, and “soft power,” the latter defined as how the country is viewed by other countries in terms of ideology, life style, fairness, and a wide variety of factors adding up to reputation.
Trump’s economic plan is widely seen as unlikely to grow the US economy much above 2.5% annual growth. He threatens trading partners, offers a highly flawed and tiny plan for our massive infrastructure needs, and pays no attention to the reality that we should focus on preparing for the knowledge economy of the future, not to turning back to try to recover manufacturing jobs.
His attitude toward allies, trading partners, Muslims, Mexicans, Russia, his businesses, his nepotism, and immigrants has dramatically lowered our soft power.
If Congress approves his outrageous military buildup, maybe we sustain that element of leadership, but with a budget already equal to the next 7 counties combined, spending even more only motivates others to spend more to protect against us. His cozying up to Saudi Arabia and Russia has left major parts of the world in confusion as to what are our military and foreign affairs intentions.
I don’t offer Putin as a contender for global leadership, because I believe the “soft power” of Russia is in the gutter, and the Russian economy is also performing very poorly.
Thankfully, there is Angela Merkel in Germany, who strives to hold the European Union together, and who leads a country with strong growth and good reputation for sensible foreign relations as well as welcoming arms for the immigrants and refugees of the world.
Of late there is Immanuel Macron, a surprising victor in French elections, who has a strong mandate, and has an agenda likely to re-start the French economy. Macron appears quite able to hold his own with Trump, and will work well with Merkel to fix some of the problems of the EU. He speaks of “making the planet great,” while Trump makes it clear that only the US is his only concern.
Finally, there is President Xi. The Chinese economy is now larger than the US. The percentage growth rate of the Chinese economy for the foreseeable future will widely exceed that of the US, so the gap in economic power will only grow. China is deeply engaged with infrastructure investments in many countries, just announcing a huge “Silk Road” project benefitting surrounding countries. Chinese military spending is less than ours, but rising rapidly. They build their own fighter planes and aircraft carriers now and are planting military bases on reefs in the S. China Sea. The reputation of China is far from perfect in terms of human rights and the environment, but they don’t interfere with other countries, and it appears they are quite willing to pick up the mantle of climate change from the gutter where Donald Trump threw it.
Isn’t it ironic (and ridiculous) that Donald Trump actually thought that his agenda would take the US to stronger global leadership? In fact, within only three months, it has already diminished our global standing measurably. Trump shows zero concern for global citizenship. He has opened the door wide for other leaders to guide global affairs. Thankfully, several promising candidates appear to be stepping right up to the plate. Even his own party leader, John McCain, says Obama was a better global leader.
Perhaps its not hard to see the connection between Putin and Trump. Both seem hell bent to diminish the greatness of their countries, all for nothing more than a personal power binge.