Trump and the politics of selfishness

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FILE - In this June 30, 2019 file photo, President Donald Trump walks across the South Lawn as he arrives at the White House in Washington. Trump is accusing China and Europe of playing a big currency manipulation game. He says the United States should match that effort, a move that directly contradicts official U.S. policy not to manipulate the dollars value to gain trade advantages. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

If there was one message directed straight at Trump at the G20 this year, it was “stop adopting policies to improve your economic position by harming others.” In years gone by one would never have thought that it would be the President of the Republic of China who would point out the glaring short sightedness of such a policy and champion the clarion call for greater multilateralism and global integration. 

The US has reverted to a long gone era of the 1930s in which it had determined to pull up the drawbridges and isolate itself from the world. But the biggest difference between then and now is that US isolationism in the 1930s was premised on the US not getting hurt by becoming entangled in global politics or foreign conflicts. This time it is less of a defensive measure, but one borne out of arrogance and selfishness – that the rest of the world can go to hell as long as America gets what it wants. This was the modus operandi of the Trump business empire for decades, and now it is the way Trump runs the country. 

Former President Barak Obama is now beginning to seem like the light on the hilltop – having tried to atone for his country’s past sins by starting to reverse the isolation of Cuba, apologising for dropping nuclear bombs on Hiroshima, making amends for the US role in the Vietnam war, working around the clock for months to ensure a sound nuclear deal with Iran, and caring about kidnapped girls in the far flung reaches of Nigeria. 

Trump is determined to unravel all those foreign policy legacies by killing the Iran nuclear deal and forcing others to do so as well. The irony of targeting a country which has never once attacked another country in its history is incredible. For Trump, Cuba must continue to be denied the most basic medicines and essential goods, as well as the right to trade freely with the rest of the world, for no good reason at all. 

The colonial message to a desperately poor nation is “starve or submit,” something Cuba has proven it will never do over the past 60 years. But Cuba has proven that even in poverty you can afford to provide your people with free social services, and excellent free health care. Trump has taken a wrecking ball to Obama’s attempts at universal health care without replacing it with a viable alternative. 

But it was at this year’s G20 Summit that Trump was really showed up to be the black sheep  of the international community. One by one world leaders stood up and criticised the protectionist measures (of the US). President Xi Jinping was the most robust in his remarks saying that protectionism is destroying the global trade order, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea echoed those sentiments and called for a return to free trade. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that free and open economies are the foundation for peace and prosperity, and Russian President Vladimir Putin argued that increasing protectionism is the result of politically motivated restrictions. Even Trump’s ally Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi warned of the dangers of one-sided decisions. 

The pressure exerted on Trump by Putin, Modi and EU President Jean-Claude Juncker to settle trade differences with China was so strong that Trump had little choice but to back down on his threat to impose additional tariffs on another US$300 billion worth of Chinese goods. Such a move would have resulted in serious counter-measures, potentially driving the world economy into a recession, and curbing the path to prosperity.

But perhaps the most egregious display of Trump’s selfishness was his utter refusal, once again, to affirm the Paris Climate Change Agreement, which was reaffirmed by all the world leaders at the G20, as it was last year in Buenos Aires. The US is the second biggest polluter of greenhouse gas emissions, which will ultimately destroy the planet as we know it. World leaders accept the scientific evidence that devastating hurricanes and heatwaves are all being caused by the rise in global temperatures, and have committed their countries to limit the rise in global temperature to under 1.5 degrees celsius. 

But Trump is playing to his base claiming that cutting emissions would cost American jobs. His own ignorance also plays a part as he claims climate change is not man-made, citing that there are parts of the US that are extra cold, which leads him to conclude that climate change is not happening. 

But the world will move on without Trump, as evidenced by the trilateral meeting on climate change at the G20 between the UN, China and France. But Trump’s obstinance will continue to plunge his country and the world into greater levels of suffering by virtue of his country’s burgeoning pollution and ability to cause economic pain.

Shannon Ebrahim is the Foreign Editor for the Independent Media Group.