There is a half year to go until the U.S. midterm elections on Nov. 6. President Donald Trump’s approval rating has dropped to 40 percent. The Republican Party, which has a majority in both houses of Congress, is expected to face a tough fight. There are concerns that, in order to strengthen his support base, Trump may strengthen his position on turning inward.
In midterm elections, the vote of confidence has a strong tendency to go against the sitting president. If the Republican Party sees bad results and its majority in both houses is disrupted, the Democratic Party could move to impeach Trump on the basis of his suspicious relationship with Russia. It will become difficult for Trump to pass desired legislation.
What should he be doing now to avoid this hopeless situation? In an effort to fortify his white middle class support, he seems to be strengthening a position of returning to the starting point with protective trade and immigration restrictions. His tenacity with respect to imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum imports and constructing the Mexico border wall to prevent illegal immigration are good examples of this. There is also concern about the intensification of unilateral trade sanctions.
The U.S., which is likely to come into conflict with World Trade Organization rules by enforcing trade restrictions, bears significant blame. Major countries are also desperately seeking an exemption from the trade restrictions for their own countries, and there is a lack of any effort to promote self-control in protective trade.
In exchange for an exemption, South Korea accepted a revision to its free trade agreement with the U.S. and approved of an expanded framework in which to receive imported cars with U.S. standards. There is also a possibility that Canada and Mexico will renegotiate the North American Trade Agreement, with provisions that would substantially increase the supply of U.S.-made parts.
Protecting one’s own national interest is, of course, important, but it is worrisome if countries are eager to please the United States from start to finish, and to approve the spread of self-protective trade. Major countries, including Japan, should cooperate and continue to firmly question the United States’ violation of the rules.
There are also concerns in the area of diplomacy and security. Trump has criticized the comprehensive agreement for the prevention of Iran’s nuclear development and is requesting that the countries involved in the agreement put forth a proposed amendment by May 12. If the agreement collapses, then it could be an excuse for Iran to reopen nuclear development. The Middle East as well as the entire world could be exposed to a dangerous situation. The principle countries should cooperate to persuade Trump to abandon the annulment.*
Even if the U.S. abdicates the responsibility it carries out in peace and prosperity, the retreat from liberalization and democratization cannot remain as it is. Major countries should not just be swayed by Trump, who is preparing for midterm elections, but should fight further for stability in the international order.
*Editor’s note: President Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear agreement on May 8 and announced new sanctions against Iran.