It was a strange scene which revealed deep divisions in the United States. President Donald Trump was inaugurated in the midst of the irate voices of tens of thousands of demonstrators from all over the country who assembled in Washington, D.C.
Feelings of anxiety and backlash were on display before any feelings of benediction and anticipation. That is reflected in Trump’s low 40 percent approval rating. History’s minute hand has started to move backward. That was the impression this newspaper had listening to the inaugural address, because it was truly like the words of a 19th century politician.
The lexicon of the modern era – peace, freedom, democracy, equality, justice, human rights, diversity – were not mentioned once in the 16-minute address. What was repeated were old-fashioned words such as border, trade, jobs, industry, wealth, national interest, pride, loyalty, strength and greatness.
He shot off: “We are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the people;” “…all changes starting right here and right now;” “We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams.” Proclamations you might hear from a revolutionary.
He also justified the vision of “America First” written on signs by saying “it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.” Can a United States which runs toward egotism and abandons its duty as a superpower to world peace and stability “be great again?”
Enumerating the ‘Rejection of Obama’
Newly inaugurated President Trump’s policy details the rejections of policies implemented under the strength of the outgoing Obama administration. Policy toward foreign governments is shaded with protectionism and anti-foreignism, exemplified by withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, renegotiation of NAFTA and construction of a border wall to keep out illegal immigrants. If a world economic superpower suddenly veers from a path of free trade in which there is an assumption that there is free movement of people, money and goods, then the enterprise and labor of partner nations will be forced to face heavy burdens and deep suffering. Is the new administration not aware of this fact?
The ideal of Obama’s often-touted nuclear-free world has also disappeared. Improving U.S.-Russia relations, then suggesting that economic regulations connected to the Ukraine issue be lifted in exchange for nuclear disarmament doesn’t seem like a realistic deal anymore.
Even domestically, Obama’s health care law – which sought universal health care – has been tapped for elimination, but the unheard costs of health care are left in place, and low income earners are unable to afford health care. There is talk of easing environmental regulations, but if excavation for coal and oil is allowed at national parks, there are fears it will invite irreparable environmental damage.
Fears of Repercussions in Europe
Against a background of stagnation, one concern is the spread of selfish nationalist politics such as “America First” around the world. If national interests are put first, things such as environmental policy, humanitarian support and measures to fight poverty could be rolled back, and we may return to a savage international system like the imperialist period when fighting for concessions rather than collaboration reigned supreme.
This year, a number of crucial elections are taking place in Europe, including an elections in the Netherlands Diet in March, the French National Assembly in June, and the German Federal Diet in the fall. The one to watch out for is the French presidential election in April. Marine Le Pen, an anti-immigrant, influential presidential candidate and president of the far-right party, the National Front, declared support for Trump by saying, “If I was American… I would choose Donald Trump.”
Last year in Austria, the presidential candidate for an anti-immigrant party which was founded by Nazis and advocates amending history toward a more masochistic view received 46 percent of the vote. In Italy, where there is a stagnant economy and worries over immigrants, the prime minister was forced to resign.
Looking at this political climate, thoughts of a dark age in the first half of the 20th century come to mind. The philosopher Kojin Karatani wrote, “What allured people to Nazism was that it gave them an illusion that they would be free of all the current contradictions in the ‘here and now,’ instead of looking toward the future and enduring the present.” This could be echoed in Trump’s speech as well.
Deep Distrust of the Media
In the presidential race, most U.S. media outlets reported low support for Trump, but the result ran counter to this. These circumstances overlap with another era.
According to management guru Peter Drucker, who experienced the Hitler era, the newspapers were full of articles everyday showing contempt for Hitler, and the radio broadcast anti-Nazi programming. However, the media was severely criticized, and the more they scorned Hitler, the more public sentiment moved toward Nazism.
At a press conference the other day, Trump took a position that is inconceivable in the United States – which places a high value on democracy and freedom of speech and the press – by not answering the question of a journalist who was critical of him, yet there were many supporters who cheered him for that. It is as astonishing as it is regrettable. The raison d’être of media news, including newspapers, is being questioned.
For Japan, the Trump administration has become a hard-to-handle ally. Putting TPP into effect, which the Abe administration hoped would act as an economic net on China, is now hopeless. A shadow also stretches over the viability of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty after Trump’s announcement that the U.S. would quit being the world’s policeman.
On the renewed chill in Japan-Korea relations, we can no longer expect the U.S. to be an active intermediary such as it was in the comfort women agreement struck at the end of 2015. We need to open avenues through our own diplomatic efforts.
The Trump administration’s actual policies will be clear once we hear the state of the union and budget messages in February. The controlling Republican Party with majorities in the upper and lower house will not necessarily support Trump’s drastic policies. This paper holds out a slim hope that the government policies will be down-to-earth and realistic.