Wayne O'Leary

Jingoism as Foreign Policy

As this commentary was being written, Donald J. Trump, accidental president of the United States, discovered the evil that is Australia and added that nation to his expanding list of countries dedicated to doing in the last, best hope of mankind. By the time said commentary reaches the press, there will probably be others equally deserving of condemnation in Trump’s eyes than the Land Down Under.

But for now, the Aussies and their luckless leader, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, are the ones in the Donald’s crosshairs. Turnbull’s great offense was to have made an agreement with former President Barack Obama whereby the US agreed to take in 1,250 refugees from Iraq and Iran that Australia could not accommodate, in exchange for a smaller number of Central American refugees detained in Costa Rica. The deal, characterized by the new president as “dumb,” rendered him “extremely upset” according to his Mini-Me, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, and justified the wrathful tongue-lashing Turnbull endured at the hands of a telephone-wielding Trump.

Let’s remember what nation was thereby being disrespected by America’s overbearing chief executive. This was Australia, year-in and year-out our best friend in the Pacific, a country that loyally bled alongside the US in both world wars, Korea, and even the unpopular Vietnam and Iraq conflicts; it’s a country that, at its peril, took in the escaping General Douglas MacArthur following the fall of the Philippines in 1942. Trump, who’s worshipped generals ever since his parents consigned him to a disciplinary military school in his youth, doesn’t apparently know that history — or doesn’t care.

He probably also doesn’t know or care that his arrogance is pushing Australia into the arms of the Asian dragon through his demand that the Aussies “screw” China by raising the prices of the commodities they sell to the Chinese, increasingly their most important trading partners. A 2016 survey indicated nearly half of all Australians felt China was more important to them economically than the US and believed their country should distance itself from the US should Trump become president. The Donald may now have alienated the other half.

Australia is only the latest Trump target. Mexico, another erstwhile American friend and ally, has been subject to his insults for several months, beginning early in the presidential campaign. Although undocumented immigrants from Mexico have been coming north in steadily declining numbers for almost a decade (a result of increased border enforcement by the Obama administration and the Great Recession’s negative impact on available low-skilled American jobs), the Trumpster’s haranguing advocacy of a US-Mexico border wall, which inflamed his base voters, has continued unabated.

It reached a crescendo during Trump’s first week in office with the ultimatum that Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto either accept humiliation and agree to assume the multi-billion-dollar construction cost of such a project, or face a 20% tariff on all Mexican imports into the US. This produced predictable results: an indignant refusal, an instant souring of Mexican-American relations, and the cancellation of a previously scheduled visit to the White House. Trump, ignorance personified, is blissfully unaware of the memories and latent fears of Yankee imperialism lying just beneath the surface in Latin America; he would revive the first President Roosevelt’s corollary to the Monroe Doctrine (in a nutshell: we run the Americas) and likely rename it for himself.

Of course, Trump’s absurd rationale (that Mexico should pay for a wall because it’s stealing our companies and creating a cross-border American trade deficit) totally misses the point; the existing trade imbalance results from NAFTA’s permitting US corporations to move production south of the border for cheaper labor and subsequently send purported Mexican “exports” back north for sale in the American market.

It might make sense to discourage this outsourcing through a specific, targeted tax, but laying a generalized Trumpian tariff of 20% on Mexican fruits, vegetables, or sombreros would hurt both Mexican workers and American consumers without laying a glove on the US multinationals really responsible for lost American manufacturing and the apparent (though bogus) trade deficit. However, that wouldn’t fit with the Donald’s hypernationalistic mindset.

A similar disconnect is revealed in Trump’s tentative ban on Muslim immigration. Seven predominantly Muslim countries (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Yemen, and Somalia) have been blackballed on the grounds of sponsoring or supporting terrorism, despite having no connection with terrorist attacks in America, which (aside from 9/11, a mostly Saudi operation) have been primarily homegrown affairs. This is Trump the jingoist looking once more for foreign scapegoats and willfully ignoring the role of American corporations (advocates of open borders) in perpetuating a very real overpopulation crisis exacerbated by immigration.

The problem of excessive population growth adversely impacting our economy could be ameliorated by limiting the level of legal immigration — cutting it from, say, 1 million a year to 750,000 or 500,000 — but that’s not what corporate America, Trump’s true constituency, wants. So instead, the popular onus will be placed on foreign countries, and selective nationality or ethnic groups (Muslims, Mexicans) will be demonized, while overall immigration remains high.

Counting the Muslim contingent, that makes nine countries on the presidential enemies list, a spectacular record of insult and alienation for one month in office. But don’t forget China, Trump’s particular bête noire, which he has been hammering publicly for some time. Although the stated justification is supposed currency manipulation, the real reason for this Chinese aversion may be racially inspired (the new “yellow peril”), or simply a kneejerk reaction to China’s posed threat to American global economic hegemony.

Others on the receiving end of Trump’s verbal aggression include Germany and its Prime Minister Angela Merkel. The Germans, American allies for decades, a bulwark against Russian expansionism, and the key to European stability, are under the gun for having the temerity to compete in the American auto market; the president has threatened a 35% import tax per German car.

As the Donald proclaimed in his inaugural, “From this day forward, it’s going to be America First.” That’s not a new sentiment in our history. Teddy Roosevelt was a belligerent nationalist a century ago. But seldom has American nationalism been accompanied by such vitriol and irrational hatred for other creeds, countries, and peoples, including former friends. It borders on psychosis and smacks of something from the 1930s.

Wayne O’Leary is a writer in Orono, Maine, specializing in political economy. He holds a doctorate in American history and is the author of two prizewinning books.

From The Progressive Populist, March 15, 2017


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