Looking back over the little I have written, in Jack Ryan and Tom Clancy - interpreting Donald Trump (18 January 2018) I suggested that the writing of Tom Clancy might be used as a framework to interpret President Trump. I said:
I am not equating Jack Ryan with Donald Trump. They are very different people. However, Clancy did capture accurately certain aspects of US right wing populist thinking (I am using that phrase in a descriptive not pejorative sense) including distrust of those within the Beltway and of career politicians, a belief in bureaucratic inefficiency, a belief in the people, a belief in US military power and a somewhat mercantilist view of trade.I also noted that in bringing about change, President Ryan has to deal with a media and political establishment that constantly tried to interpret his actions against existing models, paradigms, of thought and action. I thought that this was important, for that's what people were trying to do, judge Mr Trump against existing models that didn't quite fit. I thought that we would have to watch and wait to see what it all meant. I really didn't know! At the end of this post, you will find the new President's inaugural speech. That's worth re-reading, for it does provide a framework for President Trump's subsequent actions.
Clancy wrote rattling good yarns and I still enjoy them. However, I always thought that there was a certain naivety in his view of the world, one that became more pronounced with time. This included a belief in and fascination with the application of technology in a military environment allowing the US to win wars despite an over-stretched military. .
Jack Ryan is not Donald Trump. In Executive Orders (1996), Ryan becomes President unexpectedly after a Japanese pilot crashes his airliner into the Capitol building during a special joint sitting killing nearly all members of the Congress, the Cabinet and the Supreme Court. That's cleaning the swamp on a large scale.
Ryan inherited a fully functioning White House staff. This included Arnold van Damm as a Chief of Staff, a key figure with extensive political and Washington experience who guided the President through those first turbulent days. Ryan also picked highly competent replacement figures, especially in Treasury and Defence. They may be stereotypical of that belief that private sector figures are best, their attitudes may reflect prevailing orthodoxy about the inefficiencies of the public sector,the need for tax reform and redeployment of Defence spend, but they were highly competent, able to manage the re-emerging Congress without involving the President. In turn, Ryan gave them a wide degree of freedom.
Unlike Ryan, President Trump came to office after a very messy election campaign. Unlike Ryan, he faced a fully functioning if somewhat dysfunctional Congress. Unlike Ryan, he had to create his office from scratch. President Trump also faced a problem in that he did not have a lot of real depth to draw from in setting up that office and in making Executive appointments.
Twelve days after that first post I wrote Monday Forum - the administrative competence of the Trump Administration.That post began:
I think that the thing that most surprised me about President Trump's Executive Order "PROTECTING THE NATION FROM FOREIGN TERRORIST ENTRY INTO THE UNITED STATES" was the apparent administrative incompetence involved, something that may be becoming a feature of the new US Administration at this point in its life.This was an initial analytical, not political; observation. I said something very similar about new Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd very early.The weaknesses and features displayed in the immediate period after his election would ultimately bring Mr Rudd down.
It will be twelve months Saturday since President Trump's inauguration. It's been a roller-coaster ride. If we look at a policy level, I think that President Trump has broadly tried to stay true to his original campaign pledges sensible or not. But then we have twitter and off-the-cuff Trump. Not only has this created uncertainty, but it has continued an almost existential debate that began prior to Mr Trump's election, one in which different world views collide in ways that may not have a lot to do with what is actually happening.
One unfortunate result has been a coarsening of the political rhetoric on both left and right as they talk past each other and try to relate beyond.. I listened to an example of that this morning from Australian Trade Minister Steven Ciobo.
Australia is engaged in a trade dispute with Canada over wine. In describing this this morning on ABC Radio National, Minister Ciobo used Trumpian language about Australian jobs and Australian first. I'm not sure he used exactly that last phrase, but that was the message.
This is a trade dispute. Australia believes, correctly to my mind, that Canadian restrictions are reducing importation of Australian wine in a way that is in breach of World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreements intended to prevent restrictions on global trade.. Australia is therefore taking action against Canada under the WTO rules to try to reduce the perceived barriers.
The way that Minister Ciobo phrases it plays into the current trope about the dangers of globalisation and free trade and the need for countries to to adopt them first attitudes regardless of the broader consequences. This began on the left and has now spread to the right and to the left and right populist parties. To my mind, it is one of the most dangerous sides of Trumpism.
This cartoon presents the results of the me-first policies that helped create the Great Depression. I could not find the Low cartoon on autarchy that shows each country eating their own legs in the interests of self sufficiency.At present, my train reading is W K Hancock's Argument of Empire (Penguin Books, 1943). Keith Hancock is arguably Australia's greatest historian. I will write about this book properly later in my train reading series. For the moment, the book reminded me of the Great Depression and its aftermath.
In 1930, The US Congress passed the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act. This was an America first measure designed to protect American jobs at a time of global downturn. It lead to other countries adopting or increasing protectionist measures. The result was disaster, a collapse in world trade, that turned a depression into the Great Depression. As the results were recognised, countries began to reduce tariffs and sign free trade agreements, a process brought to a sudden end by the onset of war. However, the lessons learned led to a new series of agreements including Bretton Woods (1944) and the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (1947) that created the structure for a new rules based economic order.
This structure laid the base for economic expansion in the Post War period, but is now under severe threat. How President Trump responds on trade issues is one of the two critical Trumpian things I will be watching in 2018.
The second can best be described as insecurity. For much of the time since the Second World War, Australia has operated within a relatively stable international relations and security framework. The American Alliance has been central to that. New developments such as the rise of China posed a challenge to that framework, but few Australians (me included) expected a situation where instability and uncertainty in US foreign policy itself would become a significant challenge.What do Australia and all US allies do now?
I don't see this as necessarily a bad thing, but it is unsettling. It's unsettling for the US too in ways that I'm not sure are properly recognised there as yet. The US is used to doing its own thing, used to being in the lead with others following. As the US withdraws from certain activities such as the agreement on climate change or the TPP, other countries step up.
We simply don't know how the Trump administration will evolve over the next twelve months, we don't know what changes in defence and foreign affairs will be made as a consequence. We just have to wait. .