President Trump: “Right wing has asserted ownership of the anti-globalization movement”
- Valéria Nader, da Redação
The US is still absorbing Trump´s victory and the world is perplexed with one more election result in favor of extreme right wing speech and the demonization of the “other”. Analyzing the impacts of the Republican’s return to power, we interview Scott Martin, political scientist and expert in international relations, also professor at New School and at Columbia University, both in New York City, where he conducts research about Brazilian and Latin American issues.
“There are already plans in the works for a giant civil rights rally around Martin Luther King day in January, and a Million Woman March on Washington around inauguration day. The Trump victory seems to be uniting women’s, civil rights, environmental, labor, immigrant rights, and other activists in a way that Obama could only have dreamed of. Rights and gains in so many areas are under threat. It feels like an existential threat to so many things that are held dear and were taken for granted till now, so you see many people who don’t usually protest out in the streets. Young and old families”, he pointed out, highlighting that he has no memory of a presidential election that was so abruptly followed by street protests.
Throughout the conversation, Martin dismantled the myths of a less threatening Trump face, one that was partly inflated by Hillary Clinton´s well known political and economic connections while Obama’s Secretary of State. This means that the expectations of only small doses of interventionism and militarism can be mere illusions, just like his promise to “look inside” in an economic context of international financial flows and connections that is practically irreversible.
“I think, in the end, isolationist instincts to rebuild America and look inward are trumped by militaristic impulses and a tendency to see the world in ‘us vs. them’ terms and to see a terrorist behind every conflict, behind every refugee. I’m not saying the neocons are completely back in control as under W, but it looks like unilateralists and militarists are back in the ascendancy under Trump. That’s why the Japanese and Europeans are deeply concerned”, Martin highlighted.
Besides alerting to possible drawbacks for Latin American countries, being Mexico clearly the most worrisome and eminent case, Scott Martin regrets the trend that resistance movements against globalization are now under right wing leadership and guidance. Finally, in spite of the usual criticism and denounciation of Obama's inability to curb historical dynamics of oppression and injustice, the professor makes a friendlier assessment of his eight-year term of office.
“The notion that we were in a ‘post-racial America’ with Obama was always fanciful. There is only so much a president can do, and believe me he tried, on gun control, criminal justice reform, speaking out about increasing police abuse and killings around the country that the federal government can’t directly control or address very easily. He was always stymied by Republican obstructionism in Congress, and the limits of federalism where most states are in Republican hands”, he declared.
Here is Professor Scott Martin’s complete interview.
Correio da Cidadania: What is the meaning of Trump's election for the US and for the world from your point of view?
Scott Martin: I hate to be an alarmist, but these are very worrisome times. As a right-wing nationalist populist upsurge, it fits in with the trend of Brexit, the surge of right-wing nativist parties in power in Eastern Europe and quickly gaining support in Western Europe. It has already emboldened the likes of Le Pen and the National Front in France, though I hope there will be a backlash with deeply held republican values there. Some say we were already “de-globalizing” in terms of measures like trade and financial flows as a share of world GDP. This is likely to further that, as the TPP is dead, I can’t imagine WTO talks going anywhere with Trump in power, NAFTA will be hollowed out. There could be trade wars with China. None of this will be particularly good for workers or jobs, and it is they rather than multinationals that will suffer the worst. A mercantile protectionism with “every country for itself “is likely to gather stream. The position of Trump in terms of the Iran nuclear deal, NATO and other core alliances, the likely embrace of Assad to defeat ISIS, and a more muscular US unilateralism around the world is likely, and dangerous. The conciliatory approach to Putin and Russia almost looks like a retreat to the great power days of spheres of influence, carving up the world. And the flirtations with him during the campaign amidst Russian cyberespionage and WikiLeaks with its Russian links make these matters very troublesome from the point of view of US rule of law and national security. Laws may have been broken, but no one is investigating. And don’t be surprised to find torture and waterboarding back in US policy in dealing with suspected terrorists.
Correio da Cidadania: What could you say about the media's coverage of the election process, especially about the way Trump was portrayed since the very beginning of the electoral process until after the results of the polls?
Scott Martin: The Economist said it best: “his voters took Mr. Trump seriously but not literally, even as his critics took him literally but not seriously”. He bashed the “liberal media” and establishment, while at the same time playing media brilliantly. Using Twitter to communicate directly with millions of followers. Shaping the media narrative by calling in directly to CNN and they would interview him on the spot. The fact-based media, in their zeal to be even-handed and balanced, gave him a platform even as it didn’t take him seriously. CNN would telecast his rallies live. And the “liberal media” tended to trivialize him in the primaries and even in the general election, thinking his rhetoric made him unacceptable to broad swaths of the electorate. That proved to be naïve thinking, though there were some warning voices out there among left commentators (Robert Reich, Michael Moore, some on the Sanders-Warren left wing of the Democratic Party). They saw this coming, and Moore predicted it.
The other thing is how much this shows the fragmentation of the media, and how Trump exploited that. He could project one image through conventional print and broadcast media, and then another through fringe right-wing hate media like Breitbart or other sites where fake news and outlandish accusations or just plain racist and homophobic and misogynistic rhetoric could then be amplified through social networks and media that his followers and apologists and zealots were tapped into. It was a right-wing echo chamber. And “NeverTrump” conservatives were out there but they were pretty reserved, and now those who got into office from the GOP not supporting him overtly or opposing him have quickly “joined the team.” It’s a dangerous situation. Unchecked power, two branches of power in Republican hands, a chance to change the balance of power in the Supreme Court, Republican domination in most of the states.
Correio da Cidadania: Do you believe this election will bring more people to protest on the streets?
Scott Martin: It is already happening, and it’s unprecedented for this to happen right after an election. Not in my lifetime (I’m 55) which includes victories of George W. Bush in an election with irregularities in ballot counting in Florida, not with his father, not with Ronald Reagan, not with Richard Nixon. People aren’t protesting the fact that Trump won in the electoral college (though they hate those rules that cost the Democrats twice in 16 years). It’s his divisive and hateful rhetoric and policies promised toward immigrants. Women. People of color. This would never have happened if the other Republican nominees had won, like Jeb Bush or John Kasich. Trump breaks the mold with his overt appeals to racist white nationalism. That doesn’t mean, of course, that all his voters thought they were supporting that. There was lots of anxiety about political elites and long-term economic decline that he tapped into brilliantly.
And yes, I think these protests will grow. There are already plans in the works for a giant civil rights rally around Martin Luther King day in January, and a Million Woman March on Washington around inauguration day. The Trump victory seems to be uniting women’s, civil rights, environmental, labor, immigrant rights, and other activists in a way that Obama could only have dreamed of. Rights and gains in so many areas are under threat. It feels like an existential threat to so many things that are held dear and were taken for granted till now, so you see many people who don’t usually protest out in the streets. Young and old. Families.
Correio da Cidadania: Is it possible to make forecasts about a Trump government? Being more specific, what are your thoughts on what can happen to immigration laws and the Obama Health Care?
Scott Martin: Most of the signs are very troublesome two weeks later despite a few calls for “unity.” A close White House adviser, touted as equal in authority to the chief of staff, headed up the hate speech and fake news website Breitbart (Bannon). The EPA and Interior likely will be in the hands of Big Oil and fossil fuel advocates who deny global warming, possibly State and definitely National Security in the hands of people with authoritarian styles and quite possibly with little or no foreign policy experience. On Supreme Court nominees, where there is one vacancy now and we could have one or two more in this presidential term, the trend will be anti-abortion, anti-women’s rights, anti-civil rights, anti-labor, pro-business, and probably pro-expansion of executive authority.
On immigration, it looks like at a minimum 2-3 million immigrants will be deported as “criminals,” though experts doubt that there are that many left after Obama has deported 2 million already over last 8 years. A big focus will be on border security (where Obama already strengthened security so much that more Mexicans are going back than coming in the last 5 years, research shows). We will have increased human rights abuses on the border, I imagine. Could there eventually, with the border “secure,” be some effort at a pathway to citizenship or at least permanent residency status for the millions who’ve been here for years, paid taxes without getting benefits, and provide a workforce in areas where American citizens don’t want to work? You could spin out a scenario, if you were very optimistic. It would be a “Nixon in China’ type of moment. But Trump employed both legal and illegal immigrants, may be attentive to business concerns on labor supply, so stranger things have happened! After all, many conservative Republicans like George W. Bush wanted that, until it became politically toxic on the right and nativism reared its ugly head. But a lot else would have to happen on the economy, jobs, border security, for Trump ever to feel politically secure enough with his base to do that.
Correio da Cidadania: What about trade issues? Do you believe that Trump will really lead the country to more nationalist, protectionist and restrictive commercial policies?
Scott Martin: Yes, though I hope there are some counterweights. Besides the trade agreements with cloudy futures I mentioned earlier, he could aggressively use anti-dumping laws for protectionist purposes against particular sectors in particular countries. Or declare certain countries “currency manipulators” subject to restricted market access. Which, particularly with China, could invite retaliation. I think we are at a moment of extended pause in the advance of global trade through multilateral and regional trade and investment agreements. While good for labor rights and the environment and consumer protection that tend to be savaged in these agreements, it’s not necessarily good for global commerce or the prospects for developing countries who depend disproportionately on open Northern markets. But generally speaking, globalization has “delivered” only increasing inequality and gaps between haves and have-nots in the North, and also in many places in the South. A pause isn’t a bad thing, but the left (North and South) needs to have an agenda of inclusive, socially friendly integration it hasn’t articulated yet. No one wins with growing protectionism and mercantilism at the end of the day.
And we haven’t discussed the environment. Trump could mean the effective end of the Paris accord. The US has to give four years notice of withdrawal, but the government can effectively rescind the executive orders under which the US was making good on its pledges, and other countries won’t act if the US is backing out. That’s disastrous on climate change. But at the same time there is resistance. From business, where over 300 firms have signed a petition against environmental setbacks and an end to us fulfillment of Paris accord pledges. From the state of California, which was always pioneering in its auto emissions standards. With 40 percent or so of the national population, California could go back to emitting de facto national standards for auto emissions, as it did in the Bush era.
Correio da Cidadania: From your point of view, how is the next president going to deal with developing countries in Latin America? What might be the differences in strategy between the Obama administration and the Trump government?
Scott Martin: I imagine a return to more aggressive unilateralism. A freeze if not backtracking on normalization with Cuba, though I hope that Trump the businessman wins out over Trump the politician. Human rights and democracy will be less pressing if not non-existent concerns. Maybe a cut in foreign aid budgets and assistance (bilateral and multilateral), given the isolationist bent. Maybe status quo or worse in terms of the war on drugs if it somehow gets tied back into counterterrorism as happened under Bush, and with a likely big increase in military spending especially for “counter-terrorism”.
My biggest concern is relations with Mexico, a country I follow closely and travel to frequently and have family ties with a Mexican wife and many family members living there. Trump simultaneously wants to at least double the number deported to Mexico, wants to seal off the border with a wall, and will likely extract major concessions from Mexico on trade since Canada has already said it would agree to re-open NAFTA and Mexico will have no choice. Millions of jobs in the maquila export sector depend on NAFTA. It could be a social explosion there with millions of returnees, cuts in jobs, no more immigration “safety valve” that has enabled Mexico to lower the social costs of a continued and deepening neoliberal economic model. All with a center-right president who is terribly unpopular due to corruption, a poor record on human rights investigations like the disappeared teachers, and poor economic performance as reforms like privatization of oil don’t deliver tangible economic benefits for most Mexicans. And the peso has been in free fall since the elections, with all these worries and uncertainties. Mexico made a big bet on integration with the US since the 80s and 90s that now looks like a colossal historical error. It is a pressure cooker on the US southern border. I predict (and hope) that the nationalist left and MORENA and Lopez Obrador will get their act together and channel mexicans grievances in the next presidential elections in 2018. The Mexican people are sick of the PRI-PAN duopoly of power, and outraged by a new US president who insulted them as a people. I think the reaction to US right wing nationalist populism will be left wing nationalist populism in Mexico, but I hope of an eminently democratic nature. Could that happen elsewhere in the region? Not sure, as left governments have imploded in places due to errors of their own making and with opportunistic opposition and questionable successors, and hopefully are about to fall in Venezuela. But this (Trump’s victory) will give a shot in the arm to anti-imperialist and nationalist movements, which may well make a comeback as an aggressive and jingoistic Uncle Sam rears his ugly head again. Whatever improvement there was in the hemispheric relationship under Obama is unlikely to continue, and could be rolled back.
Correio da Cidadania: In this respect, what about Russia and the Middle East?
Scott Martin: I’m very concerned, for reasons I outlined earlier. Nothing is good about conciliation of a right-wing nationalist dictator who’s doing bad things at home, on his borders and in Syria, and could do worse things elsewhere in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet empire. Ukraine, Baltic states. A retreat into total belligerence vis-à-vis Iran, which will strengthen the mullahs and threaten peace and Israel. Perhaps moves to bring back boots on the ground in Iraq and in the fight against ISIS. Possibly moves to embrace an authoritarian Saudi monarchy doing awful things in Yemen and playing footsy with radical Islam with its funding overseas. The Saudis will be pressured to take a firmer position against the declared enemy of “extreme islamic terrorism,” but it will be difficult if Trump takes extreme measures against Muslims in immigration policy such a registry of Muslims or heightened scrutiny or plain exclusion of those who want to come to the US from such countries as tourists or students or on business visas.
The anti-peace Netanyahu, who did deeply undiplomatic things to the US like speaking against Obama on the floor of Congress, is now emboldened in resisting the peace process, and protecting and increasing settlements. He hailed Trump’s victory and is ecstatic! With no hopes of peace, the intifadah will probably be resurgent in coming years. And Trump will surely just conflate it with terrorism and denounce it.
Correio da Cidadania: There have been some analyses in Latin America, especially in Brazil, highlighting the fact that a Trump administration will be less militarist than a Hillary one would have been, which could impact positively not only countries like Brazil, but also the Middle East. How would you respond to these comments?
Scott Martin: That could prove to be wishful thinking. To be sure, Hillary was more hawkish as Secretary of State than Obama, and likely would have pushed for a no-fly zone in Syria, and did back the Libyan intervention without a clear post-Qaddafi strategy. But under Trump we are likely to get a buildup of military spending, which is bad for the American people and can’t be good for the world. More use of bilateral military aid to prop up perceived allies, no matter how corrupt or anti-democratic.
A country I follow is Ethiopia, and a brutal regime has engaged in a year-long crackdown on peaceful protests spreading through the country and now has a start of emergency suspending all rights and muzzling the already censored press and shutting down the Internet. The US and the West, who aid and abet a regime that is run by a tiny ethnic minority as the West’s ally in the dangerous Horn of Africa, have acquiesced in this brutal repression of the Ethiopian people. They will continue to pursue such short-sided and unconscionable policies under Trump. Only worse. That is just one example. The justification will be the “war on terror” or “counter-terrorism,” and everything will be seen through that lens. I think, in the end, isolationist instincts to “rebuild America” and look inward are trumped by militaristic impulses and a tendency to see the world in “us vs. them” terms and to see a terrorist behind every conflict, behind every refugee. If you look at the initial potential secretary of state nominees (Guiliani and Bolton), this is the way they see the world. They backed the Iraq invasion. A Mitt Romney might look a little different. If you look at the nominees for national security adviser (Flynn) and director of the CIA (Pompeo), there are worrisome signs of overly close ties to Russia, a fixation on radical Islam as the sole focus of foreign policy, opposition to the Iran deal. I don’t see that they have learned the lessons from the Iraq war. I’m not saying the neocons are completely back in control as under W, but it looks like unilateralists and militarists are back in the ascendancy under Trump. That’s why the Japanese and Europeans are deeply concerned. About placating Russia. About fraying of alliances under the guise of “burden-sharing.” About loose talk about the world being better off with more US allies having nukes.
My sense is the two most likely areas of dangerous confrontation where US policy will be tested and may contribute to really bad outcomes for the world is with North Korea and China. North Korea increasingly has the capability to deliver nuclear missiles far from Asia including against the U.S. Sanctions didn’t work, and no other strategy has worked. I think there could be a strong temptation for Trump to try something like Israel’s conventional strike against Iraq’s nuclear reactor under Saddam. That could potentially lead to an escalating nuclear confrontation in Asia and spreading outward. Dangerous stuff. On China, I think we’ll have increasing skirmishes and tensions over trade, the South-China sea, and other issues as China asserts itself as a global power under the current regime and Trump asserts US power. China needs to be contained and is a threat to its Asian neighbors and is increasingly repressive at home, but I doubt there will be an intelligent policy for dealing with that under this new administration.
Correio da Cidadania: Finally, the Obama administration has received very controversial analyses all over the world, some of them pointing out its limitations in dealing with internal social and racial issues and others even criticizing an unnecessary and unexpected escalation in a military approach to foreign policy. Having that in mind, how do you see the Obama administration during the last 8 years?
Scott Martin: Given the Iran deal, opening to Cuba, and efforts to roll back the military footprint in Iraq and Afghanistan, I think the charge of a militarized foreign policy under Obama is misguided. Now, the notion that we were in a “post-racial America” with Obama was always fanciful. There is only so much a president can do, and believe me he tried, on gun control, criminal justice reform, speaking out about increasing police abuse and killings around the country that the federal government can’t directly control or address very easily. He was always stymied by Republican obstructionism in Congress, and the limits of federalism where most states are in Republican hands. If he did step up deportations of those with criminal records, it was done at least through rule of law and also in an effort to try to open the path to immigration reform. And it was done together with moves like the executive order giving 800,000 people who came to the US as children temporary legal status till Congress acted. Despite a decline in crime and violent crime under his watch, right-wing media and politicians whipped up citizen’s fears so that many believed it was on the increase, according to some polls. The Black Lives Movement against police killings and brutality has been demonized on the right (and maybe could learn something in tactics and rhetoric from the traditional civil rights community). Immigrants got conflated with criminals in the right-wing narrative that Trump fostered but others created before him created. He tapped into that, and fanned it. “The other” who was black, brown, Muslim, Latino, an immigrant, a feminist, got portrayed as a threat. To security. To “our jobs.” To “our country.” To manhood. To white privilege. All that in some ways was a reaction to all the progressive values Obama and his coalition stands for. Hate and division won the day. But it all also tapped into genuine economic grievance, with US median wages lower now than in the 1970s.
And Hillary was a very flawed messenger to combat that, with Clinton ties to NAFTA and Wall Street, her big donors, her e-mail server, the blurring of public and private with the Clinton Foundation, the identification of the Clintons with financial deregulation and free trade policies going back to the 90s. She was the status quo in a “change election.” The career politician, however much good stuff she did over the years. Bernie Sanders tapped into the same sort of very real economic anxiety as did Trump, which Hillary didn’t have a good message for as she banked on identity politics and the hopes of an emerging multi-ethnic majority that won’t get here for a few decades. There was a debate on class, globalization, inclusion/exclusion in this election, and Trump’s message carried the day with enough people to bring this new breed of right-wing nationalist populism to power. We’ve had such figures before, but never as president. He’s way worse, and way more threatening at home and at least as threatening abroad, as compared to George W or Reagan upon coming to office. We live in very dangerous times, both in this country and around the world. Right now, the right wing has asserted ownership of the movement against globalization which used to be led by the left, and is directing it toward their own ugly ends of division and exclusion.