The Financial Express

Spectre of \'Brexit\' stalks America - exiting the global stage?

| Updated: October 22, 2017 17:18:29

Spectre of \'Brexit\' stalks America - exiting the global stage?

Great Britain's chances of exiting the European Union were split (about 50:50) on the eve of the country's vote; but once the results started trickling in, not only were the "Remain" bloc routed, but many voters, especially those who did not vote, or even voted to leave, began to rally for another referendum: their mistake, they quickly calculated, was immense. Boris Johnson, the London Mayor who championed the "Leave" crusade, quickly evaporated from the political scene, recognising the furor that engulfed Britain; and though he has returned as Prime Minister Theresa May's Foreign Secretary, how he extricates Britain from Europe is worth watching: it will not be what he wanted it to be when he initiated Brexit.
A similar ghost haunts a United States standing perilously close to exiting the global stage, carrying far higher costs, and with no chance of reconsidering its November 2016 electoral outcome for four years. By then, the United States will be a different country, as this series previously argued. Johnson's U.S. counterpart, Donald J. Trump, also faces as equally stout an opponent as David Cameron, but armed with other mitigating factors: Hillary R. Clinton. Will history repeat itself in such quick succession?
A Trump victory would produce an isolationist country, unless he decides to rethink his policies in the same way he flipped by supporting Paul Ryan and John McCain in their own (re)-election bids after initially refusing to do so. Weighing such Trump tendencies, and a tide demanding a U.S. retreat from the rest of the world, places the voter in between the "rational" option and the "emotional": "values" remain the bedrock of the Republican base, but the tectonic economic and security changes expected in U.S. foreign relations from a Trump victory dooms the party. Leadership is fickle: Ted Cruz is unlikely to get his hopeful opportunity to rebuild the party for the 2020 election, since how he rejected Trump will boomerang upon him; Trump would not be too interested, since a victory would vindicate his independence of the party; and Paul Ryan, the House Speaker (and third in line to become president), could be too bruised by then, if not already.
Yet, inter-branch relations may be the linchpin. Trump's victory coincides with a Republican victory in the Senate and/or House of Representatives, Mitch Mitchell and Ryan, the party's leaders in the two chambers, respectively, have all the opportunities open to shape the party in their vision, which could be a last-ditch option to prevent a values-driven Tea Party takeover. Otherwise, the inevitable Tea Party's takeover will be sonorous, though, ultimately, unavailing. Whichever triumphs, inter-branch relations appear unlikely to improve, making the political costs to the country of a Trump victory enormous, and the scarred governance institutions inhibiting functional credibility. Other countries and corporations would steer clear of a dysfunctional U.S. domestic system.
A Clinton victory would delay those costs, rather than eliminate them. It would bring in a motley crew, the diversity itself burdening governance. With the likelihood of women appointments, Hispanic representation, and Asian caucusing climbing, all the party will have time for is to compromise after compromise. All this without bringing the strongest representation claimant: the Sanders army. True the United States would avoid isolationism, a Mexican border-wall, and Muslim harassment, but that is not to say some foreign policy corrections would not be attempted, especially over trade with China, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and in the ISIS war. Hard-hitting negotiations could be softened by prioritising Clinton's infrastructural revitalisation, upon which all factions agree. Creating jobs reinforces domestic salience.
Dealing with a Republican majority predicts the same deadlock President Barack Obama faces; but with a Democratic majority, she has the historical game-changing opportunity to change the Supreme Court for good, consolidate healthcare, enact immigration reform, and pursue her infrastructure projects. Trump's isolationist-nativist mixture would be sharply contrasted.
A different United States would emerge since Clinton's policy-driven or Trump's value-driven agenda must respect, as Britain's Brexit vote did, the electorate. So far more new voters have toed Trump's line than the Republican Party's; and likewise for the Sanders army mobilising more likely voters than the "old" Democratic Party could. If Brexit is any guide, the U.S. toss-up could ride on the "values" wave rather than the policy-anchored alternative. Unlike the British case, the United States could pre-empt that conclusion by getting voters to go to the polls in a way that Cameron could not. Critical to this summoning is the youth vote: in England, university students did not vote for the "Remain" cause in desired numbers, evident from the very start, in the Newcastle area, where the "Remain" side needed more than the marginal victory it got; in the United States, Clinton and Trump must learn the critical lessons from that.
How the agenda of each candidate is sold to Independent voters may be more crucial. They more likely represent the "rational" islands in a sea of "emotional" voters, and decisive for an inclusive-minded Clinton. Allocating some leadership role to Bernie Sanders is fundamental.
Another pivotal area is to register immigrants. With a dominant proportion of them being Hispanics, another Democratic window of opportunity opens. Rarely, if ever, have Hispanics been so urgent about registering: even without Democratic Party mobilising them, their own initiatives have trail-blazed the drive. In fact, at least one solid Republican state, Arizona, could join the Democratic camp. Every other "American" country in the Western hemisphere has an interest to plug for Clinton; as too Canada, which so convincingly overturned Stephen Harper's administration that was veering off the traditional Canada the rest of the world admired (as a U.N. peacekeeper rather than a combat country; promoter of "green" issues rather than a violator; the only officially multicultural country of the world rather than a values-propelled Anglo-Saxon territory; and an advocate of a fair-minded Middle-east settlement rather than an Israel--only supporter).
For the first time, the "authoritarian" label is being levelled against a U.S. presidential candidate, that too, when the U.S.-inspired democracy (part of the New World Order that George H.W. Bush began) is fraying badly across the world, not just in Venezuela in the Americas, but also Turkey straddling Asia and Europe, across many Asian countries, with The Philippines and Thailand, and not to mention the former adversary, Russia. Simultaneously the post-Washington Consensus faces socialist resistance, exposing the fragility of the market-driven architecture. Last but not least, the Monroe Doctrine has also been permeated, not by Europeans, but by Asians, even as defeated World War II powers, Germany and Japan, stand perilously closer to employing the military option.
The emergence of any U.S. authoritarian would automatically remove the central U.S. argument for intervening or sanctioning other countries. That is the Trump difference. It would make "Americans" of the U.S. stripe no more special than any other citizen in the world and the United States no more extraordinary than other countries. Without these, mind-boggling global consequences can only follow, while any Fourth Industrial Revolution promises would be drained faster than communism was between 1945 and 1989.
A Clinton presidency would resonate with a world where women have long been  making waves, not only in the production process, as Bangladesh's RMG workers, or in services, as with the same country's microfinance borrowers and maids exported to earn valuable foreign exchange, but also political/economic leaders, like May, Angela Merkel, Michelle Bachelet, Sheikh Hasina, Christine Lagarde, and others. Clinton's greatest asset, however, will be to reap the Fourth Industrial Revolution harvest through her education priority, contrasting vividly with Trump's Second Industrial Revolution mindset and vision from the 1870s (of expanding and reinforcing manufacturing).
Since values may become the dividing line, it helps to compare the two candidates on these. Clinton yearns to relate her assets to the U.S. "City upon a hill" set of values. Both John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan exemplified them for the two disparate parties, both in farewell speeches, the former to the Massachusetts Commonwealth on the eve of entering the White House in January 1961, the latter, after a patriotism-infested tenure, to the U.S. Congress in January 1989. Reagan envisioned ".... a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be walls, the walls had doors . . . open to anyone with the will and heart to get there." Trump cannot connect with this vision, nor too Kennedy's, which asked for "courage," "judgment," "integrity," and "dedication," those very qualities "of the Bay Colony . . . here in Boston," he added, that he wanted to take "to Capitol Hill back in Washington."
Trump's "flip-flop" acumen might rescue him: he could redirect the "greatness lost" mindset to reflect the "greatness acquisition" instances in U.S. history. For example, he could pick on one of the world's coveted aspiration once upon a time, the one that converted "huddled masses," be they from south of the Rio Grande, Muslim countries, refugees from Adolf Hitler's Nazi-ism, or escapees of a potato blight, into U.S. innovators, driving the country from one pinnacle to another, as before, and benefitting the entire world, rather than blaming it for U.S. blemishes. He could learn another lesson from the longest-serving U.S. Secretary of State, from 1933 to 1944, who finally broke protectionism for reciprocal trade. Cordell Hull's immortalised quip that targets today's value-preachers could become Trump's game-changer: that "unhampered trade dovetailed with peace; high tariffs, trade barriers, and unfair economic competition, with war."
Yet, what we will likely see is an imploding Trump: between now and November. If the past is any guide, his likely missteps, mistakes, and masochistic demeanour will only hand the race to Clinton on a silver platter, leaving a muddied United States more desperate to renew its "Metropolitan on the mound" pursuit.
Dr. Imtiaz A. Hussain is Professor and Head of the newly-built Department of Global Studies and Governance at Independent University of Bangladesh, Boshundhara.
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