Chris Trotter: Will NZ be forced to choose between China and US?
It is difficult to recall a US presidential election campaign as riveting as the 2016 battle for the White House. With a mixture of fascination and horror, the entire world has watched the metamorphosis of Trump's ugly caterpillar into the Republican Party's ugly butterfly.
Disoriented and dismayed by their collective failure to predict the billionaire property tycoon's unprecedented political success, the punditocracy has reluctantly come to accept that, as in Bob Dylan's Ballad of a Thin Man, "something is happening here, but you don't know what it is".
A Trump victory in November has gate-crashed the party of the possible.
Which is crazy. Because, on paper, the presumptive Democratic Party nominee, Hillary Clinton, beats Trump to the White House by a country mile. But, what does Paper know? On paper Trump had absolutely no chance of becoming the Republican candidate. And yet, barring something truly dramatic intervening between now and the Republican Party Convention in July, that's exactly what he will be.
New Zealanders would be most unwise to take the prospect of an upset Trump victory lightly. Our country's two most important economic and foreign policy goals: continued open access to the Chinese market under the China-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement; and steadily improving access to the US and Japanese markets under the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would both be threatened by a Trump presidency.
The TPP, in particular, would appear to be a dead letter if a Trump Administration takes office on January 20, 2017. So vehement is Trump's opposition to the deal that even if President Obama prevailed upon Congress to pass the Agreement during the "lame duck" lacuna that opens up between one administration and another, the new president would almost certainly repudiate it. Trump simply couldn't afford to be seen to "rat" on his core voters so early in his first term.
Interestingly, our Prime Minister simply refuses to believe that Trump's opposition to the TPP is real. According to John Key: "It's all nonsense. He'll come out there if he becomes President of the United States of America and he will say 'I'm reforming this little bit of TPP.' And he'll say miraculously that all now makes it great and he'll sign it."
Clearly, Key does not yet appear to understand that this is precisely the sort of unabashed political cynicism against which Trump has been campaigning. The populist passions fuelling his candidacy may be traced directly to politicians and parties who promise one thing on the stump and then deliver its opposite the moment the voters have returned home.
Trump's hostility to the Peoples Republic of China has been similarly discounted by TPP supporters. NZ International Business Forum director, Stephen Jacobi, does not believe that Trump will follow through on his threat to impose 45 per cent tariffs on Chinese imports. "There is enormous US business interest in China ... it is American businesses that are established in China, there is enormous integration between the two economies. I don't believe anybody in the business community around the world actually believes that Trump will do what he says he is going to do."
What Jacobi and his ilk fail to grasp is the extent to which globalisation and its neoliberal drivers are now undermining the legitimacy of the capitalist system itself. That Trump has come so far down the path to the presidency is almost entirely due to the widely held perception among American voters that the "system" has ceased to function in any way that even vaguely corresponds to their interests.
Like Roosevelt before him, Trump understands that the American ruling-class – the One Percent – has reached a point where it has to be saved from itself. If that means reconstituting capitalism in one country, then so be it. Better that than capitalism in no country.
Hillary Clinton's competitor for the Democratic Party's nomination, the self-described "democratic socialist", Bernie Sanders, has done the same math as Trump. It's what he means when he tells his followers that only a "political revolution" can save the United States from "the greed of Wall Street and the One Percent". Likewise, Sanders is implacably opposed to the TPP. So opposed, in fact, that to maintain her lead in the delegate count, Clinton herself has been forced to denounce the Agreement.
The disintegration of global markets that Jacobi fears – along with the isolationist American sentiment driving it – will force upon this country an extremely difficult diplomatic choice.
On the one hand, totalitarian China, with its insatiable demand for New Zealand's primary exports. On the other, an isolationist and increasingly autarkic America, determined to placate its angry citizens with economic policies that put Americans first, last and always. Choose China, and we can say goodbye to freedom. Choose America, and it's goodbye to prosperity.
In other words, no choice at all.
- The Press