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David Jessop | The good, the bad and the ugly — Trump and the Caribbean

Published:Sunday | February 28, 2016 | 2:00 AM
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump

Globalisation touches us all.

Its reach extends far beyond economic issues. It has, in just a few decades, made industries, markets, cultures, policy-making and criminality interconnected in ways previously unknown.

As global networks have spread, trade and investment, communication, migration, the environment and transportation have made almost every nation virtually borderless.

It is a process that is organic and unstoppable, but demonstrably has led to vast inequalities between those who have prospered and those who have not.

It has left many feeling disadvantaged and marginalised, resulting in a form of rage against elites, the establishment and those who lead in many parts of the world, although not as yet in the Caribbean.

It is resulting in the rise of new forms of politics in Europe, the US and other parts of the world as voters seek leaders who they feel can address their inability to respond to decisions being taken elsewhere that directly affect their lives.

In the United States and Europe, this visceral anger is resulting in the rise of politicians and political parties that are anti-elite, seen as authentic, able to take back control and restore the past.

The consequence is the appearance of political figures who make policy pronouncements that suggest a form of isolation, protection, and a future in which every country will have to fend for itself based on the demonstration of strength.

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are both examples of this approach; their behaviour suggesting the emergence of a new form of twenty-first century politics that creates confrontation before a new equilibrium is restored.

The rise of Donald Trump illustrates how much alienated voters want this.

Far from being a buffoon, what he appears to be doing is linking entertainment and popular culture to politics by way of TV and social media; creating a strong simple profile that relates voter rage and a sense of disadvantage to simple messages about restoring greatness.

His opinions may not be to the taste of the establishment, intellectuals, or a world used to nuance and subtlety in obtaining or exercising power, but there is the real possibility that he may emerge by mid-March with enough electoral college votes to secure the Republican Party nomination. It suggests that

he and his advisers have recognised there are new paths to high office.

Although it is clear that the demographic in the US now places significant influence in the hands of minorities and particularly Hispanic voters - the majority of whom Trump has alienated by his remarks about Mexicans - he is bringing in new Republican voters who feel dispossessed by the political elite.

The suggestion is that if he is able to replicate in the next primaries the support from all categories of voters that he received in Nevada, the Republican establishment may find itself with a very different party.

METHOD TO BRASH APPROACH

Trump's extraordinary rise has resulted in commentators trying to discover who is advising him in order to assess the possible future direction of his domestic and foreign policy, should the previously unthinkable occur that he becomes the US president.

What is now emerging is that there is method and philosophy behind his brash, antagonistic approach. For example, it is possible to see common themes in his thinking about future US foreign and security policies.

Trump sees no value in trying to change other countries systems. For him, relationships are about winning and extracting the maximum value for the US. As an aggressive deal maker, he places value on strong authoritarian leadership, a huge defence budget, and the decisive use of military might only when absolutely necessary.

He is adamant that Japan, South Korea, Europe, and others will, in one or another way, have to pay their way if they expect US support. For him, the strong recovery of the US economy and the US national interest are paramount. Policy will be pragmatic and not burdened by ideology.

In developing these and other ideas, his advisers appear to be the uber-hawk and former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton, former Mayor of New York Rudi Giuliani, and former Head of the Defense Intelligence Agency General Michael Flynn. Although all confirm that they speak to Mr Trump, none will yet say that they are on his team.

What, however, becomes particularly apparent in a fascinating interview by the US columnist and analyst Josh Rogin for Bloomberg with Trump's chief policy adviser, Sam Clovis, is that there is a clear well thought through and sophisticated strategy.

NOT DEVOID OF ADVISERS

He quotes Mr Clovis as saying: "This whole notion that (Trump) is devoid of advisers is wrong. We have a lot of smart guys around us and a lot of smart people helping us. There's a lot more to this than what our opponents and the pundits think. We play them like a five-string banjo because at the end of the day, they are going to look stupid. We don't mind doing that."

What this suggests is that having won the nomination, he will begin to moderate his bombastic approach, spelling out in some detail what he as president might do in relation to foreign and domestic policy.

We will all know more about Mr Trump's future in the coming days after the results of the super primaries are known. It is, however, looking more and more likely that it will be Trump who faces either Hillary Clinton, the liberal establishment's hugely experienced Democratic Party candidate, or Bernie Sanders, who, in a very different way to Donald Trump, has tapped into the thinking part of America's anti-establishment anger with elites.

Where regions like the Caribbean without weight or narrative in Washington might fit within any such new order is not easy to see.

The Trump doctrine would set aside the emollient approach that the region and its allies have become accustomed to since the end of the Cold War. It suggests that only Cuba and perhaps the Dominican Republic will be able to find ways to exert leverage in a Trump Washington.

For the countries of Caricom, the implication is that what little influence they may still have with the US could disappear entirely unless they ally themselves with much stronger regional, hemispheric, or international partners.

David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council. david.jessop@caribbean-council.org