Three quick big hits of a president Donald Trump

12 December, 2015
As appeared in TheStar.com.my

THEY will be quick, big and such populist hits that befit the man of action Donald Trump says he will be as President. There will be no messing about and he will be going for the jugular.

First, his Muslim-bashing, popular with American rednecks, will drive more Muslims into the arms of the Daesh and other groups who will point to their victimisation and brainwash them into lone wolf or group acts of terror.

Although it will still be a tiny fraction of the world’s over 1.6 billion Muslims, there will be an undoubted increase in the number of such outrage all over the globe. Americans will not be spared unless the US can effectively withdraw itself into a kind of fortress America which one sometimes feels is where Trump wants to drive his country – the country that invented globalisation!

Even his Republican rivals cannot countenance his declaration of war against the religion of Islam for the work of the very few, as has indeed always been the case by any group from any religious denomination or background.

A couple, who are Muslims, open up and kill in California – and it becomes Trump’s populist war against all Muslims. Would he do the same against all Gulf War veterans because one of them masterminded the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995 which killed 168 people?

Yet those Republican rivals of his do not go so far as to say they will not vote for him should he win their party’s nomination despite the clear prejudice he holds. It is best therefore not to underestimate the threat posed by Trump.

Samuel Huntington’s clash of civilisations will be unleashed, even if not in the form the late scholar had envisaged, as it would really be one between the uncivilised.

What would happen to the one per cent of Muslims in the American population one wonders. Will they be incarcerated, like the Chinese and Japanese were in the past? And for how long, as this would be a war without end.

Would Muslim voices in the US, like that of Fareed Zakaria, be shut up? Aljazeera shut down? Halal restaurants and mosques? End of guarantee of freedom of religion in the American constitution? Certainly no more Muslim tourists and interaction with the US.

Trump’s attitude towards Muslims is deeply offensive. It already causes damage even if he does not become president. It highlights once again the double standards on acts of terror and value of life which have always characterised Western response to Muslim death and suffering.

There was never such Western establishment responses to the horror of the Sabra and Shatila massacres over two days in September 1982 when up to 3,500 Muslim men, women and children were tortured and killed by the Christian Phalange in Lebanon as the Israeli defence forces watched grippingly.

Never mind the three so-called Gaza Wars during the time Barack Obama has been President of the US, starting with a slap in the face operation in 2008-09 just as he was sworn in. War they may have all been called but essentially the Gazans were sitting ducks against Israeli aerial bombing and artillery.

These memories etched in blood remind Muslims of unconscionable killing which does not elicit a response anywhere near any massacre in the West. The balance of loss and suffering is very much against the Muslims. It is a cause of how misguided Muslims are driven to terror even if never a justification for it.

Now Trump comes along to underline it all. He is opening up so many wounds that would endanger the lives of everyone, including Americans at home and abroad. His bigotry knows no bounds as he widens the schism. His proposal to ban Muslims from America is only the smallest part of it.

The second Trump predilection – kicking the Chinese in the arse – will as sure as hell only heighten tension between China as the rising and the US as the status quo, even if not declining, power.

Indeed the most likely outcome will be American isolation and China’s greater influence, starting in the Asia-Pacific region. It would undo the little good President Obama might have achieved with his rebalance strategy and drive countries in South-East Asia in particular into China’s arms.

They will have no choice when they see in the White House an American president who is bigoted, recalcitrant and isolationist. They will see more clearly the future. How China has risen economically and will rise militarily.

China’s per capita income – with all that huge population – doubled in just one decade after Deng Xiaoping set it on the course of modernisation whereas it took Great Britain nearly six decades to do so after the Industrial Revolution and the US five decades to do the same after its Civil War.

Fiscal tangle

China will become one of the most powerful economies in the world and will overtake the US as the world’s wealthiest nation, though not immediately on a per capita basis. But, more importantly, it is not in the kind of fiscal tangle the US is in, and is expanding its military capability exponentially.

Leaders in the field of strategic studies like Hugh White of the Australian National University see this Chinese grip when he noted Asia cannot continue to change economically without changing politically and strategically. A Trump bellicose or absent America will only cause Asian nations to turn more favourably towards China.

American analysts – like Robert Kaplan – foresee and portend a China that can more than match the US militarily. Describing it as China’s Caribbean, he sees almost a natural course of events leading to recognition of Chinese suzerainty in the South China Sea.

Without any intelligent countervailing strategy such as the “pivot” Obama has been trying to fashion, and only with the bigoted berating of a President Trump, America’s contest with China for influence in Asia will be lost.

But finally, more than anything else, a President Trump will spell the end of respect for American leadership in the world and the loss of its soft power.

The fact that the American system – the Republican Party – can throw up somebody like him as a serious presidential contender is a disgrace, and is testimony particularly to how low Republicans can stoop.

They have spent the best part of the last eight years trying to negate the election of a black president and, in pursuit of their prejudice, have been willing to harm American national interest. They have sabotaged government at home and foreign policy abroad. In his campaign Trump is only carrying on along this sickening path.

If this lowest of the low of leadership is what America has to offer, it is not something the world will want to look at. All other hyperbolic expressions will ring hollow. Human rights and dignity? Good system of government and governance? Constitutional guarantees? Maybe better – certainly less hypocritical – what Kaplan described as China’s “low-calorie version of authoritarianism.”

The kind of America Trump will lead will no longer attract the best and brightest, or produce them. American dynamism will be lost. It will survive of course, even if it looks inwards. But it will decline in the world.

Tan Sri Dr Munir Majid, chairman of Bank Muamalat and visiting senior fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB Asean Research Institute.