17 September 2018   Leave a comment

We are all still trying to determine why “populism” seems to be on the rise globally.  We do not use the word with precision because the movement we are trying to describe is inchoate.  But the word roughly means a popular movement, independent of traditional political institutions such as parties, and which expresses deep economic and political dissatisfaction of a group that considers itself excluded from decision-making.   In my own view, the rise of populism in the US and Europe is related to the economic dislocations caused by globalization.  But Francis Fukuyama believes that the politics of identity are the more important determinant of the movement.  Fukuyama is a prodigious intellect whose work is worthy of careful attention even if one disagrees with his conclusions, as I did in his earlier work, “The End of History”.

Fukuyama gave a speech to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in which he elaborates his views.  Fukuyama is blunt and to the point in his explanation for the success of Donald Trump:

“I hate to say this, but I think he’s basically a racist, and he has been perfectly happy to be racially divisive. He really got his start in politics by suggesting that President Obama was not born in the United States. He has been somewhat careful in making overtly racist statements, but I think it’s pretty clear that he’s perfectly happy to capitalize on the racial feelings that other Americans have toward each other, and that has been very bad. You now have an alt-right and a set of white nationalist groups that had been marginalized over the period since the civil rights movement that are now coming back.

“This is not a good situation if both the left and the right see themselves in these increasingly biologized identity categories. My own view is that we need to get back to the 20th century. We have to go back to class because actually sociologically class is the single most important dividing line between Americans right now.”

There is plenty to disagree with in this speech, but it will unquestionably make one think seriously and more deeply about the meaning of populism.

The Turkish press is reporting that Russia and Turkey have come up with a proposal to avoid an assault on rebels in Idlib, Syria.   Like most of the agreements about fighting in Syria, one should be careful about how meaningful these agreements actually are.  But the two sides have apparently agreed upon a demilitarized zone of 15-20 kilometers around the city.  That zone will be policed by Turkish military and Russian military police and heavy weaponry will be withdrawn by 15 October.  The rebels will be allowed to move out of the city but there is no agreement about where they would go.  It seems clear that Turkey, which supports some of the rebels and is opposed to Syrian President Assad (who is supported by Russia and Iran), is afraid of being overwhelmed by Refugees from Idlib.  If the agreement does hold, the world will be spared a humanitarian catastrophe caused by an all-out military assault. 

The US-China trade war ratcheted up today as the US announced additional tariffs on Chinese imports.  According to Bloomberg:

“The Trump administration will slap a 10 percent tariff on about $200 billion in Chinese goods next week and more than double the rate in 2019, deepening what’s shaping up to be a prolonged trade war between the world’s two biggest economies.

“If Beijing retaliates against U.S. farmers and industry — as it has previously vowed — the U.S. will immediately pursue further tariffs on about $267 billion of Chinese imports, President Donald Trump said in a statement Monday evening, repeating a threat he made earlier this month.”

The Chinese have indicated that they will retaliate with higher tariffs on US imports.  But the Chinese do not view the trade war as primarily an economic war.  They view it as an attempt by the US to sabotage research and development in China to prevent Chinese technological superiority:

“For the logic behind Trump’s aggressive trade policies is not really about trade, but about trying to break global supply chains and pushing investment back into US industry. Some have argued that the intent is less about more equitable trade than economic disengagement.

“Trump disdains globalism and fails to understand the economic forces driving globalization. Tariffs are raising costs, disrupting supply chains and reducing exports. The 25 percent tariffs on auto exports, for example, are raising costs and reducing exports of US automakers in China as well as US and foreign automakers in the US. Projections say that continued tariff wars will shrink US GDP by 1 percent and China’s by 0.6 percent.”

The Chinese and American divergence on the objectives of the trade disputes makes a reconciliation very difficult: backing down has become impossible for both sides. 

Posted September 17, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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