Wherever we are, we live in a Trumpian world. One worrying development is the notion that all is fluid and we must sit back and see what happens. That White House spokespeople have stepped in to meliorate US President Donald Trump’s intentions at times seems to have allayed fears that it is never too late. However, outside of the US or Europe, it is not easy relax.
The idea that it is too early for final judgements is generally fair and can be borne in mind, but it should not be given too much space. Particularly when many commentators are now saying that the Trump problem is no worse than other recent crises that have occurred in the US.
The opposite could be argued: that the threat from Trump as heard in his rhetoric and seen in his actions has no comparison with anything that has happened in the past 50 years. The idea that the US system of governance, media, public opinion, etc, in combination will be sufficient to hold back a tide of change well beyond US shores is far too sanguine. Indeed, it is lazy thinking and no one in Taiwan can afford to be that lazy.
The biggest events in the US presidency since World War II have been the assassination of former US president John F. Kennedy amidst a virulent civil rights movement and the background of nuclear war threats; the shock in 1971 which was said to end with Watergate, but more importantly centered on China and a new international economic system when then-US president Richard Nixon on Aug. 15 canceled the direct convertibility of the US dollar to gold, thus forcing the market to change to floating exchange rates; and the sex scandal surrounding former US president Bill Clinton, muffled but extended by problematic evidence and the cloisters of power.
Nothing of this, even the Kennedy case, amounts to much against the world of Trump.
Such relatively simplistic comparisons are of little use. The Kennedy crisis was profound, but did not center on the president himself or even his office. Although culpable for the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Kennedy was considered above reproach within the US and was well-liked internationally — he was the handsome face of the new post-war breeds in those places where the modern middle class had inherited power.
Nixon had no charisma and was not much liked, but his actual misdemeanor was minor (everyone did something of the sort) and his policies were candid, interesting and positive: friendship with China, the introduction of Medicare, a generous trade policy with poorer nations, a personal position that was not aggressive toward Vietnamese. Momentum was against him and buoyancy was instilled internationally with the windfall gains that Japan and the newly industrialized Asian countries, such as Taiwan, received from floating exchange values.
Clinton’s crisis was entirely personal, but of little real importance outside his own concerns and ambitions, or amongst those who believe that great power in the US should only exist alongside exemplary moral status.
Trump fits none of this. There is a sort of underground economic policy which could scrape by, depending on how high he maintains defense expenditures and whether he proceeds with an actual Mexican border wall, which might convince even his most glutinous followers that he (or his) are somewhat unbalanced.
The biggest threat is that his conflicting rhetoric and impending policy regime is what was on the cards when he was elected. He was never secretive about the outrageous issues. Furthermore, he has a host of micro-electronic communication devices and opinion-making techniques that Nixon might have loved to have, and which Trump understands perfectly. He might look foolish, bearish and ridiculously breathless, but he is actually quite difficult to beat. If his brash thoughtlessness finds a bullet, then things would get worse, and quickly.