President Donald Trump marked the one-year anniversary of his improbable electoral victory in the middle of a 12-day Asia trip —curiously far from home for an “America First” President.
Even the trappings of a series of foreign State visits could not, however, hide the damage President Trump’s inward turning policies and politics are doing to vital U.S. economic and security interests on the global stage.
To date, the most visible cornerstones of President Trump’s America First agenda have been swinging toward protectionism; aiming to reduce the immigrant population in the United States; and turning America’s back to literally the entire world on the existential challenge of climate change.
All severely undermine U.S. influence and are rapidly yielding harmful America Alone outcomes.
Most glaring on Trump’s Asia tour were the effects of his withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Without it, the United States lacks a coherent vehicle to pursue its geopolitical and economic interests in the Asia Pacific. With President Xi Jinping’s recent power consolidation, the need to cabin China’s ambition has grown exponentially, yet, as demonstrated in Beijing and across Asia, the United States under President Trump has no answer to China’s assertiveness, opting instead for empty tough-talk and self-defeating policies.
On multiple Asia stops, for example, the President attempted, unsuccessfully, to bilaterally revive concessions that President Obama secured in the multilateral TPP negotiations. The net result: less market access for U.S. exporters and fewer jobs for American workers. A dynamic that will grow worse as the TPP countries move on without the United States.
The abandonment of the TPP also deprived the United States of the opportunity to update its most important economic relationships in the Americas and modernize trade agreements with Canada, Mexico, Peru, and Chile.
But Trump’s protectionist damage is not limited to TPP-related lost opportunity costs.
While China grows more influential, Trump is also assaulting the bedrock of U.S. global competitiveness —North American economic integration and the already too fragile American social safety net. While NAFTA and, most particularly, the U.S. social safety net need significant modernization so globalization can benefit workers and consumers and not just shareholders and investors, breaking up North America could be catastrophic for the United States.
Trump’s inward turn is undermining the United States in other ways as well, with far reaching implications in the Americas. Immigrant influxes —primarily from Mexico and Central America— during the past two decades have helped the United States avoid the aging population trap experienced in Europe and Japan. The median age of Latinos in the United States is, for example, 28, compared to 43 for non-Latino whites, nearly 38 for the U.S. population and approximately 47 for both the German and Japanese populations.
Immigrants also play essential roles in driving the U.S. innovation economy. More than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies in the United States were, according to Forbes, started by immigrants or their children. Beyond his nonsensical border wall proposal, Trump’s decision to end Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, as well as attempts to abandon the diversity-visa program, end Temporary Protective Status for more than 300,000 Hondurans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Salvadorans, and severely limit refugee admissions will all have significant ripple effects across the Americas, and particularly in the hemisphere’s most vulnerable countries.
But the threat to U.S. global interests is perhaps most acute in President Trump’s denial of science. Nowhere has the United States been left more alone than on the gravest threat facing the world today—global climate change. With the planned accession to the Paris Agreement by Nicaragua and Syria, the United States stands literally by itself as the only country seeking to leave the agreement.
On climate, as across the Asia Pacific, and perhaps even in the Americas, China is stepping boldly into the breach left by President Trump’s crusade to close off America. Chinese companies increasingly dominate the renewable energy sector and President Xi has made clear that global cooperation to confront climate change—with or without the United States—must and will continue.
In short, Trump’s America First agenda one year after his electoral college victory threatens to create a United States that is older, less innovative, less competitive, and more isolated than ever.