Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

【#372】Trump’s “Great” America

Miki Kase / 2016.05.11 (Wed)

May 9, 2016

       “Make America great again,” says the presidential election campaign slogan of Donald Trump set to win the Republican presidential nomination. The phrase tells us the mindset of his supporters and the dangers posed to U.S. allies.
       Several days after President Barack Obama won reelection in November 2012, Trump registered the phrase as his trademark. The slogan was originally used by Ronald Reagan during the 1980 presidential campaign. At the time, the United States not only had plunged into a political and economic impasse but had lost its international prestige due to the Iranian hostage crisis and the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. So voters craved for a president who would revive a strong America.

People’s simmering discontent
       In the United States today, income growth from the recent economic recovery has benefitted only 10% of the population. Though the number of household with upper income has increased, so has those with lower income. Improved efficiency and technological innovation have led to a huge change in the number and quality of workers required for the economy. Jobs for unskilled workers have declined and many people have seen wage drops.
       Voters feel that politicians do not abide by the promises made to them. Particularly, the Republican leadership had promised turning around major Obama policies but failed to fulfill the promise even after gaining the majority in Congress. Ordinary citizens suffered huge losses from the Lehman Shock, including some who lost all their life savings. Nevertheless, financial institutions and their executives have not been punished for causing the shock.
       The international situation seems no better. The United States has sacrificed blood and money for the Middle East and Afghanistan but failed to realize peace and feels unappreciated for the endeavor. President Obama initially viewed the Islamic State terrorist group as a second class player, but it has become a major global threat and an alleged Islamic State-supporting couple made a terrorist attack in California. The United States failed to take any effective measures against Russia’s annexation of Crimea. President Obama failed to abide by a red line he set against Syrian president Assad’s use of chemical weapons, which lead the United States to lose international prestige. Many U.S. allies joined an international bank created by China, ignoring U.S. opposition to participation. The South China Sea could become a Chinese lake.
       Americans are not only angry at their politicians. They believe that other countries are cheating, that free trade agreements are unfair and that the United States alone is fighting against Russia, China and the terrorists. They also think that Russia and China disdain the United States and that the American allies only seek U.S. help without making contributions themselves. At a time when voters are dispirited and irritated that America has lost its super power status, Trump promises to hold bad guys responsible, have allies make appropriate contributions and make America feared and respected.

Seek coordination with allies
       Reagan’s America was the “Shining City on a hill”. The leader with a positive outlook was seeking policy coordination with then Prime Ministers Yasuhiro Nakasone of Japan and Margaret Thatcher of the U.K. In contrast, Trump has created adversaries at home and abroad and shifted responsibilities to them to grab the hearts of angry voters. He views even the U.S. allies as bad guys unless they contribute to making America “great.” However, the Western alliance among the liberal democratic countries has been solid because the United States, while having dominant power, worked together with its allies and thus won respect and cooperation from them. I would like to ask Trump how he views the role of the leader of a “great” country and the world.

Miki Kase is Guest Researcher of the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals and Adjunct Fellow of the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.