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The growth of chauvinism

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Donald Trump may well become the official Republican candidate in the forthcoming presidential election and it is even possible that he could become the next president of the United States. To those who believe in democracy and international cooperation this possibility seems shocking and incredible. Trump with the power to annihilate the world by pressing the nuclear button is a horrifying prospect.

Trump’s rhetoric may be regarded as “sound and fury.” The realities of power and the advisers and staff he will have to appoint cannot, we hope, share his extremist views. But he will surely have to try to fulfill some at least of his policies, which can only be described as populist chauvinism and which seem to reflect the mood of his supporters among blue-collar whites in America.

How can he possibly carry out his more extremist promises? Put up a high wall along the U.S. frontier with Mexico and get Mexico to pay for this. The cost would be stupendous and the Mexicans will refuse to pay. What does he do then? Cut all U.S. trade with Mexico? Threaten military measures?

His threat to stop all Muslims from coming into the U.S. was modified by his indicating that this was only a temporary measure while the situation was investigated. But it must increase tensions between Muslims living in the U.S. and people of other faiths or of none and damage U.S. interests in Muslim countries.

His threats against Chinese exports would harm U.S. trade and investment. It would also lead to the U.S. being in breach of its obligations under World Trade Organization rules and provoke Chinese retaliation. Tensions in the Far East would rise and Chinese nationalism could get out of control with possibly serious consequences.

Trump has also threatened to make Japan pay for the benefits it receives from the U.S. commitment to its defense. He will also look hard at Japanese exchange rate policies. A Trump presidency could undermine the main pillar of Japanese foreign policy.

We must hope that Trump does not become president or if he does he makes policy U-turns and shows that he is not just another populist chauvinist.

Unfortunately he is not the only such aspiring leader in the world. Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Front in France, shares Trump’s anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-globalization attitudes. Her popularity has increased since the terror attacks in Paris. She could gain enough votes in the next French presidential elections at least to force a second ballot. Her party, which is anti-EU, would be boosted if the British electorate made the mistake of voting for “Brexit.”

The supporters of Brexit in Britain are not all unrepentant populists, but their anti-immigration policies and push for total “independence” from the EU in Brussels appeals to chauvinist elements in Britain that have been stirred by the refugee crisis in Europe.

Even in Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel has shown notable humanitarian sympathies, anti-immigrant sentiments have grown markedly. A factor in the rising opposition to her policies was the reporting of “refugees” causing trouble and harassing women in Cologne before Christmas. She faces problems within the German coalition parties as well as from the Alternative for Germany (AfD) which displays some neo-Nazi tendencies, particularly in its intolerance toward refugees.

In recent years the Scandinavian countries were among the most tolerant toward refugees. This is no longer the case; in both Denmark and Sweden there has been a revival of chauvinism.

Some expressions of anti-immigrant sentiment are understandable in view of the migration crisis facing Europe today. Germany has accepted over a million refugees. Other EU countries have been much less welcoming. As a result the old frontiers, which existed before the Schengen area came into force, have been re-erected.

Greece, whose islands are only a few kilometers off the Turkish coast, where a large proportion of Syrian refugees are waiting for a chance to get to Europe, continues to be overwhelmed by boatloads of refugees who are often conveyed in leaky boats without proper safety equipment that are “organized” by people smugglers. There have been many deaths by drowning while conditions have become more and more miserable in the over-crowded refugee camps in Greece as onward passage to central and northern Europe has become blocked.

Sympathy for Syrian refugees has not been entirely dissipated in Europe but there is growing resentment at the way in which economic migrants from countries not suffering from civil war have muscled into the migrant wave. They should be sent back to their home countries, but this is easier said than done.

President Vladimir Putin is enjoying European discomfiture. Russian intervention in the Syrian civil war has exacerbated the conflict and provoked an increased exodus that damages the countries which oppose his policies aimed at reviving Russia’s image as a great power. He is accordingly happy to welcome as his friends many of the European populists and chauvinists who undermine European unity and institutions.

Japan has a direct interest in the outcome of the U.S. presidential election. The European migration crisis also has long-term implications for Japan, not least if Putin emerges stronger from the conflict. Japan also has a significant interest in a healthy and cooperative European Union. The EU-Japan trade agreement, when it is concluded and ratified, will cement relations between Japan and the EU.

Japan have so far been reluctant to come out forcefully against Brexit for fear that it might be portrayed as interfering in another country’s affairs. But Japanese companies with investments in Britain and Japanese financial institutions in the City of London should be more forthright in defending their interests. Unfortunately Japan has its own chauvinist and nationalist elements that need to be kept in check.

Hugh Cortazzi served as Britain’s ambassador to Japan from 1980-1894.