Results of last week’s U.S. midterm elections were mixed, leaving a chasm in the U.S. political landscape.
The Republicans not only retained control of the Senate, but also gained more seats. The Democrats, meanwhile, took back the House of Representatives.
But in terms of American foreign policy, a veteran New York Times columnist who was recently in Japan says that the election results are unlikely to affect President Donald Trump so much, and that he is likely to keep challenging Japan and China — especially on trade issues.
“Democrats as a whole are sympathetic to Trump’s trade views. I don’t think much will change regarding trade. I am afraid that you will still have a lot of problems with Trump challenging Japan on trade issues,” said Thomas Friedman, three-time Pulitzer Prize recipient and foreign affairs columnist for The New York Times, in a recent interview with The Japan Times.
“In Trump’s view, Japan and China are all customers. You are just another sushi restaurant in Trump Tower, and he just wants to make sure you are paying enough rent,” Friedman said, adding that Trump does not acknowledge the legacy of the 70-plus years of the Japan-U.S. alliance or the fact that Japan is a pillar of democracy in this part of the world. “These issues don’t resonate in his soul.”
Since taking office, Trump seems to have been pursuing conflict over global trade, threatening to impose high tariffs on the European Union, Japan, and China as well as barring countries from trading with Iran.
Friedman admitted that a big question remains over Trump’s policy toward China — whether Trump wants to rebalance trade with China, or literally wants to delink the U.S. economy from China.
“If you read Pence’s speech, China is presented as a danger to the United States and a danger to the American interest,” Friedman said, referring to Vice President Mike Pence’s Oct. 4 address at Washington’s Hudson Institute. Pence adopted an aggressive stance against China, criticizing the Chinese government for employing a “whole-of-government approach, using political, economic and military tools, as well as propaganda,” to exert its influence in the U.S. Pence is also expected to make speeches of a similar tone during a round of economic and security meetings during his Asia tour this week.
“What is Trump actually after? Rebalancing or delinking. We don’t know, and maybe he doesn’t know,” said the author of a string of best-selling books on subjects like globalization and how technology is impacting society.
Speaking about the midterm elections, Friedman said that the election results were good for “Trumpism” because Trump’s Republican Party expanded its seats in the Senate thanks to the victories of many “Trump-like candidates.” He will also have a better chance of getting his preferred candidates approved as judges and in other new appointments, Friedman said.
According to the veteran journalist, Democrats also enjoyed taking the House back into their hands as it was like a “vote of no-confidence in Trump.”
“But I’m not sure America had a good day, because the prospects for the next two years don’t look promising to me at all in terms of getting things done,” he said.
It was also a bad day for Trump as a candidate for the 2020 presidential election, according to Friedman, because not all those who opted to support Trump in 2016 will be there to support him. Those people are independent voters, moderate Republicans and suburban women, in particular, he said.
“What we see in the New York Times exit polling — we saw those three constituencies sharply and decisively got back into the Democrat’s camp,” he said. “In 2020, he will have a real problem winning without those three constituencies.”
Friedman, who often writes extensively about technology and artificial intelligence, said the key to coping with a rapidly changing society coupled with the fast pace of technological advance is lifelong learning.
In his 2016 book, “Thank You for Being Late,” he explained the problem that governments, companies and people are facing — keeping up with ever accelerating technological innovations. But Friedman does not believe robots are destined to take all the jobs. That happens only if we let them — if we don’t accelerate innovation in the realms of labor, education and startups, according to Friedman. “Never ask your daughter what she wants to be when she grows up. Because whatever it is, it won’t be there — unless it is a policeman, or fireman. Only ask your daughter how she wants to be when she grows up. Will she have a natural learning mindset? Will she be predisposed to be a lifelong learner?” Friedman suggested.
Friedman noted that what students at the University of Tokyo learn in the first year may soon be outdated by their fourth year. They will have to learn about new jobs and new skills much more often than those of their parents’ generation. “Therefore, having the mindset of a lifelong learner is the most important thing,” he said, adding that the key is to turn AI into intelligent assistance. By that he means using advanced technologies to help you analyze weaknesses in your own skills or areas where you excel, and to learn using various online education programs. Moreover, anyone will be able to access online networks such as LinkedIn, which he calls “intelligent networks,” to find out what skills are in demand or available in the job market.
“We can enable people to learn faster if we turn AI into IA … But you have to be very intentional about this. You have to have a strategy,” he said.