NEW YORK – Donald Trump’s upset triumph over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the presidential election demonstrated a powerful message from the silent majority in the United States that they want America to change. Despite his lack of experience in public office and controversial remarks against women, Muslims and illegal immigrants, Trump was still a better choice to bring about needed change than Clinton for many “forgotten” Americans, who felt that they had been sidelined and their fate had been determined by political elites in Washington.
The sense of anger and frustration about the political establishment and the way in which business was conducted in Washington was shared by a wider group of people than Trump’s main supporters of white, male, blue-collar workers, whose job security has been threatened by illegal immigrants and big business that have moved their manufacturing bases abroad. They find Trump to be less beholden to political elites, not afraid of speaking his mind, free from the constraints of political correctness, and a successful businessman who can do something positive to make America great again.
According to some polls, while only one-third of Americans said that Trump had the right personality and temperament to lead the world’s most powerful country, some 85 percent of voters said the most important attribute in deciding which candidate to support was whether he or she could bring needed change.
Clinton, considered a more favorable candidate than Trump to be the next president in almost all pre-election polls, did not perform as well as expected, or as well as President Barack Obama did four years ago, particularly in battleground states like Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Despite her abundant knowledge and experience in public office, Clinton’s projected image as the successor of the Obama policy under the two-term Democratic administration was less appealing to many Americans than that of Trump’s as a real change maker. In short, Clinton failed to excite voters hungry for change.
Whether Trump can bring about the needed change will, of course, be known only after his presidential inauguration in January. But he will be clearly in a better position than the incumbent to carry out his campaign promises, now that the American voters have given the control of both houses of Congress to the Republican Party. This will be the first time in eight years that the same party controls both the White House and Congress. The last time it happened was 2009, when the Democrats took both the executive and legislative branches.
Some of Trump’s campaign promises, if implemented, could have a significant impact on Japan-U.S. relations. For example, Trump, believing that free trade policy is a major reason behind the shrinking of America’s middle class, increasing poverty and the widening gap between the rich and everyone else, has made clear his opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). He has said that he would withdraw the U.S. from the trade agreement signed in February with a view to promoting free trade among 12 Pacific Rim countries, including Japan. A U.S. withdrawal would practically kill the trade agreement which Tokyo has pushed strongly.
In light of the pledges he repeatedly made during the campaign to defend America’s interest first, it seems inevitable that trade relations between the U.S. and its partners, including Japan, will be reviewed and scrutinized closely under the new Trump administration.
On security issues, among other things, Trump has argued that Japan should cover the entire costs of stationing U.S. forces in the country, though Tokyo foots the bulk of the bill already. He said that he would otherwise consider withdrawing the U.S. military and allow Japan to arm itself with nuclear weapons. However, he has been silent about the value of strategic interest that the U.S. enjoys through the current bilateral security arrangements.
As a shrewd and successful businessman, it should not be too difficult for Trump to understand that the presence of a stable, democratic and prosperous Japan in Northeast Asia is in the interest of the U.S. from its global strategic viewpoint. Once cognizant of this, Trump is likely to continue upholding the invaluable partnership with Japan when it comes to peace and security in Asia.
In an age of interdependence, it is not possible for the U.S., or any country for that matter, to live in complete isolation from the rest of the world. The incoming president cannot afford to disregard the strategic interest that the U.S. enjoys in Northeast Asia and beyond under the present security arrangement with Japan, which should continue to be the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy in Asia.
A former United Nations official, Hitoki Den is a commentator based in New York. He is the author of “Kokuren wo Yomu: Watashino Seimukan Noto Kara” (“A Story of the U.N.: From the Notes of a Political Affairs Officer”) and many articles on U.N. and Asian issues.
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