Since Donald J. Trump announced his candidacy for the United States (US) Presidency he has been subject to a range of emotional responses, mostly negative. The key word here is ‘emotional’. Trump has elicited a range of almost doomsday reactions and criticisms from not only America, but the outside world as well including Australia. These feelings of negativity have only increased since his succession of Barack Obama as US President. Many of the concerns that have been expressed have pointed out that Trump has made inflammatory, sexist and racist remarks – especially on Twitter – towards targeted groups such as Muslims and specific world leaders. Observers contend that these comments may de-stabilise current domestic arrangements and foreign diplomatic relations with these targeted groups. Some critics have argued that Trump’s comments may further exacerbate an already fragile situation in the South China Sea. Others point to a possible ramping up of tensions with North Korea and/or Russia. Still, others proclaim that even amongst traditional US allies such as Australia and Japan, Trump intends to move the goalposts and insist on greater responsibility from these allied nations in terms of security, both at home and abroad. For example, Trump’s apparent isolationist stance would see a greater role in regional security being played out by Japan and Australia.
There is no doubt Trump is not shy in expressing how he feels in regards to certain topics such as immigration. Whilst some of his comments can be seen as cringe worthy, one must wonder, will these buffoon-like outbursts actually help, not hinder, Trump and his dealings with the world at large? Let us not forget that Trump’s parochial and patriotic comments have appealed to some sections of the American populace. It is this attribute – Trump’s cartoonish outbursts – that may see a stabilisation rather than de-stabilisation due to the fact that Trump’s comments will not be taken seriously by world leaders such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping. There is a clear difference between comments made by respected leaders such as outgoing US President Obama and less respected leaders such as Trump. One could draw a comparison between One Nation leader Pauline Hanson versus current Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Hypothetically if Turnbull was to make a provocative comment pertaining to a sensitive issue such as asylum seekers, it would be seriously damaging to the Liberal Party and very divisive to the Australian community. This is due to the expectation that Turnbull would make an educated comment in regards to a topical issue. If Pauline Hanson makes the same kind of statement it is seen as the comments of an uninformed and emotional person, hence it is taken less seriously in comparison to a respected figure such as Turnbull.
Trump was elected on a wave of nationalist fervour, driven by fear amongst the general community in regards to issues such as immigration and the public’s desire to restore America’s ‘glory days’. Like charismatic leaders before him, such as former Argentinian leader Juan Peron, Trump rode the populist wave, essentially telling people what they wanted to hear. Like Pauline Hanson in Australia, Trump seemingly has the answers to concerns such as immigration, domestic Islam-inspired terrorism and protecting jobs. In the haste to elect leaders such as Trump many weaknesses are overlooked. Speaking emotionally before thinking things through and therefore lacking diplomacy is one such weakness. Or is it? Leaders such as Putin and Jinping are not foolish and would certainly not be lured into making hasty detrimental decisions based merely on populist rhetoric. It would take more than rash comments to seriously derail existing diplomatic relations between America and other major powers such as Russia and China. It seems that, in the rush to demonise Trump’s comments, observers have made the assumption that other leaders will respond in a similar knee-jerk reaction and essentially ‘take the bait’, causing diplomacy to deteriorate. This is not likely to be the case given the intricate web between the major powers, meaning there is too much at stake to lose.
One must also take into account there is every possibility that what Trump says he is going to do may not actually transpire. Even Trump’s recent diatribe against Turnbull over the immigration deal previously struck with Obama is not proof that he will act in a rash manner. He has yet to actually sever the Turnbull-Obama deal. Trump may have rode in on populism, but now he has to carry out those promises. This will be easier said than done. Regardless of how Trump got in and how well he will carry out his duties, it is too early to push the panic button based on ill-thought comments. Trump’s bark may prove to be worse than his bite. As previously pointed out, “Statesmanship is being replaced by showmanship”. Already some leaders, such as Japan’s Shinzo Abe, have prepared for an international political arena with Trump at the helm. Abe is apparently intent on building a constructive relationship with Trump. It remains to be seen if Trump’s actions and policies have a detrimental effect on international diplomacy but it may be too soon to believe that Trump’s provocative comments could have the same negative effect. Could Trump’s bull-headed comments prove to be the very thing that stabilises America’s foreign relations?