The Trumpian Chronicles — week 1

A pessimist-realist’s take on our changing world

These chronicles will be a compendium of thoughts, links, and if Medium finally allows co-authors, conversations.

We are, collectively, in the first week of the new US Presidency and it’s a useful exercise to view the whirlwind of events with some perspective. As I’ve written before, we live in interesting times where the acceleration of technology and other forces are permanently challenging the status quo inherited from the 20th century. It was thought 2001 and the attack on the US by Al Qaeda was the start of the 21st century but from a geopolitical perspective 2016 with Brexit and Trump’s election could be the true “year 1”.

The transition had stated that the first week was going to be “shock and awe” on the “old order” of doing business and they delivered that in spades. My take on the media/tech roots of our current situation is here.

Let’s start by breaking down the main events of this first week:

  1. The Inaugural address (Jan 20)
  2. The US-Mexico Twitter “War” (Jan 26–27)
  3. The Executive Order banning Muslims from the US (Jan 28)

Each of these key events have already had ripple effects on the US and its immediate neighbors Canada and Mexico, as well as the wider world, let’s dive in. I’ve included links from so-called mainstream publications but it’s paramount to go beyond and look at publications like the conservative National Review as well as Breitbart.

  1. The Inaugural address

President Trump had proclaimed his America First stance throughout his campaign and his entire address was crafted in that spirit by Bannon and Miller, his Nativist/nationalist duo. The address needs to be read carefully as it charts an entirely new course for the sole “superpower” and could mean the end of Pax Americana. World capitals are still determining how much of the address is campaign bluster and how much will be put into action.

My take: Trump’s views on trade and countries “ripping off” the US have been constant for decades, he will be trying a difficult exercise ie using the bully pulpit of the US presidency to undo 70 years of globalization. This could be a true test of liberal democracies’ ability to deliver change via the ballot box (more on that in a fleshed out article updating this one).

An interesting take by neo-con Charles Krauthammer: “We are embarking upon insularity and smallness. Nor is this just theory. Trump’s long-promised but nonetheless abrupt withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership is the momentous first fruit of his foreign-policy doctrine. Last year the prime minister of Singapore told John McCain that if we pulled out of TPP “you’ll be finished in Asia.” He knows the region. For 70 years, we sustained an international system of open commerce and democratic alliances that has enabled America and the West to grow and thrive. Global leadership is what made America great. We abandon it at our peril.”

My thoughts from 2015: “The time is now for a global wake-up call for a reboot of the OS of our broken democracies, without one, it’s difficult to see our current institutions prepare the 22nd century. 15 years into this century Western-style democracies’ support has been sapped by the incestuous corruption of their political and business elites and the inflexibility of our institutions, often too slow to act and enact significant change. Tough authoritarian systems such as China and Russia, even the milder ones such as Singapore, project the ability to solve complex issues by decisive and speedy action without counterbalances. The list of butchered reforms and apathy at the hands of our democratic institutions in North America and Europe is much too long: the stewardship of the environment and the actions to counter climate change, the ability to build an economic system more adapted to our times, show the world that democracies born of the Enlightenment are no longer models too follow.”

2. The US-Mexico Twitter “War”

Pres. Trump will be remembered as the world leader that revolutionized campaigning and statecraft, using social media’s awesome viral powers to great effect. This week saw actual diplomacy take place over Twitter. Candidate Trump, President-elect Trump and now President Trump has been vocal about the building of a border wall. This week the US-Mexico dialogue happened before our very eyes, via video broadcasts and 140 character exchanges.

The last tweet reportedly triggered an impromptu 1 hour-long telephone conversation between the 2 Presidents on Friday.

My take: Beyond the novelty tech aspect, statecraft and high level diplomacy conducted in public via direct communications tools is a total upending of the “way things are done”.

National Review’s take: “President Trump insists that he wants a good relationship with Mexico and that a wall would be a “win-win” for the two countries. Maybe. But Trump’s win-win calculus is based upon an analysis of simple national interests. A wall would, Trump argues, curtail drug trafficking and stop the flow of Central American immigrants through Mexico. That’s the case Trump wanted to make at his presidential meeting. And, again, he might be right. But nations don’t act just on their interests; they act on their honor. And shouting “You’ll pay!” is a surefire way of guaranteeing no one will hear anything else.”

3. The Executive Order banning Muslims from the US

Again, this is a stance that candidate Trump made clear in the campaign. The ban was put in place on Friday Jan 27 and it was confirmed Saturday Jan 28 that “people holding so-called green cards, making them legal permanent U.S. residents, are included in President Donald Trump’s executive action temporarily barring people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States”.

Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai has publicly asked his staff overseas to come home in an internal memo.

My take: this is campaign-style bluster, aimed at the core of Trump’s supporters in the “heartland”. The consequences will be profound and not so counter-intuitively, will benefit Canada.

Lastly, this past week has seen the first salvos of what danah boyd very correctly terms the “information war”: “What’s at stake isn’t “fake news.” What’s at stake is the increasing capacity of those committed to a form of isolationist and hate-driven tribalism that has been around for a very long time. They have evolved with the information landscape, becoming sophisticated in leveraging whatever tools are available to achieve power, status, and attention. And those seeking a progressive and inclusive agenda, those seeking to combat tribalism to form a more perfect union — they haven’t kept up.”

My post from Jan 25: “2016 will probably be remembered as the year that so-called new media and its atomization effect truly came of age. The twin events, which none of the self-appointed punditocracy saw coming, Brexit and the election of Trump, have solid roots in the digital destruction and disruption of the Old Media Order. Both tectonic political earthquakes caught millions of citizens by surprise, who woke up realizing they had been living in comfortable echochambers of like-minded folk. The collision of dueling echochambers is accelerating and this past weekend’s sparring between major media and the new Trump administration on true facts and alternative facts is only the beginning. We are witnessing the advent of democracies functioning with narrow bases of the electorate, replacing majorities with active digital minorities. This is troubling on several levels and the echochambers brought to us by addictive technologies could become liberal democracies’ kryptonite.”

Faced with this barrage of news and events it’s important to maintain perspective, have a restful weekend !

Voices to listen to/follow:

Rafat Ali

umair haque

Simon Constable