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Report of Shimada Juku Visit of US to Study Trump Administration

「Mr.Trump, The Trump Administration, Their Implications to Japan」

   Ten members of Shimada-juku and myself visited the US for the period of April 8 to 13, 2017 to study the current situation of Trump administration and its probable prospect. The list of the members and the time table of our trip are attached below.

    We planned this study trip shortly after Mr.Trump was elected as 45th president of the United States. We planned to visit the US sometime in April mainly because the nature of Trump administration and its policies will be more or less evident 3 months after the inauguration of Mr.Trump.

   The basic motivation which drove us to study about Trump administration by visiting the US is that this administration could and would have unprecedentedly critical impacts for Japan to choose its course for the future.
   The choice of American voters of Mr.Trump as the president was a great surprise for us. This is because his statements, rhetoric and attitude during the election campaign were so unique, rough and outrageous that he simply did not seem qualified to be the president of the United States, the largest and most powerful country in the world and in view of its historical role of constructing and managing the global system which has governed the security and economic prosperity of the world since the end of WWII.

   His sales point was “America First” and “get jobs back to American workers,” which was not surprising. But his policy proposals to achieve them were incredible. He asserted that in order to protect American workers from intrusion of Mexican illegal immigrants, put up a wall at the border of Mexico by their money, impose high tariffs as much as 45% on imports from China and Japan, pulling the US out of TPP on the first day of his office as president, make Japan and other allies pay much more to cover the staying cost of American troops on their lands and if they do not pay as much as he wants he will withdraw the troops from those countries. 

   He denounced NATO as an outdated and useless organization. On the other hand, he praised Vladimir Putin as a powerful leader, and even hinted a “grand bargain” with Russia. Not only his “policy” is too radical and unrealistic but also his rhetoric was outrageous such as “putting Hillary into prison once I become the president.” 

   He is particularly unique in the sense he has absolutely no experience in politics nor in public service or even military service. Perhaps this is the very reason that his supporters who wanted him to destroy “Washington establishment” and “Washington politics” voted him. His only experience has been a real estate business man and is good for trading “deals.” He asserts to use this method of deals through one-to-one negotiation in international trade negotiations. Astonishingly, he does not seem to have knowledge or necessary understanding of the meaning of collective international agreements on trade, nor international security cooperation, or of history of the world.

   If he really pursues these policies he advocated during the election campaign, it will be a serious nightmare for a country like Japan which has been enjoying the peace and prosperity largely based on international cooperations. If Mr.Trump will stick to his assertions during the campaign, Japan may have to rethink about its strategy of collective security and trade based on international cooperation. 

   Therefore, whether the Trump administration will be the same as his radical assertions during the campaign or grows to be modified through learning by doing to become a more reasonable, reliable and conventional administration which have been practiced by the United States as the leading power of the world.

    The basic motivation of our study trip is therefore to learn on the spot through hearing and discussions with think tanks, experts, and opinion leaders about the real situation of Trump administration with a hope to get some clues to judge which would be a reasonable choice for Japan to take for coming years.

   From the end of 2016, Mr.Trump hastily started to appoint critical members of his team to work in the White House like Mr.Steve Bannon, Mr.Mike Flynn etc. Peculiar is his choice as the closest advisor Mr.Jared Kushner, his son in law. His choice turned out to be limited to close circle of his family, extremists and retired military men.

   His inauguration address was disappointing. It simply did not sound like the first memorable public address of the president of the leading country of the world. The address did not contain any elements of noble philosophy as a world leader nor memorable expressions or encouraging statements for the American and the world public. Rather his address was the repetition of the same old radical, rough and vulgar words to blame trade partners and allies and self centered assertion of egoistic nationalism.

   After the inauguration, Mr.Trump rushed to work in his office of the White House. On day one, he declared to pull the United States out of TPP. This action was symbolic of his ignorance of the meaning and importance of international agreement of trade to improve global economic conditions by collaboration, and also his deep-rooted antagonism against the direction of his predecessor, president Barack Obama. He then issued an executive order to stop entry of Moslem people from 7 Moslem countries into the US. He issued executive orders one after another based on some relevant laws such as IEERA(Internal  Economic Emergency Act). In a couple weeks, he issued a few dozens of executive orders. He probably meant to do things as quickly as possible which he promised to his supportive voters during the campaign.

   His order to prohibit the entry of Moslem people into the country called forth criticism and oppositions both within and outside of the country. Judges of regional judicial courts issued temporary injunctions to suspend the effect of presidential order. Mr.Trump rebutted and modified the order, but then judges of other courts suspended the new order. Mr.Trump also ordered to build a wall at the border with Mexico, and said that he will have Mexico pay for the cost of the construction. Mr.Trump solicited Mexico president to come to Washington to discuss this matter. Having felt insulted, Mr. Emroque Pena Niter, the Mexico president refused to come. Mr. Trump also required or even threatened individual employers in manufacturing industry such as auto and electric appliances by Twitter or by direct contact not to build plants in Mexico and maintain domestic employment. Some of them compromised with Mr.Trump’s pressure.

   During this turmoil, General James Mattis, Secretary of Defense and the most experienced and respected military leader, visited Japan, Korea and NATO Hq swiftly and confirmed the importance of defense allies and the security agreements of them with the US. In Japan, Mr. Mattis praised Japanese defense partnership with the US is a model. His statement in Japan relieved the Japanese who were much worried about the earlier antagonistic criticism he made against Japan during the campaign. Mr. Mattis’ confident statement in Brussels encouraged European allies to work for NATO with the US.

   Unlike the White House team, Mr.Trumps appointments of government officials do not work smoothly. While he was able to nominate the key personal in the cabinet, namely secretaries,  and some of them approved by the Congress, most of the political appointees of the government have not been approved nor even been nominated. As of mid-April, only 20 or so of high officials have been approved out of some 500 necessary to operate the government organization effectively. For instance, Mr.Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State, does not have his staff at the level of deputies, assistants and directors. He works alone to conduct important national negotiations. One of the reason why the approval process is delayed unprecedentedly is the fierce and persistent opposition by the Democrats, but another disturbance is that Trump camp denies to recommend capable and experienced personnels of traditional Republicans who signed “Never Trump” declaration during the election campaign. Mr.Trump apparently choose people not by ability but only by their faith to him.

   Handling the Congress seems to be an inexperienced challenge for Mr. Trump who has had no experience in politics. One of his important commitment to his franchise which he promised to accomplish early in his agenda is to replace Obamacare. In mid-March, however, he had to withdraw his alternative plan from the Congress even before voting. This was because he had to realize that his alternative plan drafted by Mr.Paul Ryan, the majority leader,  would not pass if voted because of opposition of hard headed “Freedom Caucus” of the Republicans. This withdrawal gave the public an impression Mr.Trump failed to get job done in the Congress, certainly a damage of his image.

   In mid-April. Mr.Xi JinPing visited Mr.Trump at his winter “White House”Mala lago. After a talk, they did not announce a joint communique. Either side released their own interpretation of the content or agreement of the summit talk which are mutually contradictory, meaning there was no substance in the talk. Toward the end of the talk, Mr.Trump told Mr.Xi that the US shoot 59 Tomahawk toward Syria, government military base. Trump side announced that Mr.Xi understood and agreed to work with the US to control the dangerous challenge of Kim Jong Un. We will see. Incidentally, Mr. Trump did not mention at all about China’s currency manipulation or unfair trade practice which he shouted loudly during the campaign. Did Mr.Trump change? It seems that Mr.Trump began to learn the real politics of the world a bit. This is also the development we need to wait and see. 

   Now, there wait major policy plans to be debated and passed by the Congress in order for them to be executed as policies to change the US economy as Mr.Trump wishes. There are four major policies.

(1) tax reform. Mr.Trump proposes a drastic reduction of highest tax rate both for corporations and for individuals. The plan is yet only a preliminary stage. This will have to be a major item of political debate in the Congress and other places,
(2) major fiscal spending particularly to replace and enrich infra-structure. Mr. Trump advocates that the volume of spending will be about one trillion dollars. Neither the details of the spending plan nor the ways to finance such spending are as yet shown
(3) Budget.Mr. Trump indicated that his budget plan will increase military spending by 10% while other discretionary items such as diplomacy, environment etc will be reduced by 20 to 30%. He has not touched on non-discretionary items such as social security as yet. Since politicians are deeply involved in local budget politics of their constituencies, Mr.Trump’s radical plan will stir up extensive debates in the Congress. It is suspected that the debate will take a long time and disturb budget formulation. To the extent, the decision will be extended beyond the time limit for budget formation, a temporary measure of continuous resolution will be applied to buy time. But the entire fiscal plan will be crippled, (4) trade. Trade is the focus point of Trump administration. He indicated the possibility of introducing border adjustment tax to discourage imports and encourage exports. The serious discussion on this idea has not yet started.

  Given the current situation of the Congress with fortified opposition of Democrats and internal confrontation and conflicts of Republicans, and the lack of necessary personnels in relevant departments of the government, the process of formulating the policies, examining and debating on them, and securing approval on these policies is likely to be delayed for a long time, which also means to hamper the functioning of the Congress. This implies that Trump administration will give an impression to the public that it can not determine policies which the president committed to his supporters.

   And even if these policies could be realized with much delay, the economic consequences of such policies are almost entirely opposite of what his supporters wished to gain. For example, the drastic decrease of highest tax rate will only benefit rich people and large companies and the burden of financing the cost of tax reduction will have to be born by ordinary workers. The huge fiscal spending also needs to be financed either by increased tax or long-term bonds which will eventually be born by working class anyway. Exclusive trade restrictions will make the imports more expensive and hurt the workers. The question is when and how the public who supported and voted for Mr.Trump will realize that they will be betrayed by Mr. Trump’s policy not because of his intention but because of the result of the working to the economic system.

   Mr.Trump also has potentially dangerous or even could be fatal problems: One is conflict of interest. Even though the president himself can be immune from impeachment by the Senate, his choices and decisions could not be completely detached from his management interest of huge fortune located throughout the US and the rest of the world. Family members of his political team such as Mr. Jared Kushner and Ivanka will be susceptible of this issue. Conflict of interest could be a huge political issue in the course to come. 

   The other is his suspected connection with Vladimir Putin. It is alleged that Russia interfered the presidential election by cyber attacks against his opponent Hillary Clinton. The Trump camp has denied and has been trying to turn the social attention away from this by even attempting to take harsh attitude against Kremlin. But if it turned out that Mr.Trump or his team indeed had ties with Kremlin, this issue could be a fatal scandal of Mr.Trump which is bad enough to be prosecuted in the Congress and indicted in the Senate.

   Opposition party, Democrats, and many other segments of people who are critical against Mr. Trump, accuse him, in addition to the demerits, short comings and problems noted above, such prejudices innate in Mr.Trump such as racism, discrimination. intolerance and exclusive nationalism and self-reinforced biases against free trade and international economic and defense cooperation. These characteristics of Mr.Trump has a worrisome risk of destructing the global systems on international cooperation to protect human rights, promote economic prosperity and maintaining peace which the previous administrations of the United States itself have worked hard to establish, develop and maintain in the postwar period.

   On the other hand, when we study the history of American politics, it is more of a rule than exception that the new leader or the power denies the rein and the thoughts and the guiding principles of the previous power. Such changes have been repeatedly experienced. In this regard, Mr.Trump is not really an exception. He certainly stands out as peculiar and seemingly unprecedented president, however, he may be regarded as one of those paradigm changers who emerged many times in American history of politics. 

   The change he represents is to try to destruct the conventional power structure represented by Washington establishment. He obtained the presidential office by the momentum of  absorbing, siphoning and reflecting the grass roots voice and demand of those people who recognize themselves as left behind and victimized by the powerful wave of “globalization” which Washington establishment and Wall street gangs admitted and promoted for the recent decades. And this may be the viable expression of American dynamism and the energy of American democracy.

   Interpreting Mr.Trump and his administration in this way, we, Japanese may get an important and valuable insight as to how to view and deal with the Trump administration and the United States under this administration. We were astonished, shocked and deeply worried by watching and listening his outrageous propaganda, radical assertions, rude rhetoric, discriminatory attitude and hopeless lack of knowledge of the world history and international relations exhibited during the election campaign. No matter how strange and outlaw he may be, once he becomes president he will lead the policy and strategy of the US in his own way, which looks to be a detrimental night mare.

   However, once he actually started as president, he immediately faced many obstacles, resistance and pressures. The primary policies he committed to the people during the campaign which he rushed to achieve to show to his supporters such as prohibition of entry of Moslems, building a wall at the border of Mexico by Mexico money did not proceed as he proclaimed. Staffing his government took incredibly long time and the administration cannot operate as it should. Criticizing defense allies has been de facto nullified by his well experienced Defense secretary. 

   His promise of replacing Obamacare was blocked by the resistance particularly of a group of his own party of Republicans, showing his incompetency of handling the Congress. His major economic policies such as tax reform, fiscal spending, trade policies, and the budget stay and wait outside the doorway of the Congress. No one including the president himself can have foresight to get them passed in the political process of the United States.

   Mr.Trump had to step back from his initial stance against China. He kept accusing that China was manipulating its currency, conducting unfair trade practice, threatened to impose high tariffs as high as 45% against Chinese exports to the US and even tweeted that he won’t be constrained by so-called “one China” doctorin. He withdrew all of such careless statements. 

   Japan was astounded by his declaration of getting out of TPP. Japan was astounded because it was the US which solicited Japan to join it. Japan was shocked because serious efforts for structural reform to meet the requirements to join TPP now may turn out to be in vain. Trump administration proposed instead bi-lateral economic dialogue. In bi-lateral negotiation, both sides have demands and reasons to ask for. The result should not be one-sided. The substance of such interactions will not be much different from conventional international negotiations such as TPP. Mr.Trump indicates, perhaps instigated by an eccentric nationalist Steve Bannon, that his administration will rewrite the rules of WTO which were written by the previous American administrations. This will probably be infeasible. Mr.Trump and his administration in this way failed to attain what he promised to his supportive voters one after another because his inexperience, hopeless ignorance about the world, lack of sound thought and strategies.

    It seems that the worry we have had shortly after the victory of Mr.Trump in presidential election diminishes week after week by observing the factual developments. While his peculiar characteristics such as impulsive temper, self-centrism, discriminatory biases may remain with his life, the course of the facts that the administration follow is increasingly reasonable and not much different from the conventional direction of many of the previous administration of the US not because of Mr.Trump’s intentional choice but rather because of disturbances, criticisms and oppositions of politicians as well as public, pressures and international interactions.

   Viewed in this way, the choice of the course for Japan is more or less obvious. We do not need to react discontinuously even though Mr.Trump may look discontinuous. We choose the way respecting the conventional wisdom the conventional US and the rest of the world have been working together to achieve economic development and maintain world peace by international cooperation.

   Mr. Shinzo Abe did a great job to try to be and work together with Mr.Trump as close as possible. He is the first national leader to have met Mr.Trump in person as early as November 2016. In February 2017, he spent more than two days together with him including playing golf of 27 holes and dine together formally 4 times, and informally once more, which is unprecedented in the history American diplomacy. He did it on careful study of Mr.Trump’s personality vouched by implicit interactions with his close advisors. Some leaders of the world look down on him, but I support his action as serving the national interest to deal with this outstandingly peculiar character, Mr.Trump.

   Putting this anecdote aside, there are three basics which Japan should follow: Maintain and strengthen ties and cooperation with the US both in economy and defense. Work more closely with good balance with many major powers and important countries to develop and maintain good and cooperative relations. Make Japan much stronger particularly in economy both in terms of maintaining competitiveness and to restore good fiscal balance.

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