Written by Daniel Jia.
Image credit: Public domain.
Donald Trump announced on Truth Social three weeks ago that his arrest was imminent. Last week, a New York Manhattan grand jury has decided to indict Trump on 34 counts of business fraud, to which Trump pleaded not guilty.
Trump’s latest legal burden stemmed from the hush money paid before the 2016 election to the porn star Stormy Daniels, with whom Trump was reported to have had an affair. The payment was falsely declared as “legal expenses”.
Some see the ongoing indictment as a “political prosecution”; others see it as a slap on the wrist after Trump escaped twice the Congress impeachment. However, while the Trump case is unfolding, it is time to reflect on the impact that Trump has left on US soil and beyond the US border, especially the sovereignty of Taiwan.
Trump made his high-profile entry into the US public life in 2012 by trade-marking the phrase “Make America Great Again” as a campaign slogan. But Trump neglected to do two things: to define the “greatness” and to make “America” inclusive. The consequence of the negligence is devastating: It has drawn instant and continued criticism from opponents, accusing Trump and the MAGA movement endorsed by him of being nationalist, isolationist, and racist. While the latter claim might be entirely incorrect, since Trump has never displayed racism publicly, the terms “nationalism” and “isolationism” cannot be considered exaggerations.
Back then, when millions of US jobs went abroad while the share of costs shouldered by the US in international affairs rose constantly, Trump’s attempt to pull the US out of the disadvantage was as plausible as any head of state would do in his position. But Trump’s good intention went terribly wrong in its execution.
Branding his government policy “America First” is the first attributable factor for the failure. Political and historical scholars quickly pointed out its use in isolationism and anti-immigrant contexts in the past. The phrase helped Trump’s critics score a long-lasting political goal.
But Trump’s failure did not stop at rhetoric use. Trump actually did have led the US onto the isolationism path.
Under Trump, the US withdrew from a wide range of international treaties and organizations, many of which were instrumental for the US to maintain a leading role in global affairs. For example, exiting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) left a market vacancy for China to take advantage of with its own Belt-and-Road Initiative (BRI). Walking out from the Iran nuclear deal and the Arms control treaties with Russia resulted in Iran’s re-starting its nuclear program and Russia’s expansion of its nuclear stockpile. And being vague on the commitment to Article 5 of the NATO Charter (i.e., collective defence commitment) seriously undermined NATO’s defence mechanism despite the increasing threats from Russia and Iran.
With the good intention of saving the US from being stretched too thin, Trump left the US weaker instead of stronger and more vulnerable rather than more resilient in confronting predatory competitors like China and hostile countries like Russia and Iran.
One of Trump’s most acclaimed presidential achievements is the trade war with China, with the original chief goal being to stop China’s predatory trade practices. But instead, the tariff fight took the centre place, and soybean became the jewel of the crown of trade negotiation. When Trump bragged about how the tariffs on China’s imports had brought in billions of dollars in revenue, ordinary American consumers rather than the Chinese exporters were footing the tariffs. As a result, Trump’s trade war with China hardly brought any substantial benefits to the US economy and US consumers.
Trump’s other triumphant message to the American people is that there was no major conflict under his watch and that he is the vanguard of security and peace for the US and the world. The statement might be true, but the conclusion calls for scrutiny. Trump’s response to what happened in Hong Kong and Taiwan could be an accurate tell-tale.
When China cracked down on protests and forced the National Security Law to pass in Hong Kong in 2019, Trump kept praising China’s Xi as a “friend” to secure his trade talk. While China is accelerating its incursion into Taiwan’s airspace, Trump cancelled the scheduled Taiwan visit by the US ambassador to the UN during his last days in the White House.
World peace under Trump was achieved more by turning a blind eye to authoritarian regimes’ aggressive conduct at the cost of the principle of liberty and freedom rather than through eradicating the threats, as in the case of Taiwan and Hong Kong. And Trump’s withdrawal from numerous international communities helped those threats (e.g., the ambitions of Russia and China, for instance) grow faster and spread wider.
The American people have never been ideologically homogeneous. Trump’s use of a series of labels – either coined by himself or endorsed and promoted through his speeches – made the ideological division a much more complex, far-reaching web of intertwined trenches of separation. Trump used the vaguely defined MAGA to brand pro- and anti-Americans, the term “deep state” to discredit policies and government branches, and “RINO” to even jeopardize the solidarity of his own party. If the US before Trump was divided, the US under Trump was utterly shattered.
However, this all being said, Trump’s role in the January 6 protest is far more damaging than any of the above. The current consensus is that Trump based his challenge of the 2020 election outcome on the unproven claim that the election was rigged. Trump has failed in the past to establish, in legal terms, the falsehood of Barack Obama’s birth certificate and the criminal offence of Hilary Clinton’s mishandling of her emails. His repeated mocking of the US justice framework reached its pinnacle at the January 6 event.
Trump’s role in January 6 protest would prove to be even more damaging because he failed to take decisive actions against those who “stole” the election and the country if his 2020 election claim is true. Trump once stated on social media, “they are not after me; they are after you. I’m just in the way.” But at that crucial moment, Trump hid behind his supporters like a coward, waiting for them to take back the White House for him. History judges him harshly for his cowardly inaction if his claims are INDEED true.
Trump’s disgraceful performance in the January 6 protest, regardless of whether his election claims are fact-based or not, has proved that he does not possess the essential quality to hold the post that he was once entrusted to: integrity.
Trump’s MAGA movement and “America First” rhetoric have done a disservice to himself, the US, and the American people. His isolationist policy and cosy relationships with totalitarian regimes have put the sovereignty of many other nations, including Taiwan and Ukraine, in danger.
Now, Trump has a proposal for Ukraine to bring peace: hand Russia what it demands. Trump’s Ukraine stance today is consistent with how he would respond to China’s invasion of Taiwan: “not a fucking thing.”
Taiwan can learn a precious lesson from the failure of Trump’s isolationist policy and his China-appeasing approach. The primary lesson is that any financial advantage gained from China by disregarding its breach of universal values, such as liberty and civil freedom, will ultimately have negative economic and political repercussions. Regrettably, Trump and the United States are not the sole victims but the most conspicuous ones, affected by the inconsistent, economy-focused relationship with China. Consequently, Taiwanese voters should be cautious of politicians who pledge economic benefits by promoting closer ties with China.
The second and more important lesson is that isolationism and extreme nationalism do not equate to patriotism but are quite the opposite. Taiwan must use the current peacetime to re-establish its status in international communities through participation, collaboration, and contribution.
Regardless of whether Trump will enter the White House the second time, Taiwan’s fate is in the hands of the Taiwanese people, who, through casting their votes, mandate the elected politicians to carry out an action plan supported by the majority.
Taiwan does not need and must avoid having a Taiwanese version of Donald Trump. However, Taiwan must be ready for a second Trump term unfavourable to Taiwan’s security. The new Trump administration would resume the economic-centred relationship with China as it did in the first term, likely at the cost of Taiwan’s international status and sovereignty. Taiwan cannot change Trump. But Taiwan can and must show the free world its resolve to defend itself like what Ukraine has been doing. With this unwavering resolution, Taiwan would have the chance to rally international support in the event of a China invasion. Then, and only with this determination, could Taiwan bring the US public and Congress to its side and mandate the lukewarm Trump to act as Biden in the current Ukraine-Russia war.
It is a well-known adage that divine assistance favours those who act. Ukraine serves as a prime example for Taiwan. As Trump’s legal case progresses, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen and former President Ma Ying-jeou have recently concluded their trips to Taiwan’s allies and China. Beijing ants up its military incursion into Taiwan’s territory by sending 71 planes and nine ships cross the Taiwan Strait median line to retaliate Tsai’s meeting with US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. As a result, Taiwan faces its first major security test before embracing a 2nd Trump term.
Daniel Jia is the founder of consulting firm DJ Integral Services. He writes analytical reports on public-related matters, focusing on China-related cultural and political issues. There is no conflict of interest to be disclosed.
The above is inaccurate on so many levels, through factual omissions and spin, and constitutes the path for turning Taiwan into a devastated proxy war battlefield just as Biden has done with Ukraine.