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Trumpism: Shifting the Spotlight Away Might Help

2016-12-20 16:03:58       source:IPP Review

December 19,  2016

On December 13, 2016, Newt Gingrich, the 50th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, talked about the principles of Trumpism at the Heritage Foundation. Gingrich was once reported to be on Donald Trump’s three-person shortlist to be the presumptive Republican nominee’s running mate in the 2016 presidential election. On November 17, Gingrich announced he would not be serving in Trump’s cabinet but will instead be focusing on strategic planning for the Republican party to expand their victories ahead of the 2018 mid-term elections. Nevertheless, Gingrich is no doubt the best spokesman when it comes to defending Trump’s policy as what he called Trumpism. 

During Trump’s election campaign, the American media such as The New York Times on May 24, think tanks such as Hoover Institution in March and later the Chinese media, academia and netizens widely used the term “Trump phenomenon” to explain the unexpected high rate of support for him. After November 9, though faced with demonstrations and protests against his victory, Trump seemed to have wiped off this implicitly satirical “sticker” on him. Alternatively, another term, Trumpism, seemed to have appeared as a trend that stood apart from traditional American conservatism. Trumpism gained ground with pundits and commentators who used it to describe Trump’s manners, behaviors and ways of thinking and conducting himself. David Tabachnick described Trumpism in four characteristics: celebrity, nativism, the outsider phenomenon and populism.  

Trumpism was reflected in several controversial issues lately. In response to the heated criticism in the US of his phone call with Tsai Ing-wen, in which Trump called Tsai “President of Taiwan,” he defended himself by saying he was taking a congratulatory call and that “the US sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment.” China’s response to the Trump-Tsai phone call was mild, calling it “a small trick by Taiwan”; this created room for shaping and consolidating the future China-US relations. Compared with the US media and analysts, the response of the Chinese state media and social media was low key. Trump’s provocative comments on the One China Policy in his interview with Fox News one week later generated comparatively stronger response from China. The Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed “serious concern” and one state media described him to be “as ignorant as a child.” The comments also triggered off a slew of remarks by Chinese academics who considered Trump to be lacking experience and knowledge in cross strait relations and the role the US has been playing since the 1970s. There have since been a flurry of commentaries, analyses and coverage stories, most of which called on China to be alerted to Trumpism, which is a departure from the US’ traditional Asia and China policies. 

Trumpism was again observed in Trump’s response to the US’ investigation into alleged Russian hacking of the 2016 presidential election. Central Intelligence Agency officials concluded recently that Russia had intervened with the primary aim of helping Trump become president. Trump rejected any suggestions of Russian influence in the US election. Trump even explicitly said that he was not interested in daily security briefings by intelligence officials. This raises concerns, even among some Republicans, that the briefings will be filtered by his policy team, who might represent various interest groups, before reaching Trump and will eventually affect the shaping of policies. However, when asked to comment on this issue during his speech at the Heritage Foundation, Gingrich repeatedly used “liar” to describe the US media whose coverage has been overwhelmingly in disfavor of Trump’s reaction. 

When far from the spotlight given to him by the media, analysts and academia, which he enjoys, Trump may be expected to express himself carefully, with a full understanding of policy shaping.   

Trump is also known as anti-climate change, which he said was a “hoax” being pushed by China. He picked Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a climate change doubter, as his choice for leading the Environmental Protection Agency, showing his strong negativism on climate change. The Department of Energy (DOE) recently refused to give the names of individual workers associated with climate change work when requested by Trump’s transition team, fearing a “witch hunt” of DOE employees.  

One of Trump’s most effective slogans during the presidential campaign was “America First.” In his bid for the White House, Trump promised to give a big tax cut to corporations to bring manufacturing back to the US. If and when this policy is implemented, a new round of debate on Trumpism will surely emerge. 

From now till Trump’s inauguration on January 20, 2017, we will see endless debates whenever a controversy arises over Trump’s “careless,” “thoughtless” statements, announcements, and interview talks, be it on “trade war with China,” “Taiwan issue,” “anti-globalization,” “the South China Sea,” “pivot to Asia” or “relationships with its allies.” Gingrich, in his speech, termed everything controversial that Trump said before the election, would say prior to the inauguration, and might say in the coming administration, with a banner called “need for renovation”, meaning that “If you don’t like it, we will run over you and move on…” 

We have witnessed the evolution from the Trump phenomenon to the so-called Trumpism. When asked about Trump’s future foreign policy, the most common and frequent wordings used by Asian and China policy analysts in the US are “unpredictable,” “uncertain,” and “personality associated.” Trumpism is now shaping events around the world, like the One-China Policy and the Russian intervention of the election. The best approach is to devalue Trumpism and treat US President-Elect Donald Trump as an ordinary US president. When far from the spotlight given to him by the media, analysts and academia, which he enjoys, Trump may be expected to express himself carefully, with a full understanding of policy shaping. 



Hong Nong is Executive Director & Senior Fellow at the Institute for China America Studies, Washington D.C.

The NISCSS is authorized to re-publish this article on its website.