President Donald Trump may be on the way out of the world’s most powerful office, but his short stint in the White House has had an impact on right-wing sentiments worldwide, a discussion session on the post-Trump era heard recently.
Rashila Ramli of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) said Trump’s era has boosted right-wing groups as well as those seeking greater protectionism through nationalist sentiments.
Malaysia has not been spared the impact of Trump’s nationalistic flavour, either, she added.
“It’s a matter of knowing the groups that do exist even within your own society. This is something we really need to watch out for as it is very dangerous,” Rashila, from UKM’s Institute of Malaysian and International Studies, told a recent dialogue hosted by Kuala Lumpur-based Islamic Renaissance Front.
But social critic Chandra Muzaffar said right-wing nationalism had existed for a long time in the West even before Trump’s rise.
“So it should not be attributed entirely to Trump,” he said.
“For instance, the negativity towards the other kind – immigrants, Jews and Muslims – is so much a part of the European psyche.”
Multi-billionaire Trump emerged victorious in the 2016 presidential election on the back of the “America First” slogan, promising to prioritise the domestic workforce and create jobs for locals.
Trump’s presidency was also characterised by a more draconian immigration policy.
But Chandra cautioned against lumping the right wing and nationalism in the same category, saying it is natural for nation-states to protect their own interests.
“I don’t see this as right-wing, narrow, or bigoted. They have very good reasons to protect their own interests. But the types of interests they want to protect matter.
“Is it the interest of the poor and the marginalised? If it is, then, it’s praiseworthy,” he added.
But Chandra agreed that Trump’s rise had to a great extent encouraged the right-wings in other parts of the world.
Another speaker, former Iranian ambassador to the United Nations Gholam Ali Khosroo, said Trump had been influential in supporting the resurgence of nationalism in the West, and that the trend would continue in the US and Europe.
Khosroo, whose country was targeted by Trump’s hardline policy on the Middle East, expects no major changes when Joe Biden takes over the job.
Chandra agreed, saying: “While we may not have to deal with the unpredictability of the Trump regime, the US will continue to maintain its global dominance under Biden.”
He added that while Washington could return to multilateral agreements snubbed by Trump such as the Paris Agreement, it would retain its control of international affairs.
After becoming president, Trump announced the US’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, an international treaty aimed at reducing global warming, and declared that the US no longer supports the historic nuclear deal on Iran inked by President Barack Obama.
But it was the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal which became the first casualty under Trump, when he signed an executive order removing the US from the global trade pact on his first day in office.
The TPP was to be a 12-nation trade deal which Malaysia was a part of, aimed at removing trade barriers and tariffs between member-states.
Following the collapse of the treaty, countries negotiated a new agreement called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Rashila said whether the Biden administration rejoins the agreement would depend heavily on domestic politics.
Chandra meanwhile said the US could take a leaf from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, when it comes to addressing concerns over sovereignty and national interests.