I have not written in this blog for a while, hoping to get an opportunity to talk about something positive, hopeful and optimistic, a change from my critical comments of the past, amidst the continuously discouraging news coming from Greece.
But yesterday Donald J. Trump was elected the next president of the United States, and an asteroid hit the earth.
Credit Edmund D. Fountain for The New York Times
Yes, there is little hopeful and optimistic happening in Greece or for Greece right now. The living and working conditions of the Greeks are not improving, taxes are increasing, people are in danger of loosing their homes, the banks are not solvent, capital controls have strangled domestic investments, displaced refugees keep arriving into a country that does not know what to do with them, government and administration are in shambles, its bureaucracy is incompetent, and its political elite keep squabbling instead of trying to help their country recover. The list has no end.
And while in the little world of Greece hope is almost gone, on the other side of the Atlantic a terrible living nightmare is taking shape, as the American people elected Trump as their next president. The unimaginable, worst case scenario came true. After 17 months of the most offensive presidential campaign in memory, after Trump committed every imaginable blunder, lied through his teeth, called people names, and said the most outrageous things offending almost everyone who is not a white working-class male, the good people of America, rebelling against the consequences of globalization and listening to his motto “America first”, elected him to lead them for the next four years.
You will tell me, What has that to do with Greece? The answer is, A lot! In the course of this election, Trump has made multiple campaign promises, promises he will be obliged to keep, and that would specifically do harm.
Directly, the Obama administration has played a positive and constructive role intervening with the IMF in an effort to provide relief for Greece’s huge debt, with some success. Under a Trump administration, we may as well forget about such intervening. Trump believes in isolationism, not cooperation but competition between the United States and the rest of the world, and indifference towards the problems of other countries, if they are not directly related to the economic and other interests of the U.S. Pacts and agreements do not mean much to him, and he has already declared that countries that have not contributed adequately to common defense, no matter their finical resources and ability to do that, would in the future be on their own. Do you think that a Trump administration would be interested in intervening with Turkey to attempt to solve the perpetual Cyprus problem under such a philosophy?
Indirectly, the impacts may be as significant and far ranging. Trump does not believe in a united Europe, and has made clear his support for Brexit. His election is providing a model of a populist, autocratic, far-right politician who was able to convince his people to have him elected. What does that tell you about the chances of that model being imitated by others, and of a far-right government emerging in France and elsewhere, as it already has in Hungary?
Trump has declared that the fiscal policies of the Federal Reserve are not to his liking. But abrupt changes to US Fed policies could have devastating implications for inflation, currency devaluations, and failing stock and bond markets and exchanges around the world. Remember the September 2008 shocks to the world’s economies from the collapse of just one bank, the Lehman Brothers? For Greece, a small country with a miniscule and floundering economy, fluctuating and unstable world markets could have a devastating effect, even more drastic than the collapse of the Athens Exchange in 1991 or the more recent one of last February.
And what about NATO? Yes, we Greeks have always been ambivalent about that defense partnership, and with good reason. But it has created a united front in the west, and is a guarantor that devastating conflicts like the First and Second World Wars can be deterred. It also has been a cornerstone of Greece’s defense policy for the past seventy-five years. But Trump does not have much respect for NATO and its role in the mutual defense of its members. It follows that those with an interest to undermine and destabilize NATO and Europe will be emboldened. How would Europe react to a conflict in which it might be involved, but in which the United States is not willing to participate? Do you recall what was Europe’s struggle like in the late 1930s, before the Americans first supported and then entered the war?
And Trump has shown approbation for autocrats and strong men. He has praised, and being praised by the likes of Putin, Khamenei and Netanyahu. How likely do you think it is that he will encourage any democratic restraints on Turkey’s strong man? He is more likely to use Recep Tayyip Erdogan as an example of a “strong leader who has control over his people”, because those are the properties he values.
But that is not all. There are so many other issues on which Greece and the United States share the same values and have the same desire to help advance universal goals. Let’s for instance look at climate change. Both Greece and the Obama administration have been committed parties to the Paris Climate Change Accord that puts the world’s nations on a course to fundamentally change energy production and consumption, reduce fossil fuel use, and shift to cleaner forms of energy. Trump has called climate change “an expensive hoax” and has twitted that “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive”. There is a good possibility that he will withdraw the United States from the Accord, and that he will even cancel out President Obama’s clean energy initiatives. Given the disproportionate contribution of the United States to carbon emissions, Trump’s actions can eventually trigger environmental disasters at a world level.
In other fronts, the U.S. administration under President Obama has been involved in constructive international negotiations on a range of globally significant social and cultural issues, including the rights of women, the plight of children, human trafficking, world poverty, the battles to reduce disease. Because of its abundant resources, its cutting edge research, and its international aid programs, the U.S. has been and could continue to be a leader, an agent and a catalyst for positive change, spending billons of dollars and intellectual capital on foreign assistance and supporting international initiatives. Trump’s isolationism and indifference to such international cooperation efforts is a kind of abdication of responsibility to the world and all but ensure that many of them will not continue to have American support.
Finally, a matter very dear to the younger generations of Greeks: More than one million international students are at present pursuing college-level studies in the U.S., most of them at the graduate level, and most of them with American financial assistance. Over the years, a constant flow of young Greeks has taken advantage of these opportunities, and they have subsequently made great contributions to their fields, have built wonderful careers, and have promoted education, research, knowledge, and the advancement of science in Greece and many other countries, including the U.S. I should know, I am one of them. Thousands of other nationalities are making similar contributions as part of a worldwide network of academics and scholars. What will happen now, under a U.S. president who does not believe in education (“I love the poorly educated”) and aims to close the doors of the country to students, immigrants, visitors, Muslims?
President-to-be Trump promised to put an end to most if not all of the initiatives and programs that have made the U.S. a major world player in support of others. He promised to build physical and legal walls around the country, to impose tariffs and barriers to international trade, to limit the numbers and kinds of people who can enter the United States, to renege on the country’s international agreements and treaties, to build up the American military power, and to use the country’s nuclear arsenal if necessary (“why we would make them if we wouldn’t use them?”). He is a dangerous man, surrounded by people hungry for power, with questionable ethics, vengeful and antagonistic. For the United States, as well as the rest of the world, this election not only marks the end of America’s positive role in conflicts and progress; it also marks the beginning of a period of isolation, combativeness, the disappearance of principled discourse with the nations of the world and, very likely, a world economic recession greater than the one caused by the crash of 2008.
I am afraid that the asteroid that hit the United States on November 8, 2016, will have tragic and long-term consequences for all of us, beyond the U.S. borders. Greece will be affected too, and none of the Trump impacts on it will be good. I fear for my adopted country, and I fear for the country of my birth.