“It will be a movement comprised of people from all races, religions, backgrounds and beliefs who want and expect our government to serve the people – and serve the people it will.” – Donald Trump, the night of the US election
THIS tempered rhetoric from the 45th president of the United States came as a surprise to anyone who had watched his election campaign – one characterised by demonising people of colour like Latinos and Muslims, misogyny towards women, intolerance of LGBTQI people, and mockery and discrimination towards disabled Americans. Moreover, Trump often actively encouraged hostility and even violence towards journalists and opposing protesters.
Much of Trump’s rhetoric and election promises – such as banning Muslim immigration and suppressing media criticism via litigation – are fundamentally undemocratic and contravene human rights.
The new president’s call for a total ban on Muslims entering the US contradicts the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which clearly states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
According to freelance journalist Liz Fields: “Trump told crowds he wanted to punch protesters in the face and threatened to “open up” libel laws as president so he could sue any journalist who wrote negatively or ‘mean’ things about him.”
Again, this flies in the face of the American Constitution, which prevents the government from “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
The economic and political implications of Trump’s election for Asia are great, not least because of the validation his pronouncement of deeply illiberal, divisive and anti-democratic attitudes provides to autocrats worldwide. Evan Laksmana at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta, Indonesia, says: “Even if he did only half of what he promised in foreign affairs, he could do a serious amount of damage in a short time.”
Soon after the announcement of the election result, stocks fell in markets from Japan to Australia, with the revelation that a more stable Hillary Clinton presidency would not eventuate. Asean will lament Trump’s effective throwing out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership given the economic opportunities it would have afforded those nations.
Of most concern, however, was the enthusiasm of autocrats to congratulate the president-elect.
Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte, who has unleashed a bloody, lawless “drug war” since being elected in May, was one of the first world leaders to offer his “warm congratulations” to President Trump.
Cambodia’s authoritarian Prime Minister Hun Sen bathed in the glory of having endorsed Trump days before the election, expressing his happiness that Americans had chosen “your excellency.”
Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak – who is accused of high-level corruption and who jails his political opponents – declared that “Mr Trump’s success shows that politicians should never take voters for granted.”
The prime minister of illiberal, undemocratic Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, sparked social media outrage with his congratulatory message despite recent comments by Trump that Singaporeans were taking American jobs.
The United States’ recent influence in East Asia may be seen as a positive and stabilising one. Under the Obama administration and Secretary of State Clinton, American foreign policy has seen a ‘pivot to Asia’, aimed of course at protecting its own economic and geopolitical interests against the rise of China.
Nevertheless, China throwing around of its weight in the South China Sea is of genuine concern to smaller many nations in the region, and U.S. involvement has arguably prevented the escalation of crises.
Richard Javad Heydarian of De La Salle University in Manila says that given how disliked he is internationally, Trump’s election will “make American soft power increasingly diminished” and make “China look like a more reliable great power.”
This is further bad news for the promotion of democratic ideals and human rights worldwide. Whilst democracy in the region is increasingly weakened, and Southeast Asia in particular moves towards authoritarianism, U.S. efforts to bolster democratic institutions and human rights defenders via foreign aid and diplomacy have remained important.
Chinese ascendancy will only further embolden authoritarians. Duterte’s recent cosying up with China is testament to this.
It is possible that now in office, Trump will not live up to his promises of an America that promotes intolerance and curtails democratic freedom of speech and religion. The Independent has reported that his push to ban Muslims from entering the US has been removed from his website since being elected.
Human Rights Watch’s Kenneth Roth delivered a strong statement after Trump’s election, asserting categorically that “rights aren’t something that an electoral majority can simply vote away. A strong president stands up for the rights of everyone.”
Lets hope for the sake of the world that a Trump presidency can reflect some semblance of this sentiment.
In any case, defending the tenets of democracy and human rights is as vital as its ever been.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Asian Correspondent