TOKYO – World leaders seem to be at a loss about how to approach relations with US President Donald Trump, given his worrying positions and often-bizarre behavior toward politicians and the media, allies and enemies alike. Trump is not just challenging political convention to “shake things up”; he is testing the foundations of US democracy. That test has the potential to transform existing assumptions about the United States and its global role.
Trump was elected largely for one reason: a substantial share of US voters were fed up with the state of the economy and the politicians who had overseen it. Globalization – the proliferation of flows of labor, goods, services, money, information, and technology worldwide – seemed to be benefiting everyone except them.
These voters had a point. While globalization, and the trade openness that underpins it, has the potential to enrich the entire global economy, so far the richest have captured a hugely disproportionate share of the gains. In the US, wages for the top 1% of earners increased by 138% from 1980 to 2013, while wages for the bottom 90% grew by just 15%.
There is now a stark divide between the struggling workers of the so-called Rust Belt and the high-flying billionaires of Silicon Valley and Wall Street. The only people who emerged unscathed from the global economic crisis of 2008, it seemed, were those who caused it.