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A choice between economists and populism

President Donald Trump gestures while speaking about the US role in the Paris climate change accord (Photograph by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

What can we take away from the recent nine-day trip overseas by Donald Trump, president of the United States? Without specifics, but pressed into an impact statement, there are lessons and concerns that the world must consider.

The president, perhaps unaware, has thrown America on one side of a sectarian war in the Middle East by aligning with Sunni Saudi against Shia Iran. He has reshaped the alliance between America and Europe, and turned science on its head in little more than a week.

He has perhaps the strongest White House cabinet ever on paper — many of them billionaires, if not very close then on the way to such status. One cynical way of rationalising the whole affair is to say that many billionaires have clearly demonstrated the ability to make money and perhaps a natural proclivity towards the art of that process, but can be absolute fools on a social level and can be oblivious of human sentiment.

Admittedly, we have heard Trump confess holding the office of president has been an unexpected and completely different experience from running a business, even a mega business because, in his words, the presidency requires “a heart” and business doesn’t.

After watching the international fiasco unravel, I took pause to forgive myself for trying so hard against ultra conservatives to make sense about socioeconomic sensibilities. It has become fashionable to refer to anyone who talks about human matters as the “Left”. Presumably, the glorified position of the Right is supposed to mean all those who know how to make financial sense or perhaps wisdom for the market. Perhaps on some level they do, but at what cost and to what ends when you tally the human impacts and abysmal social stratification?

This is not a glorification for populist social agenda, but for sure sums up the problems we see in our little country, where those who boast of knowing what’s best for the country seemingly manage to use one half of their brain that deals with economic affairs, but lose sight of human involvement. It is not that they don’t use the other half of the brain; it doesn’t exist or there is nothing else there. Flogging and castigating them is as useless as trying to make a horse fly.

There is no convincing Trump that he messed up because in his words he hit a home run. In his mind he succeeded and, yes, when you think of a $400 billion-plus trade deal, it sounds good — you can almost see the money rolling in despite the deal having been made years ago but withheld. It was withheld for a reason; now the money is rolling without constraints or an understanding of how it helps or hinders the issue of terrorism and the Middle East sectarian crisis.

It all seems so far away, but it isn’t. We have a similar situation at home with half-brain economists on the Right and populism on the Left. Tony Blair was a rare commodity in bygone British politics and Bill Clinton may have been his American equivalent.

Can there be some sunshine in our world? Can we have a conservative-type leadership that believes in a better world for everyone — or, better still, tries to make a better world for everyone?

It used to be said: “None of us are free unless all of us are free”.

It is not that our politicians simply cannot do it; they just don’t know how. And, to add insult, they cannot see when they have failed. In their mind’s world, as long as some people are happy — usually them — it means everyone should be happy, and if they are not, it’s their own fault.

Can we do better? We must. Come on, let’s try.