Normally, congressional elections, unlike presidential elections, don’t focus much on foreign policy and international relations.
Even though Donald Trump’s name is not on this year’s ballots, next week’s mid-term elections are very much about Trump.
And we must acknowledge that personalities, style and manner can count more than many political analysts recognize. With the amped-up rhetoric and short supply of truth in the current campaigns — marked by the demonization of opponents and relentless and misguided attacks on the media — we are living in a toxic political atmosphere.
Looming over the political landscape is the specter of violence and terror, tragically apparent in the heart-breaking anti-Semitic killings in Pittsburgh; the pipe-bomb mailings directed at Trump critics; the attack on the Republican baseball practice in Washington last year; and numerous other violent events. Some assign blame to Trump for setting a tone that condones if not inspires such episodes.
While the incendiary rhetoric on the campaign trail is seen as fueling a climate of violence, Trump supporters are quick to defend him, arguing that there’s no basis for connecting Trump with these events. Conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt says, “Don’t blame political figures for violence they don’t specifically encourage and intend, and don’t confuse rally rhetoric with criminal behavior.”
As the debate about culpability roars on, there are a variety of potential ramifications from Trump policies and actions that are clear in meaning and impact.
And even though Trump downplays, indeed decries, the reality of globalization and internationalism, they constitute a salient dimension of what’s at stake in those upcoming elections.
In recent years, we have seen a growing emphasis on national issues in congressional races and even some state and local elections, moving beyond the traditional emphasis on local issues.
In addition to this nationalization of our politics (as we are seeing now in the focus on which party will win control of the U.S. House and Senate), we are also experiencing the internationalization of our political contests, directly and indirectly.
Look at the issues and factors affecting current politics and policies, many of which have international scope: relations with Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, to mention some more obvious examples.
For many years, American agriculture has depended heavily on sales to other countries. Now, however, President Trump is engaging in a burgeoning trade war. There are continuing threats to impose more tariffs and tear up treaties. That has major implications at home and abroad. Trade conflicts with China have obvious ramifications for American and Arkansas agriculture and consumers. There is significant impact from retaliatory Chinese tariffs on U.S. soybeans, with U.S. exporters selling only a fraction of the amount sold to China in previous years. This affects not only the farmers and producers but those who sell them supplies, equipment, etc.
And consider an issue that has been at the forefront of politics, and certainly has international dimensions: the ongoing debate on U.S. policies on refugees and immigration and “the wall.” One result has been to incite xenophobia and bigotry.
Disinformation campaigns from other countries represent another dimension of international connections to our politics. Best known and most significant are the factors at the center of the “Russia probe.” But China, Iran and Saudi Arabia, among others, have been involved in information or cyber warfare and influence networks are increasingly evident.
President Trump has touted what he claims is $110 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia. But that is hugely exaggerated. That number includes deals struck during the Obama administration and sales that haven’t yet occurred. He was hesitant to criticize Saudi leaders over their role in the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and made clear that he didn’t not want to cancel the proposed arms sales as many in Washington were demanding. ”They are ordering military equipment,” Trump said. “Everybody in the world wanted that order. Russia wanted it, China wanted it, we wanted it. We got it,”
“I don’t want to hurt jobs. I don’t want to lose an order like that,” Trump said.
And claims about the number of jobs the sales would create is also grossly overstated. Initially the estimate was tens of thousands, but Trump kept upping the numbers — 450,000, 500,000, then his claim grew to 600,000 on Friday and the following day he said 1 million American jobs rely on Saudi investments.
Trump’s administration is also indicating that it wants to nullify existing arms control and security agreements. In some cases, there may be valid reasons for doing so, but we would need a clear indication of what would replace them. Despite warnings that withdrawal could lead to a new nuclear arms race, the U.S. national security adviser rejected Russian entreaties last week to remain committed to the Intermediate Range Nuclear Force treaty signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987.
It is apparent that the president wants to travel on a one-way street but wants to go both ways on that street.
And he may consider himself to be “anti-globalist,” but everywhere we turn, we see the profound realities and ramifications of an international traffic roundabout.
Hoyt Purvis is an emeritus professor of journalism and international relations at the University of Arkansas. Email him at [email protected] .