Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Trump’s victory and the dynamics of American party politics
IIYAMA Masashi /  Professor, Hokkaido University of Education

December 16, 2016
  Will President Trump change the basic configuration of American politics? The Republicans and the Democrats, who have been fighting over such issues as “small government vs. big government”, “religion” or “foreign policy”, now seem to be on a collision course over the question of “whether globalization serves American interests or not”. Both parties‘ base supporters will shift accordingly so that we may very well see “the Republican Party hoisting the banner of protectionism and anti-immigration with the support of white working class” and “the Democratic Party advocating free trade and internationalism, marshaling the support of businessmen and intellectuals”. That would be a picture of American politics far beyond what we have imagined possible. If this were to happen, what should we envisage for the Japan-U.S. alliance?

  American political parties have been quite open to change. It has been the case that anyone who manages to win the series of the presidential primaries on the strength of his/her favorite policies can change the shape of his/her party. For example, in the late 1970s, the religious right group suddenly injected itself into the Republican primaries by demanding that biblical teachings be placed as the main pillars of the party’s platform. Traditionally, Republican politicians represented business interests and had little to do with religion. They initially scorned the religious right’s anachronism, but, increasingly fearful of the right’s vote-getting power, finally have come round to wave the pro-life banner of the religious right by themselves. Thus, the traditionally secular Republican Party has transformed itself into a conservative religious party in little more than 10 years.

  With it came the surge of white religious conservatives into the Republican ranks. Unlike the traditional Republican supporters from the business wing, they were low to middle income farmers and industrial workers. They are a huge voting bloc, accounting for nearly a quarter of the whole population. Actually, they, not the business wing, are the backbone of today’s Republican Party.

  They lost their jobs as they found themselves sandwiched between the massive job transfer to overseas in manufacturing industry and the inflow of cheap immigrant labor. They are the “losers” of globalization. Especially after the Lehman shock, they have been driven into dire straits, as shown by cases of social problems such as alcoholism, drug abuse and suicide. These are precisely the people that Trump’s populism targeted.

Trump successfully proved that provoking the anger of white workers and spreading impossible dreams were the strategy to win the Republican primaries, which would lead him to the White House. Just like the time when the religious right emerged on the scene, there is a high risk that Republican politicians will be competing to wave the flag of Trump-style populism and anti-globalism.

  However, Trump’s anti-globalism clashes head-on with the interests of the traditional Republican supporters from the business wing. In November, Trump pressured a major manufacturer of air conditioners in the United States to reverse its plan to relocate its plant to Mexico. Such a rough display of power by the incoming President, like forcing an individual firm to change its management decision, is sure to be met with resistance by businessmen. It would be a very serious challenge for these business people, who have reaped great benefits from globalization, if they were no longer able to use cheap immigrant labor and had to face the shrinkage of free trade. They might in due course be driven to flee the Republican Party and seek refuge under the wings of the Democratic Party, which is committed to free trade, internationalism and cosmopolitan values. Alternatively, they might detest the Democrats for being too liberal and become non-partisan drifters.

  Some such signs are already discernible in the results of this last election. According to the exit polls, among those with annual income higher than $100,000, 54% voted Republican and 44% Democrat in the 2012 presidential election. This time, 48% voted Republican and 47% Democrat, the margin shrinking to only 1%. Among white college graduates, 56% voted Republican and 42% Democrat in 2012, but this time 49% Republican and 47% Democrat, with a large number deserting the Republicans, of whom some voted Democrat and the rest becoming non-partisan, In contrast, among whites without a college degree, 61% voted Republican and 36% Democrat in 2012, and 67% Republican and 28% Democrat this time, sharply increasing the margin of victory for the Republicans from 25% to 39%. All these show traces of rich as well as college graduate whites moving towards the Democrats, while whites without a college degree moved in the opposite direction.

  It is the Republicans from the business wing who have believed in the value of capitalism based on market economy, espoused free trade and strong anti-communism, and supported a solid Japan-US alliance. If they are to drift politically, who will sustain the Japan-US alliance? Should there be a tectonic change such as those Republicans converting to the Democratic Party, would the Democratic Party hoist the flag of free trade and tread the liberal hawkish line of Hillary Clinton? Though these are not more than wild conjectures yet, we should watch carefully the possible shift in the basis of support for the political parties.

The writer is former Washington, D.C. correspondent of the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper.

The English-Speaking Union of Japan

飯山雅史  / 北海道教育大学教授

2016年 12月 16日








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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Trump’s victory and the dynamics of American party politics