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

U.S. Politics after the Mid-Term Election
WATANABE Yasushi  / Professor, Keio University

December 25, 2018
The U.S. mid-term election ended largely as expected, with the Republicans maintaining the majority in the Senate and the Democrats regaining control of the House. The Senate race was fought primarily in those states where conservatives were dominant. In that sense, one could say that the Democrats fought a good battle.

Though the loss of the control of the House was damaging for President Trump, the defeat of the President’s party in the House had become a semi-normal pattern. Even if politics becomes stalemated because of distorted Congress with the Republican controlled Senate and the Democratic controlled House, President Trump can blame and attack the Democrats, thus rousing his rock-solid supporters toward his re-election in 2020.

The addition of the Republican Senate seats is a historic achievement. Trump strengthened his grip on the Senate through the virtually elimination of those Senators who were critical of him and the election of a number of “mini-Trump” Senators who are loyal to him.

Trump has used the tactic of always creating “enemies”, i.e. Democrats, Republican Party leaders and the media, and continuing to rouse his rock-solid supporters with white workers and conservative Christians (Evangelicals) at the core. The Republican Party has been surreptitiously turned into a party that no longer advocates free trade, fiscal balance, national unity or international order.

On the other hand, Trump has succeeded in containing the grievances within the Republican Party by championing policies favored by erstwhile Republican supporters such as big tax cuts, deregulation, defense budget increase, anti gun-control, and appointment of conservative judges to the Supreme Court. Many Republican Senators and House members who fear repulsion from the rock-solid Trump supporters keep their criticism of Trump under seal. Trump’s greatest achievement may be that he has turned the Republican Party into neither “Lincoln’s party” nor “Reagan’s party” but “Trump’s party”.

The House of Representatives has the right to debate the budge bill first, which will considerably emasculate Trump’s policies. It would be practically impossible to drastically revise or abolish “Obama Care”(the Affordable Care Act)or to build the wall along the Mexican border. The controversy on the raising of the debt ceiling will again bring about the crisis of federal government closure in March 2019. By gaining hold of the chairmanships of the Committees in the House, the Democrats will find it easier to force the disclosure of President Trump’s tax returns and to hold high government officials accountable through the use of Congressional investigative powers. Partisan conflicts will intensify, and social divide will deepen.

The President has greater discretionary powers in foreign policy and trade, making it likely for Trump to try to score points in these areas. The call for “America First” will likely become more strident. The perception that the United States is “victimized” by globalization is the ideological bond that binds President Trump and his rock-solid supporters. I would not go so far as to say that Trump is set to “destroy” the liberal international order, but would not be surprised if he announced one day that the United States would pull out of the World Trade Organization.

The biggest issue in Japan-U.S. relations is trade. The Democratic Party has traditionally been leaning towards protectionism. The Democratic senators and House members reacted negatively when Barak Obama, then President, agreed in principle with the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP). There will be no letting up of the pressure on Japan on trade. However, there is considerable dissatisfaction in Congress about the Trump administration’s high-handed approach to U.S. allies of threatening to raise tariffs on steel and aluminum citing “threats to national security”. Depending on how the Democrats act, there could conceivably be some chance that the negotiating environment for Japan might become a little less harsh.

Japan’s diplomacy is often criticized for being subservient to the United States. But it is not as simple as all that, if you consider Japan’s support for TPP 11, the Paris Agreement on climate change, and the Iran Nuclear Deal. In the coming months, it is essential that Japan works in tandem with European countries and Australia to deter jointly the U.S. pressures for “America First”. It would be realistic for Japan to put up resolute resistance in the working level negotiations on the Trade Agreement on Goods (TAG), making small concessions only when absolutely necessary, and bide the time until the tide of U.S. politics changes.

In security, the urgent task for Japan is to strengthen its collaboration with India, Australia, Britain and France, to ensure that there be no “power vacuum” in East Asia as a result of the drawdown of U.S. engagement in the region. Our wisdom and efforts are called for to keep the United States on the side of the liberal international order. Japan has a heavy responsibility in this regard.

Yasushi Watanabe is Professor of Keio University. This is a summary of the article published in the November 14 edition of Nihon Keizai Shimbun.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

渡辺 靖  / 慶応義塾大学教授

2018年 12月 25日










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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > U.S. Politics after the Mid-Term Election