Butterfly Effect: Why Trumpism Is Winning - OZY | A Modern Media Company
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From trade to immigration, Trump’s views increasingly resonate across the world — even as he trails in polling at home.

Charu Sudan Kasturi

Charu Sudan Kasturi

OZY Senior Editor Charu Sudan Kasturi's column, "Butterfly Effect," connects the dots on seemingly unrelated global headlines, highlighting what could happen next and who is likely to be impacted.

Pick the poll and the result is the same. With five weeks to go to the Nov. 3 election, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden leads President Donald Trump handsomely both in national polling and in most key battleground states. OZY’s latest forecast with polling firm 0ptimus shows Biden with an 82 percent chance of winning.

But the polls matter only so much. I say that not because of Trump’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election. This is not about concerns whether Trump will try to litigate with a Supreme Court stacked in his favor to stay in power. And it isn’t about the more unrealistic fears of a potential coup.

The polls matter only to a point when it comes to Trump’s legacy, because whether he loses or wins — cleanly or by bending the rules — Trumpism is mostly winning globally.

On the central foreign policy themes at the heart of his governance — curbs on immigration, inward-looking economic policies, a distrust of global bodies — Trump’s approach is finding resonance in different parts of the world. An electoral loss for the president will not automatically change that.

A new Gallup poll shows that acceptance of immigrants globally has dropped since 2016, when Trump was elected on a platform that vilified those seeking a new start in a different country. Latin American nations such as Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Bolivia had initially welcomed migrants fleeing Venezuela’s civil war and collapsed economy since 2015. But as these countries have felt the strain on their economies and health and education systems, sentiments have turned against migrants, dropping in Peru, Ecuador and Colombia by nearly 40 percent and in Bolivia by more than 15 percent since 2016.

It isn’t just countries at risk of being swamped by migrants that have witnessed this shift. Democracies with a proud tradition of welcoming immigrants have rapidly turned in the face of ultranationalist politics. India, a country that has hosted floods of refugees from Europe, Afghanistan, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and what is now Bangladesh over the past century, has seen a 20 percent decline in acceptance for migrants over this period, which has coincided with the rule of Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a good friend of Trump’s. Late last year, the Modi government ushered in a law that imposed a de facto religious test targeting Muslims seeking naturalized citizenship in India.

And in September, the European Union announced it is ending quotas for migrant intake that it had allocated for each nation in the bloc in a bid to woo Central and Eastern European nations that have been opposed to the EU’s immigration policy.

Even then, the right-wing governments of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have rejected the new proposal, making clear they want no part in accepting or assisting any immigrant — even in repatriating them to their home country. Austria’s anti-migration chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, has also challenged the EU plan.

Look at trade, and a similar pattern is increasingly evident. No two countries have benefited more from globalization than China and India, today the world’s second- and fifth-largest economies, respectively. Yet a combination of the brutal trade wars of the past few years, growing global tensions and the coronavirus pandemic has now made even these two nations turn inward. Amid the COVID-19 crisis, Modi launched a “Self-Reliant India” campaign aimed at reducing the country’s dependence on others for key products and services.

And faced with the rising economic tit for tat with the U.S., Chinese President Xi Jinping in August met with the country’s top economists and told them to focus the attention of the country’s unrivaled export machinery on the domestic market. “The world has entered a period of turbulence and transformation,” Xi said. “We face an external environment with even more headwinds and countercurrents.” Japan, meanwhile, has set aside $2.2 billion to pay its companies to relocate from China.

The state of global bodies that, despite their many failings, have been instrumental in building and enforcing international laws is no better. Trump has withdrawn the U.S. from UNESCO and the UN Human Rights Council, and has initiated the process of withdrawing from the World Health Organization.

But he isn’t alone. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro — another leader who gets along well with Trump — has threatened to also withdraw his country from the WHO. In recent months, India has repeatedly criticized the U.N.’s human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, for articulating concerns about New Delhi’s crackdown on Kashmir and on the controversial new citizenship law.

Trump, and the positions of the U.S. under him, has been central to emboldening other world leaders to push this broader global shift in positions on migration, trade and global bodies. With a different occupant in the White House, America’s policies would likely change, and that might put pressure on other leaders to also course-correct. But there’s no guarantee that will happen.

Many of the leaders who are carrying the torch of what are seen in the U.S. as approaches in sync with Trumpism have been in power since before 2016, and their policies are ultimately rooted in local politics. Trump’s worldview has already helped them consolidate their power. That won’t change even if he loses in November.

Charu Sudan Kasturi

Charu Sudan Kasturi

OZY Senior Editor Charu Sudan Kasturi's column, "Butterfly Effect," connects the dots on seemingly unrelated global headlines, highlighting what could happen next and who is likely to be impacted.

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