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Wealth key to grasping Trump-era politics

2018-05-30

Source: Global Times    Published: 2018-5-30


Predicting the unpredictable Trump administration has been a priority of political observers. While people use varied methods to grasp Trump-era politics, focusing on the wealth background and billionaire network at the very core of the US government provides a unique perspective to interpret the ongoing drama and grasp the historical logic behind it. Several experts gathered in Beijing recently to discuss Trump-era politics during the launch of Donald Trump: Rise of the Rich in Global Politics, a bestseller published by World Affairs Press in May and authored by Chen Chenchen, deputy director of Macro Research, Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China (RDCY).



Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Global Times


A usual comment about Donald Trump is that he doesn`t play by the rules. But that`s too shallow an observation. Like Chen points out in her new book, which is based on solid research, Trump`s logic and behavior are linked to his wealth and deep-rooted mind-set of the past decades.


US-China trade relations keep making headlines. My view has been that a comprehensive trade war will not take place. But we do need to maintain cool heads from a long-term perspective and be prepared for potential skirmishes. US-China rivalry is very complicated, and conflicts over issues like trade, the South China Sea and the Taiwan question won`t be resolved overnight. This relates to both Trump`s wayward behavior and the nature of US-China relations. It`s important that we try our best to solve them and learn to live with them at the same time.


Chen Chenchen, deputy director and research fellow in macroeconomics, RDCY


Together with my colleagues, I wrote a series of research reports last year, including "Donald Trump Wealth Assets Report," "The Wealth and Policy Inclinations of Donald Trump`s Billionaire Cabinet," and "The Wealth and Decision-making Features of Donald Trump`s Inner Circle." This new book is more ambitious, using Trump as an intriguing example of wealth-power complex to look into the history, the ongoing drama and the future of American politics.


This is an era in which the wealth of the super-rich grows exponentially, and in which the super-rich directly hold power. It is interesting to observe Trump overturning traditional game rules. But judging from his wealth background and his network of wealthy friends, I don`t think he will be able to topple either globalization or "financilization." Compared with his predecessors, like presidents Roosevelt and Reagan who saved the US from a capitalist crisis, Trump is more a destroyer than a builder.


Zhang Yanling, former executive vice president of Bank of China and senior fellow with RDCY


It is indeed interesting to observe the rise of a billionaire at the very core of American politics and to speculate where he takes domestic and global trends.


I want to emphasize that when we talk about Trump becoming the first businessman directly sent to the Oval Office in US political history, we automatically assume he is a political outsider trying to smash traditional rules. But as a successful billionaire, he has been paying close attention to politics. His views on trade policies and nuclear issue since the 1980s have been consistent until today. He has a very sophisticated political acumen that shouldn`t be underestimated.


Wu Sike, former special envoy of China on the Middle East issue and senior fellow with RDCY


There have been dramatic moves since Trump took office. But he is different from traditional American politicians in not seeking a moral high ground. For the sake of pragmatic interests, he can sacrifice so-called rules and moral principles.


This is actually good for China. If the ongoing US-China friction over issues like trade is inevitable, it`s better sooner than later. It is a reminder that some homework in the process of development has to be done - illusion or simply waiting doesn`t help.


Ding Gang, senior editor with People`s Daily and senior fellow with RDCY


In the preface I wrote to Chen`s book, I emphasized the power of capital. Our understanding of American capitalism has been inadequate, and observing the power of capital is especially important to grasp American politics in the Trump era.


A chapter of the book is titled "Trump and the Wall Street," specifically tackling the relationship between the two. Trump himself walked out of Wall Street, which paved his way to the White House. The power of capital behind his administration team shapes not just the global position of the US, but also many rules and orders of the current world.


Behind the intense US-China rivalry over trade, politics and other fields is the power of capital. In the past few centuries, due to its dominant power in global finance, the US has been shaping this world according to its will. That process is still on. The economic lifeline of the entire world is held by one street - Wall Street.


After World War II, the US was challenged by the Soviet Union, and later Japan. However, its global position has remained, because it still leads with the power of global capital. This is the context in which the trade issue between the US and China is being played. Capital always advocates seeking strength by competition. In the future, China will face a US that all the more stresses competition.


Ni Feng, deputy director of the Institute of American Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences


Observing Trump has become a way for us to observe US and even global dynamics nowadays. Without him, many ongoing dramatic events in global politics wouldn`t have taken place.


Three most prominent features characterize Trump - his anti-establishment stance, his personality and unpredictability, as well as his billionaire identity. Currently, observers largely focus on the former two aspects to look into his rivalry with rules of the game and his negotiation skills in diplomacy. Nevertheless, his billionaire identity, as his most fundamental and prominent feature, has been largely ignored nowadays. This is where Chen`s research scores.


John Ross, former director of Economic and Business Policy of London and senior fellow with RDCY


The panda is China`s national animal. It is vivid, very big, but quiet, vegetarian, and doesn`t attack you if you don`t threaten it first. If China is a panda, I`d compare the US to a tiger. In the Soviet era, Gorbachev made a big mistake of thinking that if the USSR didn`t treat the US as a foe, Washington would follow suit. He forgot that a tiger is always a dangerous animal.


How to deal with such a risky tiger? Weakness doesn`t help, as shown in Soviet history - if a tiger thinks a victim is weak it will attack.


Defeating it is possible, as shown in lessons of the Vietnam War. One important reason for that end was ordinary Americans` decision that they no longer wanted the US involved in the quagmire of war.


Today the US is interested in China and is disturbing it over trade issues. China should understand ordinary Americans have no interest in any trade war, because that would be a burden for their everyday life. They would pay more for products of daily use and the stock market would suffer losses if bad news loomed. Understanding America would help China better position itself in the ongoing dynamics.

Key Words: RDCY   US   China   Chen Chenchen  

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