Co-authored by Mogens Lykketoft, President of the UN's 70th General Assembly,
This is the first excerpt from our book on our experiences at the UN and in New York during the UN General Assembly's 70th session, 2015-16, translated from the Danish
The election of Trump is a threat to the United Nations' mission and purpose. His election promises were an attack on world peace. As POTUS he may not pay the US' dues to the UN, he threatens to withdraw the US from the nuclear deal with Iran as well as the climate agreement from Paris, and to declare a trade war on China.
One cannot understand the state of the world and the threats to the future of humanity without a sharp eye on the US. With the largest economy and half of all the world's military hardware, the US is the only superpower right now - and thus either a crucial part of the solution or the problem for the rest of the world.
President Barack Obama unequivocally realises that not only does the UN have a strong need for US involvement, strong commitment is in America's own interest. Obama clearly realises that the US can't control the world through unilateral military invasions in various hot spots.
From our lookout in New York until September 2016 the peculiar and dirty US election campaign constituted a very loud backdrop for our stay.
We now know that the election was much more than that. It was a landslide, which can create a nightmare of global instability and shake the foundation of the United Nations.
The election campaign was utterly bizarre. Never before has a US presidential election stood between two so unpopular candidates. The bragging about the 'World's Greatest Democracy' has ceased.
Thanks to Donald Trump the debates in the election campaign were among the dirtiest in the country's history. Everything in America seems designed for TV. Sports matches, concerts and election campaigns. Such was the case in 1960, when John F. Kennedy was elected. And even then, actors and singers performed in support of their favourite candidate, thus lending him (women didn't run then) the artists' stardust and attracting the votes of their admirers.
In the US, any message seems only to become real when it has been digested on TV or on film. Living in America feels like featuring in a cartoon or movie. As a rule, the film version rather than the real story is highlighted; e.g., when people talk about the Titanic, the showdown with the Mafia in Chicago or the American war in Vietnam, they point to the film-version rather than the actual events. Facts are routinely reduced to a kind of stock cube or instant coffee version of selected highlights. Thus, also a presidential election.
Both Trump's victory and Bernie Sanders' climb in the primary election campaign must be seen as protest movements from different groups in the large white middle class: Many feel squeezed and threatened by the growing minority of different colour - including illegal immigration, which has always been part of the American reality, not least as the highly flexible regulation of labour supply. Others have focused on the greedy super-rich one percent that has hoarded the entire increase in national income and wealth in the past 35 years. With scary rhetoric, Trump mobilised those who direct their frustrations downwards while Bernie Sanders won surprisingly strong support with demands for income redistribution and welfare along the lines of the Danish (economic) Model.
Historically, voter turnout in the US has been reduced by the complicated rules of advance registration, and different deadlines and rules from state to state. In Denmark, the eligible voter simply shows up at the polling booth with proof of identity. The US system of electoral registration acts as a limitation on the poorly-resourced, which was most likely the intention when the system was conceived a few hundred years ago.
In Denmark, we have proportional representation, where parties are represented in accordance with their share of the votes, unless they fall under the threshold of two percent. In this way, it is impossible for a political majority to geographically, ethnically or otherwise manipulate constituencies.
However, simple majority elections in single-member constituencies, which the United States has inherited from the British colonial era, can easily lead to a minority of the nation's voters deciding the majority in Congress.
It was a strange paradox indeed, that the populist Republican Trump suggested that he could only lose if elections were rigged. The result shut him up for once.
An electoral system, which can grant victory to the candidate with the fewest votes is bizarre. It didn't attract much attention that the loser, Hilary Clinton, actually got over two million more votes than the winner. The 2016 election had even lower turnout than usual, probably because many wanted neither candidate. Just over half of the US electorate voted on who should occupy the world's most powerful office.
Due to the Supreme Court's highly political role in the US, progressive Americans find its current composition deeply worrying; President-elect Trump can get to determine an ultra-conservative, republican composition of the Supreme Court for the next 20-30 years. Whatever happened to the separation of powers - a main pillar of democracy?!?
The election outcome in the US is dangerous and unpredictable for the rest of the world.
The US President holds tremendous power. Matters of foreign policy, war and peace can be decided by the President alone. Even faced with majority opposition in Congress, the President can in effect set the course, as Obama demonstrated in climate policy. And the President can veto legislation in Congress. Nevertheless, President Trump will need support from a solid majority in both houses of Congress to dismantle everything Obama has pushed forward.
According to statements in his election campaign, President-elect Donald Trump is already guilty of seven mortal international sins. America's coming president:
- Despises the UN and, at worst, could cut out one quarter of the total economy in the operation of the world organisation, including peacekeeping operations.
- Is a climate-denier, which could cause the UN's ambitious climate agreement from Paris to collapse with fatal consequences for the future of our planet. Obama has safeguarded ratification, even before his replacement by Trump; and according to international law, the agreement can't be terminated or withdrawn from the next three years. But the big question is whether we can achieve the objectives if the world's largest economy is not in with full steam. Trump may choose to abolish decrees on e.g. US' power plants' shift to renewable energy from fossil fuels. Optimists say the conversion will continue almost unabated because the steep price decline in renewable energy makes it more profitable for states and companies to do the right thing. This is said to be the reason that probably, even in the Republican-controlled oil state of Texas, now more money is invested in renewable energy than in oil.
- Will counteract free trade, which can slow down global growth even further. Most worrying is his threat of a trade war with China rather than continued cooperation on global climate and sustainability. A trade war might destroy the delicate balance, which President Obama has maintained in dealing with common as well as conflicting interests in the world's two largest economies. It is imperative for world peace and stability that any and all American presidents understand that the 21st century's superpowers will be the US and China. The two countries are highly interdependent with massive mutual trade and investment flows both ways across the Pacific.
- Is more absorbed by making overtures to Putin than keeping together America's allies: This might destroy NATO and threaten the Baltic countries' independence; and it threatens to remove the last brake on the Russian-backed rebels in Ukraine.
- Risks burning bridges to the world's Muslim countries with his crude generalisations and incitement to Islamophobia rather than strengthening cooperation with them against the terrorists that constitute an even greater threat to the Muslim world than they do to the West.
- Intends to build a wall along the border with Mexico and deport to Latin America millions of migrants for the most part legally employed by US employers, albeit without residence. This will seriously aggravate relations with the US' Southern neighbours.
- Supports the proliferation of nuclear weapons to US allies, while threatening to withdraw the US from the nuclear deal with Iran, which is recent years' main contribution towards further non-proliferation. Other parties to the agreement with Iran are Russia, China, Britain, France, Germany and the European Union; the US would be alone with Trump's opposition. If the US insists on dissolving the Iranian agreement, it risks dislocating the balance of power in Tehran in favour of those who strive for an Iranian nuclear weapon - and thus increases the risk of war between Iran and the United States.
My husband, Mogens Lykketoft, and I recently spent 15 months in New York during his tenure as President of the UN General Assembly. Since our return to Denmark in September we have written a book on our experiences at the UN and in New York City, I Verdens tjeneste (At the World's Service), published in December 2016 by Rosinante & Co. The above is from chapter 22. We hope to have the book published in English in the near future. This is our third co-authored book; the first was on China, the second on Myanmar