by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

ONE OF THE paradoxes of uncritical pro-Americanism on the part of some Taiwanese independence advocates is that sometimes they do not actually know the most about American politics. Part of the problem may simply be insufficient experience of America, but one wonders as to whether that will leave some unprepared for the possibility of rapid and unpredictable shifts in American foreign policy under the Trump administration. Likewise, one finds that assessments of Donald Trump remain wildly off the mark, due to lack of knowledge about the political forces which have arrayed themselves behind him and the man himself.

Particularly among those of the elder generation of Taiwanese independence advocates who concern themselves with policy, there is the worldview which evaluates American politicians according to one criteria. That is, whether they are “friends of Taiwan” or not. “Friends of Taiwan”, a codeword one frequently hears from such individuals, indicates individuals who have demonstrated consistent support of Taiwan. Such individuals are seen as infallible in their support of Taiwan and resolutely trusted to steer whatever endeavor they are involved in a pro-Taiwan direction. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, this is the only thing that matters in evaluations of American politicians.

Unfortunately, it is that the Trump administration, as a Republican administration, contains a number of “friends of Taiwan.” This is unsurprising. However, this has led to overly optimistic views of Taiwan from some, with the perception that members of the traditional Republican establishment who are part of the Trump administration can be relied on to steer the course. The presence of Peter Navarro within the Trump administration and the association of John Bolton with the Trump administration are therefore broadly taken to mean that these individuals will, in the end, guide the Trump administration towards a direction which will be benefit Taiwan.

In general, one finds lacking knowledge of the “Alt Right” and new political forces which have entered government with the Trump administration. Due to being radically anti-establishment and only having recently entered government, the “Alt Right” is almost completely unknown to those Taiwanese independence advocates banking on traditional “friends of Taiwan” to guide the Trump administration along. And with Trump oscillating unpredictably between taking the advice of the “Alt Right” and of the traditional Republican establishment, that may mean difficulties in predicting the future policy course of the Trump administration. “Friends of Taiwan” may simply find themselves outgunned by the “Alt Right” when push comes to shove, and either way, both sides have Trump’s ear. Again, the irony of those who are blindly pro-American is that they were not sufficiently attentive to political developments in America during 2016 presidential elections.

Furthermore, can traditional “friends of Taiwan” be counted on under the Trump administration? It is hard to know what political compromises such individuals may have had to make in order to enter the Trump administration. Despite Trump’s championing of Peter Navarro and his work, there is a significantly large gap in worldview between Trump and Navarro. Navarro, for example, has in the past been a sharp critic of the kind of freewheeling American businessmen who does business with both America and China, but is all too happy to relocate manufacturing jobs to China to cut costs. Trump is exactly such an individual. Regardless, one imagines that Navarro put some of his distaste aside in order for a shot at political power.

Donald Trump. Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

And, at the end of the day, Trump’s own priorities may be a different place entirely. Trump is fond of constructing the perception that he is a successful businessman and that this is the reason why he would be able to win the presidency. In many Taiwanese evaluations of Trump, this is still seen as the main criteria by which Trump makes his decisions: as a businessman.

But to begin with, Trump was never so successful a businessman, having inherited large parts of his wealth. Trump is hardly the self-made businessman he would like to claim to be. Rather, Trump is an individual who has created the image of himself as a businessman and sells that image. Nevertheless, Trump’s business ventures have tanked numerous times, leading to such odd ventures as selling steak or neck ties.

And above all else, Trump’s concerns are probably less those of a businessman as those of a reality television star. As a result, Trump’s priorities may simply be on public grandstanding above all else. There is no rationality to be parsed out for an individual whose guiding interest in politics is merely to grandstand on the largest of stages, that of international affairs. One generally expects a steep learning curve for those who continue to have illusions about the Trump administration then. 

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