It is hard to think of two contemporary political leaders as different as Donald Trump and Lee Kuan Yew. The latter was looked up to by world leaders as Plato’s epitome of the "philosopher king", the grand master of global geopolitics. It is hard, on the other hand, to think of any world leader looking up to the former for anything in particular.
Yet there seems to be one issue where the views of Donald Trump and Lee Kuan Yew, surprisingly, converge, and that is the issue of the migration of Mexicans and Hispanics into the US.
|The views of Donald Trump and Lee Kuan Yew, surprisingly, converge, on the issue of the migration of Mexicans and Hispanics into the US. (Credit: Reuters photo)|
In an interview with Graham Allison and Robert Blackwill, when Lee Kuan Yew was asked if he believed that the US was in systemic decline, he strongly denied it, saying that despite whatever economic difficulties the country was currently facing, he believed that it would prevail in the long-term, because it had historically demonstrated an enormous capacity for renewal and revival. It would, he maintained, be a big mistake to bet against the US in the long-term. Yet Lee had areas of concern.
He believed, for example, that one of the key drivers of America’s dynamism was its essentially White Anglo-Saxon character. And he said that whether the US continued its global dominance or not depended largely on the continuance of that essential character. Never one to shrink from sounding politically incorrect, Lee had said that he believed that a strategic danger to US was the large number of Hispanics coming into the country, which might gradually eclipse its vital Anglo-Saxon culture.
In an interview with Tom Plate and Jeffrey Cole, Lee reflected, “Long-term for America, if you project another 100 years, 150 years into the 22nd century, whether you stay on top depends on the kind of society you will be. Because if the present trends continue, you will have a Hispanic element in your society that is about 30 per cent, 40 per cent. So the question is, do you make the Hispanics Anglo-Saxons in culture, or do they make you Latin American in culture? …. If they come in dribs and drabs and you scatter them across America, then you will change their culture. But if they come n large numbers, like in Miami or California, and they stay together, then their culture will continue and they may well affect the Anglo-Saxon culture around them. That is the real test.”
The issue of Hispanic immigrants, as presented by Lee Kuan Yew, is therefore a strategic issue, carefully considered, and accompanied by rational plan to address it; the issue, as viewed by Trump, appears to be simply racist.
And that is the difference.
The key to global power
While the dilution of the US’s cultural character may indeed be a long-term threat to its global power, it is vital, on the other hand, that the country should keep attracting - and successfully absorbing – immigrants, with the all the talents they bring in. In fact, if we look to history, all successful empires have succeeded because they have been able to embrace people from diverse races, languages, cultures and religions.
This has been as true of the US empire, as it was of, say, the Roman empire or any of the Muslim empires of the past. If the US has been successful in projecting its power globally, it is because of its dynamic, innovative economy and technology — and that has, in turn, been made possible by the talent it has been able to attract from around the globe.
In the scenario of the future, the contests between great powers will increasingly be technological and economic contests, rather than military ones, and any aspiring power — like China, for example, or India — must therefore compete for talent to drive its technological and economic engine. The geopolitical stakes will, thus, hinge largely on a race for global talent. And unless the US is willing and able to compete in that race — with the appetite for diversity that it entails — it will slowly lose the larger race for global power.
It is not surprising, therefore, that some of America’s most visionary businessmen, including Bill Gates, George Soros and Warren Buffet, have been pushing the US for a few years now to further open up its immigration policies (and this business support for immigration, interestingly, frequently cuts across Democrat-Republican divide).
The captains of US industry obviously seem to know something that Trump does not.
Ask Warren Buffet
Warren Buffet, one of the most vocal supporters of the immigration cause, has a thought-provoking take on this issue of economic growth and innovation, versus the kind of knee-jerk protectionism that Trump evidently stands for. In his well-known annual letter to his shareholders last year, Buffetwrote that “productivity is the all-important factor in America’s economic growth over the past 240 years”. He then pointed to four industries in which his company has held a stake — three very successful, and one unsuccessful. The successful ones were insurance, freight and utilities, where productivity gains in recent times – driven, of course, by technology — have led to enormous benefits to society.
The unsuccessful industry, on the other hand, was a once-flourishing handcrafted shoemaking business. Yet, because of global megatrends, the locus of that industry shifted, inexorably, to Asia, and the shoe company had to shut down, putting 1,600 skilled workers in a small Maine town out of work permanently. This kind of disruption, unfortunate as it is, is simply a fact of today’s life, given the issue of productivity, and its joined-at-the-hip twin sister, technology. But the solution, Buffet points out, is not Trump-style protectionism but, rather, intelligently designed safety nets.
The great irony is that if "Make America great again" is merely a crude "Make America hate again", it will lead to the exact opposite of what the President-elect has in mind — and to the inevitable decline of a once powerful empire over the next couple of decades.
Will somebody kindly explain this to Mr Trump?