WRESTLING WITH FOREIGN POLICY

WRESTLING WITH FOREIGN POLICY

Last month, your Friday author heard an excellent speech from Gillian Tett of the Financial Times in which she recounted, among other things, observations from Naomi Klein's book No is Not Enough on President Trump's personal history with American professional wrestling and its impact on his political style. Tett wrote on the subject here.


If you've seen an American wrestling match, you'll recognize the atmosphere at many Trump rallies: the pumped-up, angry crowds, the chanting, and the emasculating nicknames wrestlers use to belittle one another. It's a chaotic (carefully choreographed) spectacle.

As Klein points out, it's also an audience and a ritual that liberals and the wealthy in the US tend to ignore. That makes it harder for them to recognize the fears and needs of many people who feel completely overlooked in American society. President Trump understands this.

But professional wrestling also presents a "morality play." When warriors enter the ring, every spectator knows which one is the hero and which is the villain. There can be no heroes without villains. It's the villain that defines the hero.

Trump is hardly unique in his search for useful foils. This is an element not only of the political arena but of human nature. But given his business and personal ties with professional wrestling and its most successful promoters, its influence is revealing for understanding his foreign policy—and the adversaries he's most likely to cast as villains over the coming (very challenging) two years.

Which baddies does the Trump crowd boo with greatest gusto?

China: There are good reasons why the US—and other governments—demand changes to Beijing's economic, trade, and investment policies. But China is especially well cast as a bad guy for Trump's audience because many of his most loyal supporters see that country as the threatening power on the rise, one that has "stolen" large numbers of US manufacturing jobs.

Mexico: Last month, Trump told Plitico: "I will tell you, politically speaking, that issue [of halting immigration across the US-Mexican border] is a total winner." The president's midterm election strategy made clear that, whether Trump's supporters see would-be border-crossers as jobseekers or gang-bangers, they want to keep them out of the US. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Mexico's leftist new president, has promised to help Central Americans escape hardship. For now, Trump and Lopez Obrador have a few things in common, but that relationship looks likely to head south.

Iran: Many of Trump's voters are older—in fact, old enough to remember the national humiliation many felt when Iranian revolutionaries held 52 Americans hostage inside the US embassy in Tehran for 444 days from November 1979 to January 1981. But Trump supporters also tend to prioritize support for Israel's security. Iranians, more than their Arab neighbors, are apt to publicly threaten Israel.

These aren't the only villains Trump supporters want to see him throw from the ring, but they're the most reliable of his political bad guys—and there are more than enough areas of real disagreement with these governments to fuel many a fight in months to come.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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