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Editorial: After destructive year, Trump wrecking ball risks swinging back on supporters

A band of rock found in Chiba Prefecture is said to be solid evidence of a previously unidentified geological age, one likely to be named the "Chibanian." It was in this period that the Earth's magnetic field is thought to have last reversed. Perhaps history books will record that the geopolitical world commenced a similar fundamental shift in 2017, specifically on Jan. 21 -- the day Donald J. Trump was sworn in as president of the United States.

In quick succession, Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free-trade pact and the Paris Agreement to combat global warming. This month, Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital despite opposition and concerns expressed by the international community.

Trump's rapid-fire changes reflect his antipathy for "the establishment." His political style -- namely, pulling down established authority any way he can and leaving it up to cabinet members and bureaucrats to decide how to fill the vacuum -- is reckless.

The Trump government's modus operandi is starkly different from that of the previous administration led by Barack Obama. Obama, a man with an intellectual air, sought to promote the ideal of a world without nuclear arms, and hammered out an agreement with Iran on the latter's nuclear program.

While he was in office, however, Russia annexed Crimea, the Islamic State (IS) militant group declared the establishment of a "caliphate," China began transforming the South China Sea into a military stronghold, and North Korea repeated nuclear tests -- all as if to take advantage of the Obama administration's weakness in conflicts.

It appeared that discipline had broken down in the global schoolhouse. Then schoolmaster Obama, who had continued with his dignified lectures despite the disturbances of some delinquent students, departed. Enter the new teacher, tough-guy Trump, and even delinquents have become nervous, taking a wait-and-see attitude.

Being tough has some advantages. When Trump visited Asia in November, Japan, China and South Korea treated the president as if welcoming a king. This is because the U.S. has taken a tough stance on trade imbalances and on North Korea, even threatening to use force.

In his book "Great Again," Trump writes that if the U.S. convinces the world that it will indeed use force if necessary, America will be treated with respect. His simplistic belief in military might, and that the U.S.'s unparalleled armed strength can be used to America's profit, remain consistent.

However, even though Washington has increased military pressure, there has been no progress on the North Korean issue. China has become increasingly cooperative with the U.S. largely because of Trump's power diplomacy. However, if the U.S. were to compromise and fail to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons, the limits of this tough-guy line would be exposed, inviting distrust of the United States.

If the ongoing probe into the "Russia-gate" scandal were to set its sights on Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, Trump would face a predicament. It is certainly not impossible that events will play out similarly to the Watergate scandal of the early 1970s, which forced then U.S. President Richard Nixon to step down.

However, attention should be focused on the fact that Republican legislators cannot defy President Trump and that the Republican Party is becoming the Trump Party, as Keio University professor Yasushi Watanabe puts it. A sweeping tax reform bill was recently passed thanks to Republican cooperation with the White House.

One of the factors behind Republican loyalty to Trump is reportedly that Steve Bannon, a presidential ally and former White House chief strategist, threatens to field candidates against anti-Trump legislators in Republican primaries ahead of next year's midterm election.

Trump has declared that Washington recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital. This is apparently a sop to American Christian right, which has strong feelings on Israel, as Trump begins to lay the groundwork for his 2020 re-election campaign. Holding onto the loyalty of the evangelical right will give Trump an even bigger say in the GOP as his administration takes aim at a second term.

However, many things have been lost since the Trump administration was launched, chief among them the U.S. political tradition of striving for ideals and a better society -- the hallmarks of American liberalism.

Trump has turned his back on this tradition and garnered support from working-class whites dissatisfied with society. In other words, those who are fed up with fine words and chose to speak frankly about what they feel are gaining sympathy.

This trend is also conspicuous in other rich countries including Japan, as professor Watanabe points out. Here, a spate of gaffes by legislators and people's criticism of other countries on the internet may reflect this trend. Watanabe believes that there is an affinity between these emotions and those of Trump supporters.

However, Trump risks degrading American soft power with his withdrawals from international accords and orders restricting Muslims entering the U.S. It is possible that it is Trump supporters who will end up paying the highest price for this.

One cannot help but wonder how U.S. citizens and the international community will evaluate Trump politics. An answer to this question will be given in 2018 or later. However, one thing is clear: an affluent society or a truly safe world cannot be built simply by destroying established authority.

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