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Trump will use North Korea to palliate long-standing domestic tensions in the US

Old divisions are opening up again in the US, and a foreign conflict could serve as effective short-term distraction. Longer-term though, the outlook is much more uncertain

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Trump may need the help of a foreign enemy to hold together his domestic polity

North Korea may just be a patsy for everyone at the moment.

For the Chinese, using the North Koreans as a way of testing US resolve in the wider geopolitical context is a no-brainer. If North Korea pushes its luck and gets away with it, so much the better: US weakness is exposed and the Chinese can move in and make hay.

If the North Koreans push their luck too far and end up on the receiving end of US fire and fury, then, well, it’s North Korea, not China. The North Koreans are not Han Chinese like the utterly predominant racial majority in China proper and although the Chinese media can make merry hell at US outrages, damage to Chinese family ties or ethnic sensibilities is likely to be limited.

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But what’s becoming increasingly clear is that North Korean aggression can be made to work for Donald Trump too.

Mr Trump is proving as divisive a President as the US liberal media predicted, with accusations of tendencies to white supremacy flying around on a daily basis, race riots looking increasingly likely again, particularly on the white side – and there is much precedence for that, even if it’s less widely reported.

So how is Trump to defuse the tension? – he’s not exactly a subtle man, and he doesn’t always seem to want to.

But his blunt manner can sometimes be effective, as his canny stance in the Confederate Statues controversy showed: being on the wrong side of a rational argument is some something progressives hate more than anything, and yet Trump’s stance was broadly supported across America.

Because when Mr Trump talked of Washington and Jefferson as slave owners in the same mould as the famous Confederate generals Robert E Lee and Stonewall Jackson, he had a point.

What’s more, to many English-speakers outside of liberal America the difference is so nuanced as to be almost irrelevant, simply a matter of fifty or sixty years, the workability of the three fifths compromise, and the rise of the Northern States as a separate industrial and global economic force.

After all, though Lee and his ilk were rebels against the Union, those who formed the Union were themselves rebels against the Crown of England - and the trouble with building a country on the basis of rebellion is that de-legitimising further rebellion becomes difficult.

Which is why rebellions continued to be a major part of American history after Independence was won, with Shay’s Rebellion, Fries’s Rebellion and the continuation of the Civil War by other means in the Kirk-Holden war, among a few early examples.

There are plenty more recent ones too.

In the past twenty five years alone there have been  cases that stand as criminality in relation to the Federal government, but which to those on the other side of the siege lines looks like legitimate rebellion: Ruby Ridge, Malheur Wildlife Refuge, the Bundy standoff, not to mention general self-identification as rebels by those such as the Sovereign Citizens, some of whom are classified by the FBI as domestic terrorists.

So any investor looking from outside of the US in who thinks Mr Trump has come from nowhere would do well to think again. Mr Trump is the rebels speaking through the ballot box, and however much liberals bristle at the words and deeds of his supporters, they should at least be grateful for that.

But Trump’s mandate isn’t easy. He has to keep the country together, to represent those who feel their voices are not heard by a tyrannical democracy – for which libertarian Classicists might read “mob rule” – at the same time as addressing the complexities of twenty-first century government that are really only understood by the technocratic elites he stands against.

When there is a major Act of God to contend with like Hurricane Harvey, the need for a foreign distraction, an enemy across the water who can be used as a focus for the country’s anger becomes less acute.

Hurricane Harvey is bringing the US together as it focuses on relief, as New Orleans comes to the aid of Houston, as people band together in the face of shared disaster and mutual peril.

But once it’s over the old divisions will resurface. And in that context, Trump will welcome any distraction he can get.

If the North Koreans fire another missile over Japan and this time it’s a quiet US newsday, the complexion of global politics could end up turning on the issue of a mass-produced confederate statue, built to commemorate a slave-owning rebellion against the Union, itself a born of rebellion against the Crown of England.

It all depends just how far back you want to go.

 

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