There’s a lot of regret going around these days. Democrats, who lost a close election, no doubt regret they didn’t do more to convince Midwest rust belt voters worried about their future that they had a viable jobs plan. President Trump regrets he didn’t win the popular vote — although he seems to actually think he did because 3-5 million votes were fraudulent and would have all been against him.
Many Republicans and most American companies who do business in Asia regret the demise of TPP. President Trump could have listened to the leading voices for American business but instead he stuck to his populist promise to kill it (rather than modify it) immediately upon taking office. Asian nations, including Indonesia –which was not a signatory—are turning to China’s RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership). Without the US or EU involved this is only marginally helpful to their economies. Indonesian companies vary in their opinion on the TPP with some welcoming it and others seeing it as a threat. But, the nation’s leaders praised it, knowing its benefits outweighed the costs. Of more importance now is the threat of rising tariffs and protectionism. President Obama may regret he didn’t do more to fight for TPP and get it passed before the political silly season. One equation continues to hold true: multilateral trade, investment, customs, and financial “unions” lower transaction costs. Once the current populism and its attendant bilateralism runs its course, there will be a inevitable return to this formula.
Almost everyone regrets that individuals with fully vetted documents such as green cards, H1 or J1 student visas, were not initially considered by President Trump’s executive order temporarily limiting travel from 7 countries with Muslim majorities. With the carve out for religious minorities –in particular Christian—the ban has all the appearance and effect of being a Muslim ban for those countries. Its not all countries, but regrettably it may be seen that way. We have been here before, right after 9/11 with the highly-restricted travel vetting that remained for several years. (at the time any Indonesian male 18-45 was automatically under suspicion) According to news reports President Trump has conveyed to President Jokowi that there is no change to how Indonesians will be treated when they travel to the US. If the ban remains temporary and is not extended, normalcy should return, perhaps with vetting like we saw in the past: uncomfortable in the specifics but manageable in the aggregate. Meanwhile every US resident who travels internationally should enroll in the fast track “Global Entry Program” to be on the safe side.
There is widespread regret and even shame over the 5 year old held as a possible terrorist or the Syrian medical student in DC whose wife was sent back home after landing at Dulles. Whether or not they support the travel restriction most Americans feel this regret in a general way as many of their relatives traveled to the US as refugees from a war or a horrible government. It becomes a gnawing personal regret when you are directly involved, especially if a life or career is at stake. That kind of intense regret is like that of NASA space engineer Bob Eberling who failed to convince his colleagues in 1986 that it was too cold for the Challenger space shuttle to launch. Last year he told NPR that “God made a mistake. He shouldn’t have picked me for the job”. But after thousands of listeners wrote to him (including his former boss) to say that the explosion wasn’t his fault, Eberling’s mind was finally put to ease. Empathy can “trump” regret.
We see –even in these discordant, polarized times—that people and communities of good faith refuse to allow regret to fester and turn into hatred. They freely open their arms to refugees, or as President Jokowi did when he met with Prabowo, reach out to their enemies. America, and its new President, must maintain its traditions of openness and empathy, or we may one day view the greatness we once enjoyed and failed to maintain, with…. regret.
(These views are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the American Indonesian Chamber of Commerce or its members)