Indonesia on Trump

Author

Tim Mann is the editor of Indonesia at Melbourne

Tempo magazine described Donald Trump as "an accomplished liar and a deceitful businessman who often degraded women and minorities". Photo by Flickr user Gage Skidmore.
Tempo magazine described Donald Trump as “an accomplished liar and a deceitful businessman who often degraded women and minorities”. Photo by Flickr user Gage Skidmore.

 

Donald Trump will be the 45th president of the United States of America. This is not the outcome Indonesians wanted. Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States had made him deeply unpopular in the country. A poll of 1,000 listeners by Radio Elshinta, for example, found that 86 per cent of respondents supported Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton. Indonesians were as shocked as many other communities around the world by Trump’s upset win.

 

But given Trump’s remarks on Muslims, Indonesian politicians were relatively restrained in their criticism of Trump, even before the election. There was certainly nothing on the same scale as Australian Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s description of Trump as “barking mad”. The day before the election, Vice President Jusuf Kalla commented that he hoped that Clinton would win because Trump was a protectionist but most politicians avoided making statements beyond the usual platitudes. President Joko Widodo cautiously said: “Our relationship will still be good, particularly in trade. America is a major investor in Indonesia and I believe that will not change.”

 

Trump’s victory was predictably welcomed by the two lawmakers whose appearance at a Trump campaign event in September 2015 resulted in them facing a House of Representatives (DPR) ethics probe. Golkar Party Chairman Setya Novanto congratulated Trump on the win and said that he hoped Trump would be a leader for all ethnicities, groups and religions. House of Representatives (DPR) Deputy Speaker Fadli Zon, meanwhile, congratulated Trump and reposted the selfie he took with the Republican candidate in 2015. Fadli said he was certain that Trump would win. “It will be better for Indonesia, because under Trump, cooperation will be more focused on business, and entrepreneurs,” he said. Social media users got stuck into him immediately, mocking him for attending the “rally to defend Islam” on 4 November then a few days later fawning over the “anti-Islam” candidate.

 

In the days following Trump’s win, much of the commentary in Indonesia continued to be careful, and focused largely on what a Trump presidency would mean for the Indonesian economy. Koran Tempo commented that despite his lack of political experience, voters chose Trump because he promised to protect them from internal and external threats, including in terms of trade. And it was in this sector where the impact of Trump’s win would be felt most acutely by Indonesia. Trump’s threat that he would cancel any trade agreements that did not benefit the United States should not be taken lightly, it said.

 

Coverage of Trump’s win has been exhaustive in Indonesia’s largest national paper, Kompas. The day after his upset win, Kompas expressed surprise at Trump’s victory speech, noting that “the arrogant, aggressive and fierce style so closely associated with him during the campaign was no longer visible”. Trump had realised that he would be president for all Americans, it said, not just those who voted for him.

 

On 11 November, it published an editorial speculating what Trump’s win would mean for US economic and foreign policy, noting that it was the first time in US history that a president had reversed the internationalism so long favoured by US leaders. It reflected on the businessman’s proposed bans on Muslims and Syrian refugees entering the United States and questioned whether all of his foreign policy proposals would actually be implemented. In short, it said, Trump’s win has led to uncertainty and fear around the world, even though it might have satisfied US citizens who felt neglected by leaders more focused on acting as “world police”.

 

Over the past few days, Kompas has also published a flood of opinion pieces as Indonesia’s prominent economic and foreign policy commentators have ruminated on what a Trump presidency might mean for Indonesia. University of Indonesia academics Makmur Keliat and Hikmahanto Juwana, for example, both suggested that US institutions could temper some of the Republican candidate’s excesses. Former Minister of Trade Mari Pangestu, meanwhile, said although it was too early to know the extent to which Trump would follow through on his campaign rhetoric, his win was an important lesson for Indonesia about addressing the problems that had led to sections of the community feeling angry and fearful. It was therefore important to ensure that growth and development was inclusive, she said.

 

The Jakarta Post wrote a strangely upbeat editorial, congratulating Trump and the United States on a peaceful election. “By American standards it was the most divisive,” the Post said, “but despite the war of words, however vile, it was still an orderly election in our eyes”. The piece made note of Trump’s “scary rhetoric” but said that “Trump’s promise to get along with all nations is indicative that the US under him could do Indonesia good”.

 

Typically, Tempo magazine was most direct in its criticism – this week’s edition is titled “Oh no, Trump”. The magazine said in an editorial that Trump’s victory showed that irrationality, indifference and stupidity was on the rise. Tempo did not buy into the view that Trump’s hateful campaign rhetoric was only designed to secure victory, and that he would be forced to change when he got into power. His track record was too difficult to ignore, it said, describing Trump as “an accomplished liar and a deceitful businessman who often degraded women and minorities”. Tempo also worried about how Trump’s anti-foreign rhetoric would affect the world. With Trump at the helm, the United States would be viewed as a single entity, without any nuance. The country would become the portrait of evil, Tempo said, a giant at war with the east and Islam.

 

Tempo founder and Indonesian literary icon Goenawan Mohamad used his weekly column to rail against the populism taking hold in the United States. Donald Trump was not the main concern, Goenawan said, he was merely a symptom of a broader malaise in America. According to Goenawan, the primary concern was that a country with the best education institutions in the world, capable scientists, literature and art of unrelenting creativity, could so easily descend into ignorance.

 

Unsurprisingly, the Islam-oriented Republika was concerned with what Trump’s win would mean for the Islamic world. But it, too, moderated its criticism. In an editorial on 10 November, it said that it won’t be easy for Trump to foster harmonious relations with the Islamic world given his divisive rhetoric about Muslims. It was quite possible, the daily noted, that all US citizens would be associated with these comments, making it difficult for them to travel abroad. But at the same time, the editorial called for harmony, hoping that the world would not become more polarised, but work towards the unity of all humans sharing the one planet.

 

An opinion piece published on 14 November was more forthright. Republika columnist Ikhwanul Kiram Mashuri looked at what Trump’s win would mean for the Middle East. He commented that no matter who was in the White House, foreign powers would continue to exploit and divide the region. “They care about terrorists and immigrants not reaching their countries. They care about oil and gas fields not being damaged because they are an energy source for them. And that’s it!” he said.

 

Finally, Viva News ran a playful piece describing a US Embassy-organised election viewing event at @america, the American cultural centre at Pacific Place mall in Jakarta. It said although the deputy ambassador was set to speak, when it became clear that Trump was going to win, the deputy abruptly said his goodbyes and left – apparently to attend a meeting. The atmosphere in the room became tense, and one by one people started to leave. Trump won, and @america was deserted. Without any announcement or concluding remarks, the event broke up.