American voters elected a new president and new Congress to determine America’s future. Meanwhile, Guam and the other territories were mere bystanders to the election process. Even so, our future is inextricably tied to the election of Donald Trump as president, and the return of a Republican-controlled Congress. We had a presidential straw vote on Guam, and we elected a delegate to Congress, but of course our vote for president does not count, and our delegate has no vote. Decisions made at the nation’s highest level, though, continue to impact us locally.
Here are some areas that require a greater level of monitoring:
Great uncertainty exists over whether President Trump will maintain security commitments to East Asia, particularly in face of rising tensions between Trump and China. Throughout the campaign, Trump has casually remarked about expanding the nuclear powers in the region including Japan and South Korea. Guam is America’s spear-point in the Asia-Pacific region, so these changes have implications not only for our island’s security, but also for the planned military buildup. If a Trump administration withdraws from security commitments in Asia, is this good or bad for the prospects of a fully realized military buildup on Guam?
We can be assured of a tax cut, whether or not the federal government with its $19 trillion in debt can afford it our not. On Guam, though, any changes to the federal tax code has an effect on GovGuam’s tax revenues and even on expenditures such as the annual $63 million unfunded federal mandate to provide for Earned Income Tax Credit, which is paid for by Guam taxpayers. In the last two years the local government’s budget has been slashed repeatedly to bring expenditures in line with realistic revenue estimates. What are the implications for education, health care and public safety if revenues decline further because of a tax cut?
With Trump’s support, House Speaker Paul Ryan announced his plans to phase out Medicare and replace it with vouchers and private insurance. This is an idea that is bound to give pause to anyone currently on Medicare, or who will rely upon it when they retire. This also has serious implications for our island’s health care system that constantly struggles with so much of Guam’s population being uninsured or under-insured.
Trump’s campaign focused on revitalizing American manufacturing by cancelling trade agreements and imposing protectionist tariffs. In the case of China, Trump has floated the idea of imposing tariffs as high as 45 percent on imports from China, raising fears among many experts of a trade war with China. Such a trade war would throw a major curveball to Guam’s plans to develop China as a major tourist market, and may lead to curbs on other federal policies that our tourism strategy is based on, such as the China visa-waiver program. Also given the inter-dependency of the global economy, a U.S.-China trade war would adversely affect America’s trading partners such as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan – the bulk of our existing major tourist markets. As we saw in the past, regional economic downturns such as the Asian financial crisis inevitably lead to plummeting tourism numbers for Guam. A tough anti-China trade stance may or may not help American manufacturing, but it certainly is likely to hurt Guam’s tourism economy.
Pacific islanders have always been the most sensitive to climate change because we are often the first to deal with its consequences, such as increasing shoreline erosion and coral bleaching. An incoming Trump administration, however, is on course to cancel the landmark Paris Agreement for climate change mitigation, abolish federal spending on climate change, dismantle major elements of the USEPA and place climate change deniers in charge of environmental policy.
These are just a few of the important issues before us. What continues to be troubling for us islanders is that the answers to these questions rest solely on a president we did not elect, and a Congress we have no vote in.