Once again, Donald Trump was the protagonist of a great international event. Among provocative tweets and perplexing statements, the president of the U.S. put the spotlight on himself during the Group of 20 industrial and emerging-market nations summit last week in Osaka. He accused Germany of not wanting to pay NATO’s costs, Japan of living in the shadow of U.S. military power and India of increasing customs duties on American products. He praised Australia’s aggressive policy against immigration and played around with Vladimir Putin on the Russian interference in the upcoming elections in Uncle Sam’s land. Trump does anything to be talked about – but Trump himself is not enough to explain the current state of the world.
This American president’s style is distinctive. His blatant lies, childish statements and politically incorrect ways are reminiscent of Silvio Berlusconi’s years as the head of the Italian government. At that time, one could already see that behind the style there was a strategy to preserve power. The absurd feeds news and ensures an indispensable visibility, at a time when communication is the foundation of politics. It is very effective in societies that no longer trust their democratic institutions, especially among those who have lost the most over the course of history.
Just like Berlusconi, Trump says he governs for those losers. In his speeches, he says he raises taxes on aluminum and steel imports in the name of the metal workers. He demands access to the Chinese agricultural market in the name of the farmers. He demands that Europeans pay for their defense in the name of the ordinary taxpayer.
He insists so much; the same sentences are repeated over and over again with such simplicity that many Americans believe in the good will of the elected president. Others see Trump as irresponsible, who endangers the global order with his narcissistic idiosyncrasies. It’s neither one nor the other.
The way the U.S. managed globalization, especially its trade relations with China, as a matter of fact has contributed to the destruction of millions of jobs and to the stagnation of the wages of American workers. But this is not enough to justify the protectionist measures adopted over the last year.
Trump does not govern for the workers. The policies he announces are not accompanied by a revitalization plan or industrial development of the regions in crisis. To the selective commercial protectionism, Trump’s administration adds the lowering of tax rates for the rich and big companies and the deregulation of working conditions, consumer defense and environmental protection. There are many people receiving an advantage from this, but not the ordinary American citizen.
Actually, no protectionist policy could bring back the jobs lost 20 or 30 years ago in the traditional sectors. Today there are people producing the same things at much cheaper prices and many American consumers and companies benefit from this. If the goal is to decrease the commercial imbalance between the U.S. and other countries, they would have lots of strategies to address this issue, starting with a devaluation of the dollar or an investment program in new technologies. Trump is not interested in this.
The problem the U.S. has is not with the world – it is with China. And it is not commercial – American companies are the ones who benefited the most with China’s opening to foreign investment and the ones who have been taking the greatest advantage of the growth of its internal market. Tensions between the U.S. and China are not a matter of power. They were not invented by Trump. They did not start with the current administration nor will they end with it.
The U.S. is a hegemonic global power since World War II. With the end of the USSR and the chronic crisis of Japan, this hegemony ceased to have a rival. The U.S. got used to ruling the world arbitrarily, deciding which are the good and bad countries, which are the governments who deserve to remain in power and which must be destroyed.
Until China stopped being only the factory of the world, where American multinational companies could produce at extremely cheap prices. Nowadays China is an increasingly technological power. Its financial and military power allows it to question the capacity of the U.S. to shape the world in the light of its own interests. What is presented to us as a commercial war is in fact one of the stages upon which the emergence of a new global order is played.
That is why the suspension of the trade war that was decided between Trump and Xi Jinping in Osaka is not the end of international tensions. And this is also why the result of the next American elections will not by itself determine the future of the world. With or without Trump, the world will still be a dangerous place.