The most powerful man in the world has turned out to be a revolutionary and, like all revolutionaries, he has chosen to subvert history.
We are not long past the memorials and festivities for the fall of the Berlin Wall, which took place in November 1989. A wall whose purpose − perhaps it is worth recalling − was not for protection or defense. Its purpose was not to dissuade intruders or enemies, but to prevent those living in the Eastern sector − millions and millions of people − from fleeing what was a massive prison, namely, the Soviet dictatorship and the constellation of countries under its boot.
Its construction, in 1961 was proof of the failure of the Communist experiment. An empire that builds a wall to enclose its citizens in order to prevent them from seeking a better life is bound to fail.
The fall of the wall was a sign that the United States had won the Cold War. It was postulated that, from then on, nothing would be able to stop the pairing of democracy and markets (in a better or worse state of well-being), a formula that would spread across the globe. The dialectic that had been the cause of so much tension since World War II had stopped working. It had ended. We had reached “the end of history,” to quote Francis Fukuyama in 1992. Jihad would soon provide the grim reveal that what was to come were not the times of peace, freedom and prosperity we had imagined.
Both prior to 1989 − while grappling with the Soviet Union − as well as after, the U.S. was firmly committed to influencing the world in every field. There was ongoing criticism of the power wielded by the U.S., especially from the 1960s onward. The repeated accusation was that the U.S. was imperialist, and emphatically, that it exercised imperial control in the political, military, economic, commercial, scientific, cultural and media-related spheres. Some of this criticism was part of the ideological struggle, but some was perfectly in line with the truth. By definition, an empire − especially when in conflict with another − will behave like an empire. It is in its nature, and there is little to be done to prevent it.
The Isolation Plan
In recent years, however, a lot has changed, both in Europe and the United States: in Europe, with the crisis of the European project, the growth of far-right political parties and the Brexit crisis, and in the U.S., with the election of Donald Trump.
Regarded as the most powerful man in the world, Trump has turned out to be a revolutionary and, like all revolutionaries, he has chosen to subvert history, taking policies traditionally implemented by the U.S. and stripping them of meaning. With respect, Trump is anti-imperialist. For instance, contrary to the neocons, he does not wish to export or impose his model of society on the rest of the world.
Trump is breaking away from the openness to others typical of liberal democracies. The U.S. is withdrawing into its borders. The harsh treatment enforced on immigrants, the withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement on climate change, the constant challenges to NATO, the withdrawal of troops from Syria and the boycotting of international trade are just some examples.
With regard to the model of society, not only does Trump refuse to export or, at least, promote the installation of political regimes based on democratic values and human rights, but his greatest friends are some of the worst autocrats on the planet. At the same time, he continues to rebuke his traditional European allies and has no qualms about encouraging the folly of Brexit.
The most successful catchphrase in the Brexit campaign, created by a very smart and dangerous fellow named Dominic Cummings, reads as follows: “Take back control.” This is a slogan that Trumpism could very easily claim and which is perfectly compatible with his “Make America Great Again.”
“Take back control” is an appeal to all those who have become baffled by and afraid of globalization and the changes that come along with it, to all of those who miss the world as it used to be, with its order and apparent certainties. “Take back control” also entails, of course, turning your back on the unfamiliar and that which you do not understand, retreating. Wash your hands of what is happening out there, to those others. Get back inside; you will be safe there. Seek cover in the things you know and be who you really are.
The U.S., which was built by those who fled Europe in search of freedom, has made a U-turn, surrendering to the old isolationist temptation in the 21st century. Meanwhile, other powerful international players are filling the void, particularly China, a digital dictatorship, a sinister colossus determined to conquer the future.