President of Our Dreams

Why Trump became a breath of fresh air, even though a very weird one.

The phrase “President Trump” is becoming one of the main two-word combinations used in world politics no matter how all his many political opponents and rivals, the liberal press, Hollywood, European leaders, under-represented groups and respected experts feel about this person and his colored wig. There have been many different opinions about impeachment, if not about the very American history of assassination attempts on the head of the White House; however, political realism has taken over. Donald Trump is not a coincidence, and he is not some Mr. X who landed on planet Earth from Mars or Alpha Centauri in order to blow up ordinary global politics. Edward Luttwak, a noted American author of works on military strategic topics and supporter of the new head of state, rightly said that 90 percent of Trump was inevitable.

Of course, if the U.S. political system were not in such a serious crisis, if it were not so polarized (and it started with Bill Clinton, and has only become worse since), the necessary political correction and its priorities might be possible under calmer circumstances, and someone less extravagant might now be in charge of such political adjustments. But the crisis is obvious. Even when it was time to establish a new direction in the country’s development as America entered its next historical period, the fact that the political system mainstreamed two 70-year-old candidates says a lot. (And let’s not forget about 74-year-old Bernie Sanders.) The older generation, with its last ounce of strength, is trying to be up to the challenge of the times, while the new generation is not ready to offer anything yet. That’s exactly why Trump appeared to be this weird “breath of fresh air,” fresh not because of his age, but because of his essence, because he is not like anyone else.

Nevertheless, while some people are now currently experiencing shock and others are euphoric, it appears that perhaps Trump, although not a standard figure, is not at all an alien figure with respect to the national political tradition. His inauguration speech was a clear statement of conservative ideology which has not only always existed in American policy but which has also dominated a major part of American history. The battle between the desire to enter the international arena as one of the main players and the urge to concentrate on domestic tasks and separate yourself from the surrounding world has informed the content of all the arguments about the political philosophy of the United States almost from the day it was founded.

Isolationism (of all kinds) was certainly stronger before World War I. President Woodrow Wilson managed to convince fellow Americans that the United States was obligated to intervene in the European mess at the time (the Founding Fathers were originally against that), but shortly after this, he had bad luck. Congress refused to support his ambitious plan of global liberal order under the auspices of the United States. The League of Nations, created by Wilson, met without him.

The mood changed after World War II, in which the United States participated, not because of its position in the world, but in response to the attack by Japan. Wilson’s ideas provided the basis for American policy in the international arena after 1945, and even after this, opposition to an overactive foreign policy never stopped. The presence of the USSR helped activists, as the historian Walter Russell Mead wrote. The USSR was the perfect enemy for both liberal interventionists, because the USSR tried to dominate on the international arena, and for isolationists because the USSR represented a threat by imposing another social model and lifestyle on the United States itself, Mead said.

The collapse of the Communist block and its leader pushed the U.S. into the position of global leader, which was perceived as a natural victory for supporters of an active foreign policy, even though at the time, it was not quite clear to everyone. In his annual address to the nation in January 1992, President George H. W. Bush emphasized, “There are those who say that now we can turn away from the world, that we have no special role, no special place. But we are the United States of America, the leader of the West that has become the leader of the world. And as long as I am president I will continue to lead in support of freedom everywhere, not out of arrogance and not out of altruism, but for the safety and security of our children. This is a fact: Strength in the pursuit of peace is no vice; isolationism in the pursuit of security is no virtue.” Although Bill Clinton, who succeeded George H. W. Bush in January 1993, was an ardent supporter of U.S. global leadership, in 1994, Republicans won a landslide victory in Congress under the leadership of steadfast conservative Newt Gingrich. Even now he is one of Trump’s closest ideological companions.

This period which began in 1993 became a real nightmare for those who wanted America to concentrate on its own deals. The U.S. was increasingly taking on added responsibilities in an attempt to rebuild the world. “Shaping the future – here was an enterprise worthy of a superpower charged with fulfilling history’s purpose. Lending such expectations a semblance of plausibility was an exalted appreciation of American military might,” said military analyst Andrew Bacevich in estimating the mood of that time. As he summarized, “Rarely has a benign-sounding pro­position yielded greater mischief.” Bacevich was referring to the military component of the policy; the result of the euphoria was that it was not only just the frequent use of force, but the use of it on strange and unnecessary occasions with a devastatingly inefficient outcome.

However, besides the military-political aspect, there was another factor – a growing incomprehension by ordinary Americans about why their need for all this economic globalization was gradually blamed for all the misfortune. This was the last straw. It is interesting that by itself, military adventurism, which peaked in the years of George W. Bush, did cause such a powerful isolationist surge. The lack of a draft, like the kind that was in place during the Vietnam War years, has made the performance of professional military duties quite a senseless sacrifice with regard to the Iraqi and Afghan campaigns. The protests have not even come near the scale of the protests in the 1960s. But the 2008 financial crisis and its impact significantly radicalized the socio-political atmosphere.

Trump, in stock exchange jargon, is a cyclical market correction. The U.S. failed in its attempt to become a global leader, and now we have a new man who is talking not about leadership, but about greatness. In his understanding, greatness is an ability to show everyone an example of success (very Founding Fathers-like) without forcing anything on anyone. Moreover, according to him, greatness is a demonstration of power when it is required by any specific U.S. national interest. It’s worth repeating – this is an old tradition, rooted in the history and national psychology of American policy, which, by coincidence, moved away into the shadows after the Cold War. However, the total dominance of the liberal globalist approach was not a norm, but an exception, a product of a unique situation which arose accidentally in the late 20th century.

The intensity about Trump most likely will die off, although before that happens, there is still going to be an attempt to get rid of him, and the actions to dig up reasons for impeachment are pretty obvious. It is also clear that you cannot outmaneuver him that easily. He is a far more serious phenomenon than everyone thought. Most likely, the establishment will put up with him (which means the continuation of the fierce political struggle), and thus, the world awaits a turn for a much more conservative and rigid America. If you remove the external effects and the inevitable lack of experience of a beginner, Trump is an American nationalist, inclined to commercialism in the economy and to a forceful approach to politics.

Technically, Russia wanted a U.S. president like this one, not Trump specifically, but a similar archetype, one who is clear and not prone to excessive political correctness. The dream came true. We will see what it really means.

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