America’s Usual Role Will Not Return

How long can Donald Trump survive? Instead of betting on an early end to his term, it would be better to prepare ourselves for the likely scenario of him remaining United States president.

Very few questions attract attention and agitate tempers as much as “when is Donald Trump going to fall?” and “how much longer can he survive?” However, instead of betting on an early end to his term, it would be better to prepare ourselves for the likely scenario of him remaining in office.

First, a few words about the prevalent question. If Trump were actually forced to leave the White House before the end of his term, in all likelihood it would not occur over some illegal Russia connection or other dishonest business practices. More probably, he might fall because of the way he reacts to such suspicion, the way he tries to deny and eliminate suspicion with threats and lies.

As is often the case, the real problem does not concern the initial accusations, but rather the subsequent foolish attempts to elude them, which eventually fail to stop short of breaking the law. There are abundant examples of this. What led former U.S. President Bill Clinton to the verge of his fall was not his sexual relationship with an intern, but rather the fact that he later falsely swore that he had had no affair.

The Decision Rests with Congress

The same goes for Trump. Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s alleged Russian contacts do not threaten Trump’s presidency as much as the fact that Trump was sick of the investigation, that it became a nuisance for him and that he was desperate to get rid of it. Now he has to fend off the accusation of having tried, as the president, to stop the FBI’s investigation of Flynn. That would constitute obstruction of justice, a crime. Now Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor appointed by the Department of Justice, wants to get to the bottom of this suspicion.

However, even if obstruction of justice could be proved, that would by no means decree Trump’s end. For decades, it has been the Department of Justice’s legal opinion that a president in office cannot simply be indicted. This decision would instead rest solely with Congress, which would have to verify the charges and, if necessary, allow an indictment against the president that could lead to him being impeached. However, the Republicans hold the majority in Congress.

Therefore, Trump will stay at the White House for the moment, most likely until Jan. 20, 2021. Perhaps, depending on the voters’ decision, he may even remain four years longer. Instead of betting on his impending failure, it would be better to concern ourselves with what can be done here in Europe and in the rest of the world in order to build counterbalances and prevent the worst.

Advice from America to Europe

Even America is sending all sorts of well-meaning advice on the subject. Trump’s detractors, mostly Democrats or liberal Republicans, all of them experienced and thoroughly pragmatic people, are rushing to dispense advice. They say that, during this time, Europeans, especially Germany and France, should uphold Western values, take on greater responsibility in the fields of foreign policy and security and do more for the collective defense.

Moreover, they urge us to support the reasonable members of Trump’s government, the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, the national security advisor. As for the rest, they ask us to please, please, wait patiently for the Trump era to end. According to them, Trump’s administration is only a regrettable historical lapse, a short moment of American aberration and confusion. They see a not too distant future in which a levelheaded president will once again occupy the White House and restore America’s global leadership.

From the American perspective, this stance is completely understandable. It expresses the desperate hope that they may soon wake up from this nightmare and once again find the world and America’s role to be just what they were used to and had grown so fond of.

America’s Power Was Already Reduced before Trump

This view, however, does not take into account three factors. First of all, the world and America’s place in it had already changed dramatically before Trump during the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. America’s power was inevitably reduced to the extent it first overexerted itself in wars and then withdrew, weary and overburdened, from the many trouble spots it helped create. Others filled the gaps.

Second, contrary to what some people claim, it does not look like the few reasonable people in Trump’s government team can be relied on very much. At any rate, their influence on the president is limited. So far, all that can be predicted is Trump’s unpredictability and his pathological narcissism. This is evident just by watching the YouTube video of a cabinet meeting from last week. A comedy show could not have come up with a better scene. In this video, Trump prompted the members of his cabinet to tell journalists their name and function and to describe how they felt about belonging to his government. They sat like puppets around the oval table, applauding and praising their president and dutifully nodding to everything he said.

Third, the advice-givers are actually right to demand more responsibility from Europe. During the coming weeks, months and years, the degree to which Europeans are willing and able to take on such a commitment will be severely tested. Of course, America will continue being important and powerful with and after Trump. Naturally, any halfway sensible head of state will therefore try to make every reasonable effort to involve Trump’s government whenever possible and rational.

The Excessively Devastating Impact of the Trump Era

However, the world beyond the United States will not – and cannot – wait naively for the day when circumstances in Washington may change for the better so that America can then resume its leadership virtually uninterrupted. The current challenges and threats are too great. America’s failures and mistakes carry too much weight; the impact of Trump’s era is too devastating.

By the time Trump leaves the White House, the power balance in the world will inevitably have shifted.

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