Did the world change due to Trump’s election? Or is the rise of Trump a result of the global situation and the effects it had on the country that we in the West got used to seeing as a leading nation?
Would Trump be a reasonable presidential choice if the domestic and global situation were any different?
The rest of the world did not see Trump coming. It woke up late to what seemed to be a rude and indignant caricature of a certain “enraged” America, marginalized by the consequences of progress and excluded by the acceleration of productivity nowadays. It was confident, as it had always been in the past, that Republicans would eventually choose someone from among their elite to represent that “deep America” which was known from the movies but which no one ever thought could be propelled into power in Washington.
That outside world was not prepared for this America to arrive one day at the White House. In particular, it never believed this would happen right after a president who, unlike anyone else, had symbolized the recognition of ethnic emancipation, a dream of hope that extended from Lincoln to Martin Luther King. Never, after the myth that was John Kennedy, had the world been so supportive of an American president as it was of Obama, a man who assumed a humanistic language, filled with the best values, and who left office with a remarkable approval rating.
The surprise, however, did not stop there. The same America which had led the creation of the multilateral institutional model, which had been the champion of the free market, which had developed the theory of capitalism, now appeared as a frightened power, full of protectionist habits, opposing free trade agreements which it initiated, haunted by China’s economic and financial power, and disdainful of Europe whose union it had helped to promote. Isolationism was not a new idea, but the way it emerged was unprecedented. For a little while, that America even called into question its role as the guardian of Western security, showing a bizarre affection for an illiberal and authoritarian regime that was Putin’s Russia.
For all bad reasons, we cannot escape the conclusion that 2017 is the year of Trump because even as a negative power, the U.S. still sets the global agenda. Having caused the expectation of strengthening multilateral trade mechanisms to disappear namely in the commercial and environmental fields, by launching an unprecedented challenge to the United Nations, by provoking the Middle East with its attitude toward Saudi Arabia, expressing mistrust of the nuclear agreement with Iran and now with the decision on Jerusalem, by directing jingoist language toward North Korea, and by maintaining strange behavior with respect to China, the United States seems to have bet on reversing what appeared to be its past maxim: to be respected and not feared. In addition, Washington has introduced an unusual element of uncertainty and unpredictability into the international projection of its power, an attitude that is much closer to what could be expected from an authoritarian regime than from one of the most established historical democracies in the world. One just has to observe the confused position of London and Berlin, two traditional allies, to understand how confidence has been deeply shattered.
In times like these, there are often alternative strategies, but the fact is there have been no brilliant ideas that have emerged to overcome this situation, except waiting for the unlikely possibility of Trump’s “impeachment” or his not being re-elected, which is not impossible. We are thus in the presence of a scenario restricted to mere damage control, in which, to be fair, the United States is the first victim.
Trump made 2017 a complex year for the world. Speculating on what it would have been like with Hillary Clinton in the White House would be an interesting exercise because there are also many who think that the agenda of the defeated candidate would have caused serious damage in the European context and in the relationship with Russia, which could have led to dramatic consequences. They may be right, but the majority of people seem to feel it would be impossible for it to be worse than Trump.