17 May 2018

Trump and the end of an era

Trump is restructuring the democratic world, though in ways not congruent with his intentions, and the changes will go deeper the longer he remains in office.  He evidently believes that the power of the US enables it (well, him) to simply make demands on other countries and compel them to obey.  Combined with his ignorance about the world, this belief produces a pattern of erratic and alarming behavior which is eroding the leadership role the US has held since the end of World War II.

His early comments calling into question the US defense commitments to the democracies of Europe and East Asia must have set off alarm bells for the governments of those countries, and no doubt quite a few very sober high-level meetings took place in Tokyo, Berlin, Paris, etc. around that time.  The "axis of adults" in Washington eventually persuaded Trump to back down from some of his stupidest remarks, but his true attitude had been revealed, and other governments knew that they couldn't count on the "adults" to remain in place (indeed, all are now gone except Mattis).

Since then Trump has further damaged the US leadership role with such moves as withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, after which other countries (and even some US states and cities) simply went on following the accord without him.  His threats of trade war prompted Europe, not to submit, but to announce plans for retaliation.  No other major country has emulated his pointless and inflammatory gesture of moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.  His abandonment of the Iran nuclear deal reeked of arrogance, with his new ambassador to Germany imperiously ordering the world's fourth-largest economic power to slavishly fall into line.  The German people are already more fed up with Trump and the US than the diplomatic stance of Merkel's government would suggest.

The acid test of leadership, of course, is the ability and willingness to deter and contain the two giant mafia states, Russia and China, which pose an ongoing military threat to the democratic world.  US military power has traditionally filled that role -- but Trump has not only undermined the US commitment to its allies, but also has adopted a stance of appeasement toward Russia and recently, to some extent, China as well.  By now the other democracies realize that they can no longer rely on the US to protect them, or that at best that protection may come at a price in humiliating submission to bullying which they are not willing to pay.  The question is what to do about it -- and that question will soon become even more urgent, because Trump's foreign policy is about to become even worse.

Japan is already strengthening its military and becoming more assertive, building closer defense relations with other democracies such as Australia and nuclear-armed India.  North Korean belligerence has led to growing support in Japan for building its own nuclear deterrent, even though this would mean revising Japan's Constitution.  If Japan decides that it needs the ability to deter and contain China without US help -- and rationally, it may already have reached that conclusion -- expect to see more and stronger moves along these lines.

As for Europe, immediately after Trump abandoned the Iran deal, Germany, the UK, and France issued a joint statement committing themselves to upholding the agreement.  European nations recognize that it's now up to them to take the lead on the issue.  Note that the acrimony over the UK's decision to leave the European Union, deep as it is, has not at all damaged the Europeans' ability to cooperate closely in defying Trump.  Keep an eye on those three leading states in particular.  Germany, the UK, and France combined have over 200 million people; they're the world's fourth, fifth, and sixth largest economies; they are (like Japan and South Korea) technological and industrial powerhouses in various fields; and the UK and France have powerful military forces and nuclear arsenals of their own.  A close alliance of these three, within NATO, would be a very plausible claimant for the leading role in the Western world which Trump is abdicating.  It could even evolve into a power capable of deterring Russian threats against Europe, especially if a complete breach with the US puts the option of a nuclear Germany on the table.

But what about after Trump leaves office?  Won't things "get back to normal" then?  That depends on how long he remains in power.  If he were impeached and removed tomorrow, the global system would probably revert to something close to the pre-2017 status quo, though other nations will still be warier and less trusting of the US since they will fear the possibility of another Trump-like figure being elected in the future -- if it happened once, it could happen again.  But the longer he stays in place -- especially if he serves a full term -- the more damage he will do, and the more time the global system will have to reshape itself as the US becomes an obstacle to be worked around rather than a leader.  If Japan and Germany have built their own nuclear arsenals and alliance systems to contain the gangster states, and developed into independent and self-assertive world powers in their own right, they will not simply reverse all those developments when Trump leaves office.  Things will not "get back to normal".  There will be a new "normal".

In some ways, the free world might be better off with Japan and Germany in leading roles.  Despite their horrific crimes during World War II, those countries have now been stable democracies for generations, with populations more pacifist than most.  Being smaller than the US, they would be more dependent on allies, unable to assert the kind of overbearing go-it-alone stance that the US often did even before Trump.  And they lack any equivalent of the ignorant, deranged Christian Right demographic bloc which has played such a dangerous and reactionary role in US politics for decades and forms the core of Trump's support.

But Donald Trump, so far from "making America great again", will be remembered as the man who hastened the end of the era of American global dominance.


Blogger W. Hackwhacker said...

Infidel - It's rather telling that basically every move that Trump's made on the world stage has willfully undercut our partnerships and alliances, following a pattern that could've been (and quite likely was) scripted by Moscow. After all, who benefits most from the decline of American leadership than Russia, and to a great extent also, China?

17 May, 2018 14:42  
Anonymous Marc McKenzie said...

"But Donald Trump, so far from "making America great again", will be remembered as the man who hastened the end of the era of American global dominance."

Perhaps that was the intent all along--but in the mind of Trump and his gang, they can only view it in the reverse--they are making the country even better, even if it is only for a small, wealthy white minority.

Twice in the past 30 years Presidents who were Democrats were elected and managed to fix the mess left behind by Republican predecessors and restore some respectability to the US--with Barack Obama being the second (Clinton being the first). Obama had the much harder job, but he pulled it off.

I'm not sure if that will be possible after Trump, even if the next President (who will certainly be a Democrat) goes all out. As I said to someone before Election Day in 2016--how do you think the world will react to see that the US, for the second time in less than 20 years, will elect a President who is clearly not qualified for office? They saw this in 2000 when Bush defeated Gore and they saw it again in 2016. They know all too well that despite the efforts of many good people, there are elements in the US that could allow another Trump to enter the White House--the mainstream media that treats the GOP with softballs, the GOP that is going more and more to the right and is openly racist, homophobic, and would destroy the wall of separation of church and state, and sadly, purists on the far Left who are all for "blowing up the system" in the hope that the "revolution" happens.

It's not as if we were not warned about what would happen if Trump became President--Hillary warned us dozens of times. But if the world has to move on (for the moment) without the US while we attempt to cut out this cancer in our midst, then so be it. Once we get control back, and once we make sure that people realize that no, "sitting it out" is no longer an option and that our democracy has always been fragile (and that the GOP is reduced to a minor party for the next 25 to 30 years if possible) then perhaps the world will extend the hand of friendship back to us. But if they do not trust us fully anymore, then I don't blame them. We've screwed things up to many times.

17 May, 2018 15:02  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Hackwhacker: It shows how far the Republicans have fallen. What would Reagan think of a US President kowtowing to Russia? Of course Reagan also conspired with a foreign regime to win his election, but he didn't stay subservient to that regime afterwards.

Marc: Trump and his Trumpanzees confuse respect with fear. They think that bullying other countries means we are respected, and therefore great.

A Democratic President (which we probably won't get until 2021 -- even if Trump is impeached, it will be Pence until then) will be able to undo a lot of the domestic damage Trump is inflicting, but I agree that the damage to global confidence in our country is largely irreparable. The Trumpanzee population, plus our distorted electoral system which over-empowers them, make the US unreliable. Another Trump could conceivably happen someday, perhaps an even worse one. Trump is, at least, utterly incompetent. A Trump with brains as President would be even more dangerous.

And yes, I meant what I said in my second-to-last paragraph. We had a good run. If Trump could happen here, maybe it would be better for Europe and Japan to lead.

17 May, 2018 15:53  
Anonymous PsiCop said...

Re: "... but Trump has not only undermined the US commitment to its allies, but also has adopted a stance of appeasement toward Russia and recently, to some extent, China as well."
The Groper-in-Chief has wined and moaned for many years now about how the US has, supposedly, not been tough enough on the Chicoms. But now, for all his bluster about how he was supposedly (and finally, after all these years!) negotiate an effective deal with the Chicoms, today he sniveled and kvetched about how a deal was impossible ... and that was after he took steps to protect ZTE, an important Chicom firm.
The guy clearly is schizoid or something. Either that, or he's up to something. Maybe the Chicoms came up with a way to pay him off; perhaps he's going to be able to build a Trump Tower in Beijing or got some other big concession (which will profit only him).
Oh, and part of his sniveling, today, was something was some kind of blather about no one having ever negotiated a trade deal with China before. Yeah, really. He said that.
Oh and FWIW he's correct about the US having been historically weak in opposing the Chicoms. But that happened largely because American companies shifted a huge proportion of their labor to China in order to enhance profits. That wouldn't have been possible without favorable terms. The reason we've been weak in relation to China is because businesses and the wealthy wanted us to be. I suspect they STILL want weakness in relation to the Chicoms. Which is why the GiC is probably throwing up his hands and letting the matter go. Businesses and the wealthy cannot be denied ... not even by the high and mighty "swamp drainer."

17 May, 2018 19:19  
Blogger Mary Kirkland said...

You said that so eloquently. I don't talk politics with my family because my brother, husband and father all support Trump. I'm the only one who didn't vote for the man. They can't see anything he's done as being wrong and it astounds me every time I hear them talk about it.

19 May, 2018 09:08  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

PsiCop: I think Trump has a natural affinity for "leaders" like Putin and Xi, who are basically just mafia kingpins whose gangs control very large territories. Trump is fundamentally the same kind of guy, as is increasingly apparent from what's coming out about his business (if that's the right term for it) career.

Mary: Thanks! Believe me, I know the feeling. The Trumpanzees have their own alternate reality which no longer has much connection with real reality -- if you read things like Breitbart or Alex Jones, you know what I mean. Not much point trying to debate that.

19 May, 2018 10:00  
Blogger dellgirl said...

I am not political AT ALL! I don't join conversations about it and don't normally comment on political posts and such. But, you are so right, Trump is restructuring the democratic world, and in ways that are not beneficial for America...just a tiny bit of my 2-cents worth.

Wishing you a great Sunday Tomorrow!

19 May, 2018 18:22  
Blogger Les Carpenter said...

I like the reference to ... this cancer in our midst... in Marc's comment. An ugly tumor is certainly what tRump is and unfortunately it continues to grow. Whether or not America has the ability to remove the cancer, heal iitself, AND regain the respect and leadership role it has had since WW II is questionable, even doubtful. Only time will tell.

tRump is a one man wrecking ball as well as a cancer as he works at destroying the fabric of our republic, our reputation, and our self respect as a nation.

tRump IS the enemy within.

20 May, 2018 03:59  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Dellgirl: Thanks for commenting! I can understand the aversion to politics -- I get awfully tired of it sometimes -- but always remember that even if you don't take an interest in politics, politics takes an interest in you.

Rational: And like a cancer, he'll do more and more damage the longer he's left untreated. No other President has had this kind of effect on the global order. Bush's wars were certainly disruptive, for example, but he never made our allies feel that our defense commitments were unreliable.

20 May, 2018 07:04  
Anonymous Arvind said...

Had to come to your blog post after today's news events cos I'm in Asia and I get first dibs thanks to the time zone :)

Your guy's a lot more at ease with North Korea than he is with Canada. And to think the worst thing that ever happened on the Canadian border was a bunch of kids crossing over while playing Pokemon Go in '16...heh.

Nevertheless this has gotta be a new script in world diplomacy, the likes of which have never been seen before.

12 June, 2018 02:40  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Arvind: I'll have a post up on the Korea summit later this morning.

12 June, 2018 04:32  

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