THE rest of the world urgently needs to understand America for what it has now become: a nation on the verge of a constitutional crisis and a superlative democracy reduced to a popularity contest, seemingly hell-bent on sacrificing its deep-seated neo-libertarian and multi-lateralist principles on the altar of political opportunism.
The founding fathers would be deeply troubled by the fact that today’s America is now led by an iconoclastic and visionless president enthralled by economic illusions and political superstitions and who also appears to be relentless in his almost daily phantasm of pull-up-the-drawbridge truculence. Ominously, it is now crystal clear that the new leader of the free world has made his home on the manic fringes of U.S. political and economic discourse.
The fact that President Trump has brazenly jeopardized the planet by pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, frustrated open global trade by promoting unjustified protectionism and bilateralism, and compromised the security and peace of the Western alliance by simply refusing to commit to the mutual defense of NATO members, just doesn’t make sense. But it’s not supposed to.
The point of Mr. Trump’s perfidy against the backdrop of his volatile leadership style (devoid of strategy, beliefs and goals) and political struggles (mostly self-inflicted) is nativism, tribalism and opportunism. There seems to be no method in his madness as the “Russian factor” looms ominously over his presidency and the world begins to come to terms with the possible end of the ‘pax americana’ era amidst increased vulnerability to Chinese and Russian encroachments.
For good reason, Asian allies such as South Korea and Japan are worried about US policy on North Korea. American, Mexican and Canadian farmers are concerned that renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), as President Donald Trump intends to do, will hurt their businesses in both the short- and long-term. The “America First” nationalism that Donald Trump espouses concerns many of America’s APEC partners as they see this new isolationism as likely to facilitate China’s rise to global leadership.
From all indications, it’s very probable that the Trump administration will show scant regard for the United Nation’s work — albeit President Trump’s confessed indifference to international institutions is already chipping away at the multinational diplomatic system that America did so much to build in the past two generations.
On this reading, the world is dumbfounded by the strangulating incompetence of an American leader who has done everything possible to belittle international institutions and agreements, and has mindfully exacerbated the deepening sense of cynicism, uncertainty and unpredictability the world has come to experience since the 2008 global financial crisis.
The severe case of global geostrategic whiplash which the mercurial leadership of Donald Trump has caused has been the subject of much discussion even by prominent academics who would otherwise remain objective and sober in their geopolitical analyses. Recently, Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist wrote: “So what should the world do with a babyish bully in the sandbox, who wants everything for himself and won’t be reasoned with? How can the world manage a “rogue” US? Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel gave the right answer when, after meeting with Trump and other G7 leaders last month, she said that Europe could no longer “fully count on others” and would have to “fight for our own future ourselves.” This is the time for Europe to pull together, recommit itself to the values of the Enlightenment, and stand up to the US, as France’s new president, Emmanuel Macron, did so eloquently with a handshake that stymied Trump’s puerile alpha-male approach to asserting power.”
Prof. Stiglitz, like many other public intellectuals, have (kind of) gotten used to seeing American presidents rise to the occasion and reunite the country after a raucous election campaign and chart a new course for global politics and foreign-policy engagement. Yet, Trump has done little to unfurrow the brows of his fault-finders; in fact, he has continued relentlessly to chase conspiratorial windmills and peddle false narratives. True to form, the new president has done precious little to reach beyond his base of mostly defiant white voters, with his overbearing, Twitter-fueled approach — rewriting the Presidential etiquette book and rocking the nation’s and world’s politics in the process.
But that’s hardly the whole of it. Crucially, he has questioned the legitimacy of statistics and economic data produced by veritable global institutions and academics, while continuing to promote the rejection of economic orthodoxy and spearheading a dangerous anti-intellectual, post-truth, post-factual “movement”.
The fact that a once-exceptional America has now become a global laughingstock doesn’t seem to matter at all to President Trump. He has succeeded in making America seem petty, unreliable and immature by rewriting his own fickle rules of engagement, banning major news networks, peddling unfounded conspiracy theories and bringing international partnerships and institutions (particularly the FBI) into disrepute. Amid the stream of missteps, the Trump administration has seemed more concerned with the theatre of politics rather than actually governing.
Many prominent economists now fear that if most of his economic ideas are allowed to bear fruit, they can deliver a global macroeconomic shock of historic proportions, and profoundly affect the considerable progress that the world has made on financial reforms, global trade, peace and the spread of global libertarian values. Now, can one man be allowed to undo most of that progress and possibly plunge the West into a conflict deeper than any since World War II?
For comments, write to ClementSoulage@hotmail.de – Clement Wulf-Soulage is a Management Economist, Published Author and Former University Lecturer.