Trump’s victory was followed by an uncharacteristically gracious acceptance speech where he reached out to opponents and pledged to serve for all. This is perhaps an early sign that he could in practice be less radical than the election signalled. However a number of Trump’s positions still look to produce alarming shifts across the globe, not just in the US.
Trump has made no secret of his opposition to the very idea of climate change, having proclaimed it a hoax fabricated by the Chinese. He went as far as saying he would take America out of the recent Paris Agreement on climate change; cancel “wasteful” federal funding for environmental initiatives; scrap much of the environmental regulations of the Obama administration; and weaken the role of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Some consolation comes in the fact that the US cannot formally exit the Paris Agreement for another four years, while more progressive US states may remain committed to environmental policies. But Trump’s brazen opposition to any environmental policy could shatter the fragile global consensus the Paris Agreement built, and set back renewables and emissions targets by years at a time when the environmental situation is dire, ruining years of careful progress towards a focused global effort against climate change. Perhaps, as Trump argues, releasing the fossil fuel industry from its present-day regulatory shackles will provide a boost to the US economy. But frankly, as virtually any expert will tell you, such a “boost” is one we can ill-afford ecologically. The 2˚C target, and indeed the planet’s future, is on the line.
Global security is also threatened. It seems clear that Trump’s foreign policy doctrine will be “America first”. Part of this is the suggestion that NATO countries must pay more otherwise they won’t be able to count on US assistance. This, combined with his comparatively lax attitude to Russia and his scepticism of the EU, has cast doubt on the US’ future willingness to assist allies – this could embolden the Kremlin, which has already menaced Ukraine with troops and much of Europe with cyber-attacks.
Further, Trump has attacked the Trans-Pacific Partnership and questioned the need for stationing troops in South Korea and Japan, reversing Obama’s “Pivot to Asia”. At a time when China is consolidating its grip on the South China Sea, this worries many states in the region that feel threatened by their increasingly assertive neighbour.
If, as seems possible under a Trump presidency, the US turns its back on the region then China will be only too happy to fill the void. Indeed, Trump may present a welcome geopolitical opportunity for the regime; not only can they extend their military and economic control over the region, they also have newfound political capital at home, as now they can point at America and say “This is where democracy gets you”. In other words, Trump helps the Communist Party perpetuate its narrative to the Chinese people that it is the sole bastion of order in a chaotic world.
Trump has also attacked China itself and suggested fighting its currency devaluation and export policy with tariffs on Chinese imports. Whether or not he will carry out these threats remains to be seen, but if he sparks trade wars with countries such as China and Mexico while ripping up free trade projects such as the TPP, this could well tip the global economy back into gloomy recession. The global recovery has already been deeply disappointing for huge swathes of people, and this is partly why he was elected. Few people seriously believe that the globalised economic order is satisfactory, but rejecting globalisation altogether would likely do nothing but increase the hurt.
In the Middle East, Trump seems poised to throw oil on the fire. His inflammatory remarks about Muslims – insinuating they’re all terrorists – will most likely make the situation there worse. Islamic State haven’t bothered to hide their strategy, which is to divide the world into Muslims and non-Muslims, black and white – so that they can have their war. Trump, when he wants to question the right of Muslims to come and live in the US, is doing just that. He is playing into the long-term strategy of IS. After all, it doesn’t take much imagination to conclude that radicalising a young person who feels nothing but disdain from their country is much easier than radicalising one who feels integrated and dignified. It’s all very well going tough on extremism, but that approach is futile when at the same time it breeds extremism.
On a related note, Trump’s general denigration of “the other” – Muslims, women, the disabled, minorities etc. – represents a disgusting legitimisation of racism, misogyny and anti-democratic thought. This could well serve as a rallying point for a resurgent far right. Unsurprisingly, Putin, Le Pen, Wilders and Orban have all waded in to heap praise on Trump and call his election a “Patriotic Spring”, “a victory for freedom” or words to that effect. Already, hateful messages and acts of aggression are proliferating across the US. Even organisations such as the KKK feel able to organise parades celebrating his victory. It’s a widely held belief that the Left won the “cultural war”, but if Trump’s nativism is allowed to take root those gains could end up being lost.
The next major battleground against these ideas looks to be the French presidential election next spring. If Le Pen is able to win there, that would be a grievous blow to the EU; less than a year after the UK voted to leave, a founding member of the EU would have an openly Eurosceptic president at its helm. The EU is probably able to continue after Brexit, but if the tide of anti-globalisation, anti-EU sentiment overwhelmed France as well the EU’s days could be numbered. Whether this is a good thing or not is of course debatable, but in any case it will rupture Europe’s stability at a time when it is faced with many challenges.
Despite the smooth words, Trump presents a grave problem for people across the globe. We could see the Paris Agreement unravel and progress on climate change stall. Although isolationism is not new in US foreign policy, his lukewarm attitude to America’s allies combined with his protectionist streak could embolden Russia and China, leading to escalating tensions in Eastern Europe and East Asia, while potentially destabilising the world economy once again. It’s also worth mentioning his disgusting legitimisation of racism and misogyny that could strengthen an already worrying far right. Trump’s victory isn’t just worrying for the US; it’s a concern for everyone.
More than ever, those who support liberal values need to fight back. That may involve putting aside major differences, and it will certainly require engaging the disaffected voters of politicians like Trump in debate more effectively than before. The reason Clinton lost is because she didn’t represent a change, and most people would agree that the system needs changing. But we must not let illiberal, wilfully divisive and populist demagogues dictate the direction of change.
(Image: New Yorker)