The past year began with a reiteration of the West’s fragile unity and ended with a revolution. The new year will reveal its dynamics. Even in a revolutionary age, revolutions can be defeated, but not if the bastions of the established order refuse to accept that they are taking place. If the EU’s answer to dissent is ‘closer integration’, its leaders not only risk the fate of Clinton and Cameron, but of those who called for ‘more socialism’ in the final years of the USSR.
With all these risks, 2017 could turn out to be a year of anti-climaxes. The Trump revolution will not be made by those who most yearned for it, the long ignored middle and skilled working classes, and it might offer them no immediate benefit. In the domains of economics and finance, Trump’s appointees are not the establishment’s most radical critics, but its most radical members. They are likely to preside over a qualitative expansion of the US economy based on new technologies, rather than the protection of old ones.
Russia might also find that the benefits of a Trump administration are bitter sweet. Whatever his personal warmth of feeling towards Putin and Russia in general, Trump is firmly committed to two strategic priorities that serve no discernable Russian interest. The first is the comprehensive revival of US military power, beginning with strategic nuclear weapons, but by no means confined there. His Secretary of Defence designate, James Mattis, has no warmth of feeling towards Russia and can be expected to consolidate the restoration of US military power in Europe that Obama so tentatively started. The second priority, the unbridling of the US energy sector, will starkly crystallise the choice confronting Russia: modernise or decline.
Moreover, the EU is hardly doomed to disintegration. François Fillon might be as Russophile as Marine Le Pen, but unlike Le Pen, he is a committed European whose devotion to sound finance will provide Angela Merkel with a robust and forthright ally.
Beyond this, we are in the realm of uncertainty. Little depends on whether Trump improves his grammar or even his manners. But all might depend on whether he acquires knowledge before his ignorance and temperament lead him into danger, not least with China. One thing we do know: there will be checks and balances inside a Trump administration as well as outside it. What we cannot know today is how effective they will be.