Trump’s Revolution and Its Global Consequences

25.11.2016

Donald Trump's presidential victory is a bombshell on a global scale and a new American revolution. For the first time in US history, a non-establishment candidate and a critic of both the outgoing administration and the US political elite as such has won the election, while the Clintonite bipartisan establishment has lost. The leadership of both parties, the majority of former and current statesmen, the mainstream media, and the entire government bureaucracy have rallied behind Hillary Clinton and lost. The demand for change and new domestic and foreign policies proved stronger than support for the status quo.

This revolution will have some truly global consequences. The attack on the US establishment is a blow to the 70-years-old system that many countries regarded as the lynchpin of the world order: a global system of US military alliances (NATO, allied relations with countries in Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America); a US-oriented system of world economic regulation; a totality of America's trade and economic arrangements with other countries and groups of countries (bilateral and multilateral trade and economic agreements) and much else. And, yes, the blow was delivered from within, not from outside.

America's readiness to maintain this system for much longer, let alone project it to the rest of the world, was called into question. Confidence in the US as a patron and leader, a benevolent hegemon and world policeman – and the Washington-oriented "liberal order" was based precisely on these assumptions – has been undermined. Finally, the blow landed on what a goodly part of the world elites believed to be the holy of holies of the US influence in the world and US claims to world leadership – the magic ability of the US political system to adapt to changes in the external and internal environment and emerge victorious from the most difficult situations.

In this sense, the Trump victory as such has greater importance for the world than policies to be pursued by his administration. Even if in reality these policies are not fundamentally different from what Washington has followed over the last few decades and more or less fit in with the US foreign policy consensus, the world will come – is coming – into motion all the same.

In effect, it is the end of an epoch which began with the United States asserting its current foreign policy consensus whereby the US-formatted "liberal international order" should be projected to the entire international system, with American "global leadership" established as the basis of international stability. Putatively this epoch began in 1993, when the Bill Clinton administration approved an expansion and inclusion strategy and a decision on NATO's eastern expansion. It was characterized by an attempt to propagate the Americanized international order in the rest of the world, a positive attitude to globalization and its acceptance as something intended to transform the world in a way suitable for the United States. Washington also wanted to equate a US-oriented arrangement and the international community as a whole and to impose itself as the supreme judge in the majority of important world political, economic and security issues.

Russia was the first to rebel against the US establishment's global consensus. By making a tough response to the US attempts to cut Ukraine off from Russia and include it into its own political orbit through its support for the Ukrainian coup and by challenging America and its Middle East allies over their plan to depose Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Moscow openly stepped forward to confront the Washington establishment. The US establishment has, with good reason, perceived Crimea's reunification with Russia, support for the insurgents in Donbass and a military involvement in Syria on the side of the legitimate government as a systemic challenge to the US global leadership and their model of universal Washington-oriented world order. This triggered a new American-Russian system-wide confrontation that had much in common in terms of substance and intensity with the erstwhile Cold War.

But now it was the American middle class – mostly white industrial workers, blue collars, and inhabitants of one-story American backwaters – that rebelled against the same consensus and the same world order model. These people know from their own experience that the US policy based on the establishment's current foreign policy consensus is making the elites fantastically rich at the expense of their job losses, sinking living standards, infrastructure degradation, lower security levels and an unacceptable cultural and civilizational transformation of America's portrayal. Donald Trump felt these tidings and rose up to articulate them. He won and this was because he had absolutely no relation to the American establishment that was becoming increasingly estranged from the white middle class. The fact that the entire establishment and mainstream media were inveighing against him actually worked for rather than against him.

Indicatively, Donald Trump campaigned largely against the same aspects of the US globalist foreign policy consensus as have been consistently opposed by Russia: imposing democracy by force, regime change, posing as the world policeman and judge, globalization American-style, to wit, westernization, involving other power centers into the US-oriented world order, being certain that this involvement will transform them in a way suitable for the United States, and strengthening the global system of US alliances presented as the foundation of the world order as a whole. In this sense, the US establishment was right seeing Trump as a systemic challenge and threat, the same as "Putin's Russia" before him. Just like Moscow, the candidate from the angry middle class attacked the foundations of America's political and foreign policy consensus, the philosophy itself of its interaction with the outside world. Now this philosophy must begin to change.

The main factor in this presidential election was not so much the Trump victory as the unpopularity of the US establishment. The favorites in the race were two anti-establishment figures, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. The reason why the elites are so unpopular is quite objective, because the basic principles of the US foreign policy consensus (namely, the US values are universal; democracy and globalization make the world a safer place to live in and more favorable to US interests; the world needs US leadership and will sink into chaos without it, etc.) don't work and the policies they underlie make the life of ordinary Americans worse, not better, both in terms of economic prosperity and security. The discontented middle classes' rebellion against the traditional elites and the establishment we are observing in many countries (and almost everywhere in the West) has resulted from the worldwide disorder and globalization that has ceased to work for the benefit of the Western middle classes. In turn, this is a result of policies conducted by Western countries, primarily the United States, policies based on their current foreign policy consensus.

All of this means that changes in the US foreign policy consensus and establishment are inevitable and that Trump's election is the beginning of these changes. They will be slow and painful, with numerous rollbacks and recurrences of the globalist and messianic-interventionist policies. But they will be occurring all the same. Now that the initial shock of the Clinton defeat wore off, the prevailing attitude among the US establishment is that the US global strategy is and will be unchanged: the Congress, the bureaucracy and the establishment as a whole will bring any Trump-related foreign policy shifts to naught and a "normal" mainstream politician will be elected president in four years' time to take the whole thing to square one. Trump will be forgotten like a bad dream.

Luckily or otherwise, he will not. The problems related to the middle class disillusionment with the current foreign policy consensus and the policy it underlies will not disappear. So the popular discontent will resurge both in 2020 and 2024. There is no going back to the world order model that was first opposed by Russia and then the Trump electorate.

What global transformations can we expect as a consequence of Trump's election and the policy his administration is likely to pursue?

In the first place, de-globalization processes will accelerate. The West's active use of unilateral sanctions and the conversion of an economic interdependence into a tool to weaken political opponents has made non-Western countries think of how to dilute their dependence on the West, primarily the United States and US-controlled institutions, processes and mechanisms. The victory of an anti-liberal and protectionist campaign in the United States and its transition to a more mercantile policy will only spur on this trend. The overall politicization and securitization of the world economy will grow along with the continued rise in populist sentiments. Both Western and non-Western countries will want to reduce their dependence on the outside world, let alone their political opponents. The likely increase in US economic pressure on China will lead to a slow, if sure, erosion of the US-Chinese economic interdependence and, as a consequence, to a greater regional interdependence in Asia and Eurasia, since China will look for an alternative to the US among its neighbors, including in the EAEU, the EU, and the Middle East.

Indicatively, the reduction in the global economic interdependence will be encouraged by technological trends and therefore will not look as something preternatural. The proliferation of robot technologies will soon make industrial outsourcing to countries with cheap labor redundant. Trump's promise to reindustrialize America will come true in one way or other, but not as the blue collars who voted for the Trump ticket thought it would. In parallel, China is modifying its economic model, too, and will soon cease to be an export-oriented economy. What the US-Chinese – and global – economic interdependence was based during the last few decades will gradually die out.

Simultaneously, global governance will be increasingly fragmented, with the Western (G7) and non-Western (BRICS) global governance tools drifting ever wider apart. Faced with the new US mercantilism, let alone protectionism, the non-Western countries will only strengthen their cohesion. The universal institutions (primarily the WTO, but also the IMF and the World Bank) will continue to grow feeble and lose effectiveness. At the same time, the transfer of the most important economic interaction rules to the regional level, which occurred as the Obama administration sought to form the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and as China, Russia and other non-Western players planned to establish a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCTP) and a Universal Eurasian Partnership, will intensify and bifurcate. America's likely refusal to create US-centric macro-regional communities will take fragmentation of the economic regulation within the Greater West to the bilateral or even national level. In the non-Western world, regionalization and emergence of macro-regional communities will continue.

A similar bifurcation will take place in the military-political sphere. Trump's election and his administration's more unilateral foreign policy will modify relations within American alliances. US defense and protection will no longer be taken for granted. Allied relations will be a paid service requiring something more than foreign policy loyalty alone. Even though the new administration will not dissolve NATO (nor will it renounce Article 5 of the Washington Treaty in relation of individual member-countries), let alone renounce the system of allied relations in Asia, the new positioning and perception of alliances will push America's allies towards greater independence in the security area. Both the NATO countries and the US allies in Asia will be encouraged to look for security alternatives, while maintaining relations with the US and playing by new and tougher rules with Washington. It is not accidental that the European Commission chief, Jean-Claude Juncker, went on record as saying, immediately after Trump's election, that the formation of an EU army independent from NATO was now inevitable. In South Korea and Saudi Arabia, nuclear buffs will raise their heads. In any event, the inner solidarity and cohesion within the US alliances will be weakened.

Conversely, non-Western countries' security consolidation will grow. America's greater military and political pressure on China and Iran, worsening arms control problems, the missile defense issue in Russian-US relations, and generally more unilateral and tougher US stance on national interests will compel the non-Western countries to cooperate. For example, the US pressure on China will only strengthen (rather than weaken) the Russian-Chinese military and political partnership. It is another matter that it will be accompanied by Moscow building up its cooperation with US allies in East and Southeast Asia. Neither will a likely slump in Russia-NATO confrontation make Moscow renounce its strategic partnership with China in favor of a new illusory partnership with the West. It goes without saying that certain exceptions are possible as well. For example, India may wish to take advantage of an intensified US containment of China and promote rapprochement with Washington. But it will not opt for a formal alliance with the US and a complete break in relations with Russia, the SCO and BRICS, which would mean its marginalization in Eurasia.

This will enhance the multidirectional nature of world development. The Obama-backed Greater West consolidation will be suspended and followed by a reverse process of fragmentation. This process will lead to greater political and economic independence of Europe and America's Asian partners. But the non-Western countries'consolidation will continue. For the time being, this will weaken the world's progress towards new bipolarity as recorded by the Valdai Club in 2015 and will redirect it towards a multipolar, albeit less governable, arrangement.

It is too early to say whether the Trump revolution and its global consequences will make the world safer and more stable or the outcome will be totally different. More likely, some new problems will replace old ones, with the overall balance remaining approximately the same. Threats to world stability linked to the US attempts to extend the America-centric order to the rest of the world and play the world policeman will subside. But other threats will intensify, including the arms race, sharper US-Chinese rivalry, and further erosion of international law and institutions of global governance. The fragmentation within the Greater West will not enhance governability either. But will create new opportunities for Russia.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.

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