On January 18, the Valdai Discussion Club held an expert discussion titled “Donald Trump: Professional profile of the new president of the United States,” dedicated to a presentation of a Valdai Club report of the same name.
Andrey Bezrukov, Associate Professor at the Russian Foreign Ministry's Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) focused on the US’ internal political situation. He gave a historical perspective of the election, presenting a chart of political cycles in the United States, comparing the current situation to the one at prior to the beginning of WWI in terms of high economic inequality and the emergence of new economic competitors for dominant powers. The situation then reversed under Roosevelt’s lead, and returned to the original setup again under Reagan.
Bezrukov then looked at the main conflicts of six top US elites – international financial capital (Wall Street), the media elite, the bureaucracy and intellectuals, representing international capital, controlled by the US, pitted against the national industrial elite and the military. The latter sees that US weaken as a result of the financial capital elites and such symptoms as tax system issues, the lack of a national economic strategy, and the move of capital to offshore havens. He noted that Trump ended the consensus of the past 25 years, opening a dialogue on the new place of the United States in the world.
Event moderator Andrey Sushentsov, Programme Director at the Valdai Discussion Club, noted that Trump dared to say to the US that the country is losing and must win again. He added that this might be a result of Trump’s personal story, which is not one of winning, but a story of many failures and recoveries until he found a successful business model as a pop culture phenomenon and a personification of archetypal American individualism.
Sushentsov noted that Trump based his appointments on personal relationship and individuals’ ability to convince him that they are the best. This may mean a closed world that may be unpredictable, although the first year should prove his viability. While his “my way or the highway” style may cause difficulties in negotiating in Washington, his own political views are very mainstream and consistent. This may mean a misunderstanding on the part of Russia of his views of NATO, which are more economic than political.
Ivan Safranchuk, Associate Professor of the Department of Global Political Processes of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) gave his commentary on the report. Considering the question on “Who is Mr. Trump?”, Safranchuk noted that Trump takes unsolved issues of America eclectically, going as far back as the American Civil War, rather than any single historic period. As a result, his administration could be very self-contradictory and inconsistent.
Safranchuk noted that the three possibilities for Trump's administration will be: one full of scandals; a catalyst for discussions in the US elite, which the report suggested; or one of solutions and new contours for America. He concluded that Trump would be an overall positive effect for the US, offering change instead of the stagnation that would have occurred under Clinton, as well as a certain strategic pause.
Maksim Suchkov, an expert of the Russian Council on International Affairs and editor of "Al-Monitor" said that Trump was one of the results of Obama’s rule, as well as a result of mistakes of the Clinton campaign. Recalling a conversation with a Clinton campaign strategist, which gave him a playbook that the Clinton campaign believed that it would win because Obama voters would automatically become Clinton voters.
For Russia, however, hurdles remain, according to Suchkov: systemic contradictions with the US, which could give the illusion of a honeymoon if he develops good relations with the Russian President. Such a chemistry should, however, be used to build improved systemic relations on other levels. Divergent views on Russia in his administration will mean that Trump will take an increasingly pragmatic view or Russia, making them to develop in a less linear than they appear.
Robert Legvold, Professor Emeritus at Columbia University, participating in the discussion via video link, called the report an analytical matryoshka, as it analyzes the transitional international system, the US’ challenges in adjusting inside it, events within the United States and contemporary politics, and the incoming Trump administration and its foreign policy at the center. He also looked at what he called the most important point, whether the preferences of Trump’s team can be converted into policy and strategy.