I’m developing an idiosyncratic theory on how Trump’s presidency will be viewed twenty/thirty years hence: that it will oddly be looked upon as something that was good for the world, but a total disaster for America itself. Given this is the exact opposite of how his presidency is often discussed, by many of his detractors and all of his supporters, I should elaborate.
I think Trump’s legacy will be the end of Pax Americana. We’ll never know if America’s time as the world’s foremost superpower could have been prolonged if Hilary had won – and it will be endlessly debated for the next hundred years at least – but I really think Trump is destroying it, knowingly or not. The main way he is going about this is not just the overt stuff, the trade wars and all of that, but by forcing the rest of the West – Europe, Canada, Australia – to imagine and then construct a post-American world against their collective will. Oddly enough, I think that the globe might function quite capably without America’s influence, and I want to stress here that I say that not as some American basher but as someone who will mourn Pax America’s passing deeply. However, I still think that it won’t be a disaster, mostly because Trump’s presidency is allowing the rest of the West a nice transition period to adjust, whereas a sudden bursting of the American bubble could be horrible for most of it. If America has to decline, perhaps this is the best way, at least from a European perspective. In other words, I used to think if America declined, it would pull the whole of the West down with it – I’m now pretty sure this wouldn’t be the case.
A lot of Americans see things like the US pulling out of the Paris Agreement as America flexing its muscle, yet in future it will be seen as precisely the opposite. It was a moment when it allowed China to assert itself as the leader of a new order. Climate change will not only be one of the major concerns of the 21st century, but one of the major sectors of the world economy. America has essentially ceded it to China and to a lesser extent, Europe.
One can see how China and Europe could accommodate each other in a post-American world: the Chinese will appreciate a liberal democracy that exists as an escape valve, holiday/second home destination and talent producer that isn’t a threat and is financially reliant on the Communist Party; Europeans may need Chinese money to prop up their version of social democracy. Even Russia might be able to be accommodated in this new world order, with possible trade offs being brokered by the Chinese between Europe and Putin. Again, I would personally rather a liberal democracy remained the world superpower, but I used to think of a post-American world as purely dystopian – Trump has made me see that that doesn’t need to be the case, even this early into his first term.
However, I think the Trump administration will be apocalyptic for the US itself over the long term. European countries have had to adjust many times over the last few centuries, some going from world superpowers with colonies to total backwaters, so they have an inbuilt cultural ability to absorb decline. The United States of America does not. Of course, the country has had its share of national crises, the Civil War being possibly the worst among them, but they have always been able to see themselves as a country on the up in one way or another. What happens when real decline sets in? What happens when the US dollar is no longer a world reserve currency, with the yuan and the euro usurping it completely? I will take a slight side trip here to pour water on the Eurosceptic fantasy about the euro collapsing – the single currency has already replaced the dollar in many parts of the world as the currency of choice, and Trump’s isolationism is only going to speed up that process.
How will America react to their own “age of reflection”? To a time when the whole raison d’etre of the nation will have to be rediscovered? I really don’t know. If I had to think of a country a post-Trump USA might resemble more than any other, it would probably be Mexico – a dysfunctional place with a very wealthy upper class that eats up a greater and greater share of GDP while everyone else’s living standards collapse further and further, all while crime spirals out of control. Only difference is, I think Mexico will probably sort out a lot of its problems over the next thirty years, all while America inherits them. I’m tempted to suggest that perhaps in thirty years time Mexicans will be demanding a wall be built to keep the Americans out, but I’ll refrain. The replacement of a liberal democracy as the world’s superpower with an oligarchy morphing into a dictatorship is too depressing for any mirth.