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.
Interesting, but one caveat: the USA is still the world’s single military superpower, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. Even China is playing in a totally different league.
As long as that remains true, I don’t think it’s plausible to say the world has moved into a post-American phase.
For comparison, the UK was the unchallenged top military superpower for about a hundred years after France was defeated up until the First World War; and even if never had the same lead over its nearest competitors as the USA has now. The USA is only thirty years into its own period of sole dominance.
paul barker says
One huge irony in all this is that The USA doesnt have to undergo relative decline at all; if Immigration was restored to the same sort of proportional levels as in the 19th Century America could have growth high enough to maintain its place in the World. That is the exact opposite of Trumps program of course.
Cory Bin says
After Reagan, Nick, the US went from the world’s greatest creditor nation to its greatest debtor nation. Only a good old dose of true Marxism can right this wrong.
Come on Bernie! Come on Corbyn! Come on Maduro!
Sandra Hammett says
In this breve new world does Brexit leave us out in the cold or free to fashion a new future.
That is the £64,000 question. Signs thus far: not good.
Jedi Dwight says
Everyone acts like massive nations haven’t declined before. Rome fell. The human race soldiered on. Americans, my countrymen, are mostly 13 year old girls:
demanding the coolest of toys, fashion and gadgets without any appreciation of where they came from, without any knowledge of how to produce or sell those things themselves and wholly and entirely obsessed with how everyone else in the room sees them.
As an American born in 1978, I want to clue my fellow Americans in on 2 things:
We’ve been on our way out since World War 1. The “arc of history” is NEVER hope. It’s always decline. Robert Frost said “nothing gold can stay”. The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics states that all systems tend to entropy.
The rest has been loudmouthed greedy dolts grabbing money and impoverishing all around then.
What did Veruca Salt, greedy little wench of an heiress to the Salt peanuts fortune sing in the 1970s classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? (That’s the magnificent Gene Wilder performance, not the horribly odd abortion Johnny Depp vomited on screen).
She sang: “I want the world. I want the whole world. I want to lock it right up in my pocket; it’s my bar of chocolate…”
Sound familiar America?
A greedy, nasty, clueless, never-satisfied, always whining 13 year old white girl – that’s our nation, if you had to reduce it to one person.
We are Veruca Salt….
Some of us want to grow up. Others don’t.
The future of America you ask?
No middle class whatsoever.
Rich/poor only and no hope of EVER seeing a middle class again for 100 years.
No allies – only nations we’ve bullied into submission, requiring all expenditures diverted from education and healthcare into more military might.
News outlets becoming more and more propagandistic. Imagine FOX on anabolic dinosaur steriods displaying images of Americans cheering for American troops 24/7.
Taboo conversations: criticize the government? IP address flagged. Do it 5 times, maybe you disappear.
See, just like a 13 year old girl with a big mouth and parents who spoil her rotten, America thinks nothing bad can ever happen to it. But, all those candy bars since World War 1 have added up to A LOT of tooth decay.
Racism and social justice issues? All a cover for the TRUE divide: Rich and poor. That veil is lifting more day by day.
The citizenry is realizing a truth that basically all other nations know: the rich ARE NOT your friends. Their only goal is to increase their holdings. Someone with wealth and power votes in the interest of keeping it.
Like a 13 year old girl who would rather gossip on Facebook than read an ACTUAL book and learn 3 facts about history, most American citizens have zero understanding of the forces at work around them.
In no other nation are the people as easily tricked as in America.They are tricked into voting against their own best interests the same way you’d get a 13 year old girl to put down her cell phone and come to the table: lie to her about how great she is to get her attention and then promise her the moon to get her to take a few bites of vegetables.
I am grateful for my life as an American not because of my nation but in spite of it. My family and I have found real happiness in a time of universal deceit and decay. Will most Americans learn about or fully understand moat of what is going on around them? I fear not.
Facts and knowledge to a greedy 13 year old girl are boring. Kim Kardashian and Kanye West are all.that matter: a desire to emulate the life of someone so shallow and empty so as to temper ones own shallowness and emptiness – an impossible project- doomed from the start.
My younger brother (born 1984) criticizes me for being a great writer who offers no “solutions”. He says all I do is.complain. However these musings are just that- musings. I make no false pretenses of being a leader in politics or a revolutionary.
My life is fine. Society will be what it is. It’s not my role to solve what are basically unsolvable problems at this point.
I merely narrate so that the younger ones around me never forget just how greedy and deluded the people who brought us to this precipice truly are: they are the naked face of greed incarnate- humans into which you could pour infinite gold, food, drink and sex and it would NEVER soothe their weary souls.
People don’t “like” my writing because it’s too accurate, too on-point and that is scary to a 13 year old girl
The little princess doesn’t like being reminded that she really isn’t a princess at all. She’s just a girl: an insecure, lonely, confused, misunderstood and ignorant little girl.
And if she keeps acting the way she has, she won’t have any friends left to play with in the big, bad global sandbox.
So, that’s it for tonight! No solutions. No hope. Just truth. Swallow it. Don’t. Doesn’t matter. The beat will go on and all of this nonsense will be what it will be.