LONDON – So much for the end of history. Twenty-seven years to the day after the fall of the Berlin Wall heralded the collapse of communism in Europe, Donald Trump’s election as US president endangers the liberal international order that his wiser, broader-minded predecessors crafted.
Trump’s “America First,” anti-“globalist” agenda threatens protectionist trade wars, a worldwide “clash of civilizations,” the peace in Europe and East Asia, and further violence in the Middle East. His nativist and authoritarian views also undermine the shared values, faith in liberal democracy, and assumption of benign American hegemony on which the rules-based international system depends. Already in relative decline, the United States is now poised for an angry retreat from the world.
Optimists hope that Trump didn’t mean what he said during the election campaign; that he will surround himself with seasoned internationalist advisers; and that his wilder instincts will be tempered by the checks and balances of the US political system. Let’s hope so. But nothing in his temperament suggests as much. And with Republicans retaining control over both the Senate and the House of Representatives, Trump will have a freer rein than most presidents. That is especially true in trade and foreign policy, where US presidents enjoy much greater discretion – and where the damage he could do is potentially huge and enduring.
Start with trade. Globalization had already stalled in recent years. Now Trump threatens to throw it into reverse. At the very least, his victory kills off the faint hopes of concluding the two jumbo trade deals that Barack Obama’s administration had been negotiating: the completed but unratified Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with 11 Pacific countries, and the stalled Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the European Union.