The end begins now

Trump’s presidency is year zero in a new world order where rules may be disappearing

Written by Patrick French | Updated: November 11, 2016 5:17 am
trump-759 (Illustration: C R Sasikumar)

On Wednesday, the world changed. An idea of itself that the West believed in and promoted in the wake of two devastating world wars came to an end. Liberal values always work best when you are in the ascendant, and most Americans no longer feel in the ascendant. This is the start of the next stage of history, a triumph of the outsider. For Americans, the election result represents a victory for white nationalism, and for the idea that the majority can apply the values of identity politics to itself. Donald Trump’s attack on elites and institutions was secondary to this fact. His campaign made the majority feel as if they were a put-upon minority, and as in other countries, this won the vote. As a candidate, he was not a thinker but a reflector, a mirror. “I am your voice,” he told a delighted crowd when he won the Republican nomination.

Trump was able to articulate the fears of an American white majority that knows it will be a minority by the middle of this century. Barack Obama is the last black president for a long while. As Samuel P. Huntington predicted in 2004, ethnic intolerance was likely to resurface as a political force in America. “Historical and contemporary experience suggests,” he wrote, “that this is a highly probable reaction from a once dominant ethnic-racial group that feels threatened by the rise of other groups.”

This was a campaign ruled by confirmation bias, with a media that disliked what Trump was offering and so convinced themselves he would lose. His astonishing victory leaves his opponents wondering: Was it about Hillary Clinton’s weakness as a candidate, was it about misogyny, was it about the economically left-behind? I am not convinced it was any of these things. Trump won because he was an insurgent candidate, a disruptive antidote to both main parties and to politics-as-usual. Most voters who earn less than $50,000 a year voted not for Trump but for Clinton; and 52 per cent of white women voted for Trump. You can blame globalisation, neoliberalism, outsourcing, the establishment — but above all, this was a reaction to the way the world has changed. Certainties about status have evaporated. What do investors do in a crisis? They flee to the safety of gold. What do voters do? They flee to the gold of ethnic solidarity and traditional social ideas, they flee to the cultural solidity of an imagined past. In this respect, the US is far from unique: We saw it in the UK over Brexit, and we see it with alarming force in the rise of Europe’s hard-right, nativist political parties, who were the first to congratulate President-elect Trump and climb on his bandwagon.

Trump may not be an isolationist president, but he will surely be an autarchic one. He sees alliances in transactional terms, as a businessman of questionable talent who is always focused on the deal and the short-term advantage. If he is not getting a financial return from the Baltic states, he may decide they are expendable. I’ll talk to President Putin. It’s gonna be beautiful. NATO, tomato. We’ll make a new alliance when we need it. As the US acts unilaterally, so other large powers will do the same. There is every reason for them to act in advance of the fact, and to create their own reality at a time of global insecurity.

If China wants to crack down on Hong Kong or extend its remit over the South China Sea and create a wider, Sino-centric sphere of regional influence, or Russia wants to annex some neighbouring territory, what better moment to do it than around the time of inauguration day? We do not know what President Trump’s foreign and security policy will be, because his statements during the campaign were strikingly incoherent. In a presidential campaign, the US media plays a game to see how much an aspiring candidate knows about the rest of the world. Remember how George W. Bush was caught out, unable to name General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan? The exception was Hillary Clinton, who with her experience as secretary of state could analyse global problems with acuity — and look how far it got her. If you read Trump’s answers on, for instance, the problem of Syria, Iraq and IS, all you see is an ignorant, randomly-generated word-soup of distracted remarks. We cannot go back and parse his speeches, his writings or his track record, because he has no experience in government. Trump is a zero, and his presidency is year zero in a new world order where rules may be disappearing.

He says he intends to challenge NAFTA, the TPP, the WTO and the IMF, introduce protectionist tariffs on goods from China, and unsettle the global security balance centred around NATO that has underpinned post-World War II international security. Allies like South Korea and Japan may be left in the lurch, with US troops withdrawn: Both countries may be tempted to develop their own nuclear weapons, as Trump has suggested they should. Other countries in Asia, and India in particular, will be obliged to rethink their larger strategic position and how far they can depend on past diplomatic alliances in a new post-American order, where an approximately rules-based system could no longer exist.

Trump is erratic, narcissistic and ignorant of how American institutions work and its laws are passed. He is a man who has said he wants to legalise torture, and who boasts of sexually assaulting women. He wants to make deals with strongmen in West Asia, even while curtailing Muslim immigration to the US and putting American Muslims under threat. Within the constraints of their system of government, there will be many things he is unable to do as president. When that happens, as it certainly will, his wrecking capacity will be spectacular. An institution is not submitting to the will of the people? Like Mao Zedong, he may call on the people to bombard the headquarters. For the next four years and beyond, we face great uncertainty.

At some level, we still believed in the American dream, that the US could be “a city upon a hill” watched by the world as an example. For sure, we raged against its hypocrisies, foreign wars and domestic and international boorishness. But we never looked to China, to Russia or for that matter to Europe for our vision of the future. We looked to America, and we hoped its people might make a more perfect nation, a greater experiment in human living. Today, that dream is over. We are all riding the Trump train, and it may be taking us to disasters yet unknown.

The writer is a historian and biographer, and a visiting fellow at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities at Cambridge University

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First Published on: November 11, 2016 5:00 am
  1. A
    Anjan Raghu
    Nov 11, 2016 at 6:56 am
    Believe it or not, Trump age has begun.
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      Rajeswaran CS
      Nov 11, 2016 at 5:23 am
      Sorry, such a poor article - simple because it is so democratic, hiding many facts such as "failed Obama policy", "most corrupt democratic candidate - Hillary", "extraordinary ability of Trump to connect with people", etc which lead to Trumps victory.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Better luck next time.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Regardslt;br/gt;Raj
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      1. M
        Mugdha
        Nov 11, 2016 at 2:17 am
        Triumph of far rights conservatives through out the devloped world clearly shows that fruits of globalization has skewed distribution with mounting gaps between haves and have not.lt;br/gt;It shall make India to focus largely on domestic productions and consumers rather then to depend on industrialized economy for development prospects.
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          avatar
          Nov 11, 2016 at 6:07 pm
          There always be American Policy. Trump is Donald as Hillary said. The irish french writer has written mumbo jumbo..Trump wants world with no or less strife. US will lose a lot if strife is eliminated as neocons and jew and racists want=easy money. Trump will fail.
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            DA
            Nov 11, 2016 at 9:14 am
            And, I do not have such a dim view of the Trump's presidency. The fact that he is a showman without talent means that this will be an administration run by career bureaucrats - not by political vision. It will be predictable, boringly so.
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            1. D
              DA
              Nov 11, 2016 at 9:13 am
              This was Hillary's election to lose, and she lost it. Fact is, she was damaged much more by her left wing rivals - their criticism of her had some bite. What trump said against here was mere innuendo.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;It is all but certain that had the two other contestants not been around, that vote would have been Hillary's, and she'd have swept.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;It is the insurgency on the left that won it for trump. Simple numbers. Just do the math.
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                Ryszard Ewiak
                Nov 11, 2016 at 9:52 am
                Why Donald Trump won the presidency? This was the finger of God. Let me remind here a fragment of an ancient vision: "And [the king of the north] will go back (to) his land with great wealth [1945. This detail indicated that Hitler will attack also the Soviet Union and will fight to the bitter end. In the beginning there were no signs of such the ending of this war]; and his heart (will be) against the holy covenant [hostility towards Christians]; and will act [it means activity in the international arena]; and turned back to his own land [1991-1993. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. Russian troops returned to their country]. At the appointed time [he] will return back." (Daniel 11:28, 29a) The return of Russia in this context means the breakup of the European Union and NATO. Many countries of the former Eastern block reconciled with Russia. Such is the plan of God. It is no coincidence that Barack Obama wins presidency in 2008 and 2012. God in this way has secured us against a premature world war. The first should be the return of Russia, and then the war, and not vice versa. (Daniel 11:29,30; Matthew 24:7; Revelation 6:4; cf. Jeremiah 1:12) The victory Hillary Clinton would very accelerate a nuclear war, therefore now Donald Trump wins presidency. There is hope for improvement in Russian-American relations. The world will be safer, at least for a moment.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;In 1882 British troops occupied Egypt. Great Britain then took the role of "the king of the south". Around the same time, Russia expanded its influence in the region, which previously belonged to Seleucus I Nicator, and took the role of "the king of the north". (Daniel 11:27)lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;All the details of this vision are being fulfilled from the time of ancient Persia, in chronological order. It is true that this vision is variously interpreted. As one can see, it has a lot of details. Therefore the insightful person is able to detect any error or sophistry. (Daniel 12:10)
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                1. G
                  Gurvinder
                  Nov 11, 2016 at 11:10 am
                  When was uncertainty not there !!!! lt;br/gt; lt;br/gt;Not that rules may be disappearing, rules may be rewritten. lt;br/gt; lt;br/gt;Author is paranoid and creating some ficious scenario.
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                  1. H
                    Haridas Rao
                    Nov 11, 2016 at 1:37 am
                    Grossly exagerated - French has allowed his personal hatred for Trump to colour his views .Clinton was no paragon , she was consorting with some of the biggest international sleaze bags - we know of at least one from India . If Americans wanted a woman candidate , there surely are better women in the USA .lt;br/gt;The truth is the two candidates were both not well liked and in the end the one who mobilized resources better won ..
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                    1. M
                      Munna Mama
                      Nov 11, 2016 at 5:54 am
                      Trump is not ideal. But, those who are beating their chests mourning his win are far far worse than him. For a simple reason. They are hypocrites who hail democracy and rule of law only till it suits their agenda.
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                        Ramesh Nittoor
                        Nov 11, 2016 at 12:14 pm
                        He has been less than truthful in attacking his opponents, both fellow Republicans and HRC. That there were unscrupulous, opportunistic political tactics to win at hustings was evident.
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                          Ramesh Nittoor
                          Nov 11, 2016 at 12:23 pm
                          Probably Indian thought of Pragya niti shaped the philosophy of Pragmatism. May be for this reason both nations are great democracies.
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                            Ramesh Nittoor
                            Nov 11, 2016 at 12:12 pm
                            Ryszard, Core philosophy of USA is Pragmatism, not any Biblical mumbo-jumbo. This kind of evangelical thoughts you express here, can only lead to evil outcomes.
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                              Ramesh Nittoor
                              Nov 11, 2016 at 12:17 pm
                              We can only hope he rises to the occasion and turns out to be a great President, we need to trust this transformation potential in every individual. Having an open mind does not mean you close your eyes.
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                                Ramesh Nittoor
                                Nov 11, 2016 at 12:13 pm
                                We need to be real first about Mr. Trump. NYTImes has indicated that he may not have paid his taxes legitimately. Several women have charged him of non-exceptional behavior.
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                                  Raja
                                  Nov 11, 2016 at 2:42 am
                                  Donald Trump’s forthcoming ascendancy to US presidency is not borne out of a coup d'état, nor is it an act of usurpation of power, rather it is an outcome of a foolproof democratic process. Disagreeing with him is no crime, but disowning him is beneath contempt, hence a crime. The man is an apotheosis of a self-made individual who single-handedly built a billion-dollar empire that is flourishing and burgeoning. No wonder, the American working-cl majority (that remains silent in the political hullabaloo) found in him a true representation of their aspirations, and expressed their sincere will at the hustings. Unlike Hillary Clinton who owes her rise to a political system (that includes her husband), Donald Trump owes the political establishment absolutely nothing. Considering the formidable opposition he faced not only from the Democrats, but also from a large number of fellow Republicans, his success is all the more impressive. Anybody who has respect for democratic values must accept the people’s verdict, and accept him as the genuine leader of the free world. Long live Voltaire!
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                                    Pradeep Phadke
                                    Nov 11, 2016 at 6:07 am
                                    The article is biased against Trump but it also lacks depth of analysis. The writer talks of white majority voting for Trump. Can he explain why 90% Blacks voted for Obama when there was no Trump. White Americans have seen that Blacks and other minorities,including Indians, have voted for Democrats not because the candidates are more qualified but because that party talks (may not actually believe in) of inclusiveness at the cost of white Americans. So, whites voting for GOP (of whose Trump was a nominee) is perfectly justified reaction. This is identical to large Hindu vote going BJP's way at the cost of Congress because Congress wants to garner sympathy votes from minorities at the expense of majority Hindus. In a developed society like US the voting pattern should be roughly the same across all races but that has not been so for many years. The blame for the loss of Democrats should really go to the Blacks and Latinos and Asians who supported Clinton without considering merits/demerits of candidates and parties. The backlash was only to be expected.
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                                      punit
                                      Nov 11, 2016 at 1:28 am
                                      This stupid article looks like a reflection of Clinton's speech. Few recurring themes, Creating enemy out of Russia where none exists and completely ignoring clear and present danger of Islamic terrorism. lt;br/gt;Saying Clinton was able to analyze global problems with acuity is the biggest joke of Millenium. lt;br/gt;Remember Benghazi ? Remember her funding and starting "get Modi" canpaign to find m graves in Gujarat ? Remember her blocking visa for Modi ? lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;You liberals have lost it. You are cintrolled by petro dollar NGO's and are blindly supporting islamic terrorism.
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                                      1. S
                                        Sach
                                        Nov 11, 2016 at 6:06 am
                                        if arab refugees and muslims keep flooding the western world and in the end tearing apart the local culture, this is not being tolerated by the locals. Many of the british voted brexit only for this reason. On top of this free trade in the world has broken backbone of many communities and the only benefeciary is China. This is exactly what Trump was speaking in his campaign and no wonder he found many supporters.
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                                        1. S
                                          S Paldas
                                          Nov 11, 2016 at 2:17 am
                                          Brilliant analysis by Patrick!lt;br/gt;Shri Aurobindo was asked at the beginning of the 20th century as to who would lead the next century. His prediction was the 'yellow race'. What we are witnessing is historic change - though deeply disturbing today because of it's unpredictable nature - the decline of the 'west', its liberal, democratic values. And rise of the 'east' - specifically China, as the next hegemon - and the values that it develops and power that it wields.
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                                          1. S
                                            sunit jain
                                            Nov 11, 2016 at 4:04 pm
                                            New way of riswat lt;br/gt;Officer get my old notes only then I will do the essment
                                            Reply
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