The United States, architect of the liberal world order built after the great war of 1939-1945, has voted for a man who, there is reason to believe, stands for its disruption, if not dismemberment. The US underwrote the post-World War II system of nation-states, guaranteeing trade and energy flows, and ensuring a balance of power that kept the great powers from coming to war. The system was underpinned by the idea that Pax Americana would oversee a system of robust states, which in turn would guarantee the welfare of their citizens and thus would guard against the rebirth of Fascism. For President Donald Trump, though, the world is an imposition. “The United States”, he declared, “has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems”. He is no fan of NATO. He means to charge nation-states for the system of bases the US maintains around the world.
How we got here is well known. The economic crisis of 2008, arriving on the back of neoliberal reforms that eroded the certainty that this generation’s future would be better than the last, created a paranoiac, angry society, where racism, xenophobia, and sexism flourished. Those who warn Trump has no real agenda to address the inchoate rage of voters are right, but they also miss the point. His authoritarian populism at least offers the illusion of dismantling a hated establishment. How the US now addresses the deep fractures of race and class that a Trump Presidency will open up remains to be seen. But the coming years will, more likely than not, be the most tumultuous since the 1960s.
This identity-driven nationalism of rage has manifested itself in politics — from India to China, from Japan to Brexit Britain — and, more likely than not, will shape outcomes in several pending European elections. Governments are being judged not by their commitment to ideological freedoms and rights, but how well they insulate voters’ lives from the shocks of a volatile world. For decades now, free-market pundits — Francis Fukuyama most visible among them — claimed economic neo-liberalism would lead, inexorably, to a global wave of democratisation. The claim was always historically illiterate: Europe’s middle-class, notably, threw in its lot with authoritarian regimes at least as often as it backed democracy. It has also shown itself to be an exceedingly dangerous delusion.
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