Fyodor Lukyanov is Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs, Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, and Research Director of the Valdai International Discussion Club.
Resume: No matter what numerous political opponents and rivals, the liberal press, Hollywood stars, European leaders, minorities, and high-brow experts think of this man with dyed hair, the phrase “President Trump” will become one of the buzz words in world affairs in the years to come (and certainly during the next four years).
No matter what numerous political opponents and rivals, the liberal press, Hollywood stars, European leaders, minorities, and high-brow experts think of this man with dyed hair, the phrase “President Trump” will become one of the buzz words in world affairs in the years to come (and certainly during the next four years). Donald Trump is not a contingency or an alien that has come from Mars or Alpha Centauri to blow up the habitual earthly politics.
Had it been not for such a deep crisis in the American political system and its so dramatic polarization (which began during Bill Clinton’s presidency and kept increasing ever since), the U.S. policy and priorities could have been adjusted in a much calmer way and by not so extravagant a person. Anyway, now that some are recovering from the initial shock and others have their euphoria giving way to reality, it becomes clear that Trump is probably not quite a typical figure but he is certainly not alien to the national political tradition. His inaugural speech clearly and coherently conveyed a conservative outlook which has always been present in American politics and, moreover, dominated it throughout most of its history. The struggle between the desire to be a key player on the world stage and attempts to focus on domestic affairs and fence oneself off from the rest of the world has been the subject matter of disputes on the United States’ policy virtually since its founding.
The breakup of the communist camp and its flagship pushed America to the position of global hegemon, which was taken as a natural victory of those who advocated foreign-policy activism. But even then it was not so obvious to everyone. In his State of the Union Address in January 1992, President George H.W. Bush stressed: “There are those who say that now we can turn away from the world, that we have no special role, no special place. But we are the United States of America, the leader of the West that has become the leader of the world. And as long as I am President I will continue to lead in support of freedom everywhere, not out of arrogance and not out of altruism, but for the safety and security of our children. This is a fact: Strength in the pursuit of peace is no vice; isolationism in the pursuit of security is no virtue.” He was speaking to those who believed that with the Soviet Union gone, America’s mission was accomplished and it had to “come back home.” Although Bill Clinton, who replaced Bush in January 1993, was a convinced advocate of the U.S. global leadership, the Republicans led by die-hard conservative Newt Gingrich won a landslide victory in the Congressional elections in 1994. Gingrich is now one of Trump’s ideologists and allies.
The period after 1993 became a real nightmare for those who wanted America to focus on its domestic affairs. In an attempt to rebuild the world in the “right” way, America was assuming more and more obligations. But apart from the military-political overstrain, there was yet another outcome—the growing lack of understanding among ordinary Americans why they needed all that economic globalization which was eventually blamed for all the troubles. This was the last straw. Interestingly, political adventurism, which reached its peak during George W. Bush’s presidency, did not cause such a strong outburst of isolationist sentiments. The absence of compulsory military service, as during the Vietnam War, turned the senseless casualties among the American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan into the fulfilment of professional responsibilities, and protests didn’t ever come close in scale to those during the 1960s. But the financial crisis of 2008 and its consequences noticeably radicalized the social and political atmosphere.
To use the Forex terminology, Trump is a cyclical correction of the market. U.S. attempts to take on the burden of global leadership failed, and there came a man who talks not about leadership but greatness. Greatness, as he understands it, is the ability to become an example of success for everyone to follow (very much consonant with the Founding Fathers’ idea), without forcing anything upon anyone and putting on a show of force only when it is necessary for specific U.S. national interests. It must be repeated that this is a long-standing American political tradition, deeply rooted in national mentality, which by chance drifted into the shadow after the Cold War. However, total domination of the liberal-globalist approach was not a norm but an exception, a product of a unique situation that had accidentally developed after the end of the 20th century.
Passions over Trump are likely to subside but not before some try to get rid of him. In fact, attempts to dig up evidence for his impeachment are quite obvious. But it is also clear that the 45th President is a hard nut to crack and has much more influence than everybody thought. The establishment will most likely put up with him (not to say it will stop its fierce political fight), and the world will see a tougher and much more conservative America. External effects and the lack of experience, inevitable for a novice, aside, Trump is an American nationalist, inclined towards mercantilism in the economy and a strong-arm approach in politics. This is nothing new if one turns the page and admits the fact that the liberal era is over for the time being. Russia actually wanted to see such a president in the United States, not Trump personally but his type, understandable and not overly disposed towards political correctness. The dream has come true. We shall see how it will actually materialize.