Social Trends Institute

If Only Trump Were as Predictable as Reagan

Governance
In a more militarized, unpredictable and unstable world, power becomes regionalized, but I was afraid of that with Reagan, too, and in the end we survived. Under Trump, the US has already lost its status as a reliable ally.

(This is the English translation of Lluis Amiguet’s December 8, 2016 “Contra” interview in the La Vanguardia newspaper.). 

The world with Trump is less predictable, and therefore less stable, because its problems and its power are more regionalized, as military spending increases. The US has already lost its status as a reliable ally. Michael Barnett, Council of Foreign Relations analyst and George Washington University professor, repeats here the analysis he gave The Washington Post and it’s not very comforting that this is an opinion shared by the international relations elite. But just because the worst can happen doesn’t mean that it will. For the time being, Wall Street -the world’s best information aggregator- continues to gain, because it trusts that the president elect will not only lower taxes, but that when push comes to shove, he won’t let his verbosity interfere with taking advice from those who are more knowledgeable. 

Are people still in shock over Trump?

So many of us gave him up for politically dead so many times that I’m hesitant to predict anything right now.

I’ll only ask you for one last explanation of the past before we look ahead to the future.

More than Trump winning, Hillary lost. In effect, she was the real Republican candidate.

A sagacious jest, but too late.

Hillary was the establishment candidate; the candidate of big money and conservatives.  And everyone else –quite a big number– who was fed up voted for the alternative, though nobody knows who he really is; and even less who he will be as president.

Will checks and balances work if Trump does something outrageous?

You know that an American president is defined as much….

….by what he can do as by what he cannot do. 

Because the nation’s founding fathers wanted to avoid an authoritarian leader. But it is the case that Trump can now change the Supreme Court –a great counterweight– and the entire Congress –the House of Representatives and the Senate– is already in his own party’s hands. 

You just said he’s free to do as he sees fit.

The little leeway that remains for us to hope that checks and balances will work if Trump endangers us all is that his own party will restrain him.

And how about an impeachment after repeated blunders?

That’s highly unlikely. The republicans have more than enough mechanisms to avoid getting to that point.

One must hope he appoints a secretary of state who is more centered and balanced than he is.

To date he has only chosen Islamophobes for foreign relations posts and multimillionaires as aggressive as he is to manage the economy. 

So what do you expect?

Let’s put the discussion into perspective from the outset: the president can deploy troops any place in the world at any time…

Ugh!

And you won’t have forgotten that we are still paying for Bush Jr’s irresponsibility in that regard.

That’s not a comforting precedent.

But neither was Reagan’s militarism, and nevertheless we survived Reagan without seeing the end of the world. But unfortunately, the truth is that Trump is different. 

In what respect?

Reagan had wide political experience. He had been governor of California and he put the values of democracy, free trade and freedom above his own presidency. Trump aligns himself with the world’s dictators and with Putin. 

Reagan only supported his dictators.

He had criteria, plans and a program and he was predictable up to a certain point. The problem right now in the world with Trump is that it’s unpredictable, and therefore unstable. And I assure you that the majority of those of us who work professionally in foreign relations –at least in Washington– share that view.

He’s going to carry the nuclear football.

The people who advise the president elect recount his remarks to the effect of “I don’t know what the purpose is of a satchel that can never be used.”

Ugh, ugh…

And some of my friends in the State Department are quite worried because he doesn’t read the classified intelligence briefings. He didn’t read them during the campaign either -they were available to both candidates– and his source of information remains TV news and talking heads. 

So the talking heads will wind up leading?

For now, Trump seems to have adopted –if there is anything to be trusted in his running off at the mouth– friendship with Russia -which helped him in his campaign, and mistrust of China and of the entire European Union.

Let’s hope it’s only loose chat-show talk.

The worst is the damage he’s already caused the US by showing that its leader’s word will not be good. So the majority of the world’s ministries are preparing to look for predictability and reliability by their own means, without taking the loudmouth from Washington into account.

If they can find those things on their own…

That’s why we are seeing the regionalization of world power and of many multilateral initiatives. I’m also afraid that these periods of uncertainty lend themselves to some actors –like Sadam in his day- taking advantage to take a risk.

You are not very reassuring.

I can’t be. Trump, for now, is the only president elect who hasn’t put the United States’ founding values above himself, but rather has said “I am those values.”

Is there any good news with Trump?

Obama blundered in Syria, where he could only foresee two options: victory or battle. Now an opportunity will open up to end the war through negotiations that don’t end with total winners or total losers. 

We’ll see whether his friendship with Putin works.

I’d also add that we are heading for a large increase in military spending. I hope it doesn’t wind up being a deadly cocktail. Just because the worst can happen doesn’t mean that it will.  

 

(Photo by Laura Guerrero, La Vanguardia).

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