What Happens After Trump?

There have been a great number of words, some may say too many, written about Donald J. Trump over the last three years. Well, here are some more.

From his shock entry in the Republican Primary race, through his stunning victory in November 2016, to pulling out of multiple international agreements that sought to reduce global risk and his plainly vindictive actions around a half-mast flag following the death of Sen. John McCain, Trump has been a diplomatic bull in the proverbial China shop.

To date, he has offended America’s strategic allies, walked away from an international climate accord, jeopardised the normalisation of relations with a key Middle East player, held Summits legitimizing international pariah’s such as Kim Jong Un and Vladamir Putin and used a 1962 loophole in trade legislation allowing him to levy tariffs on America’s partners on national security grounds. Last, but by no means least, just last week Trump signed an “unbelievable deal” (his words, naturally) with Mexico, potentially jeopardising the landmark NAFTA agreement and leaving Canada’s Trudeau distinctly left footed.

Despite the best intentions of anonymous authors for the New York Times, the damage that President Trump is doing to his country is significant and it is long-term. The only question left is, how much more damage can he do before leaving the White House.

Notwithstanding the latest twists and turns of the Mueller investigation, that depends partly on the American public’s verdict on Trump this November, at the Congressional mid-terms, and partly on who the Democratic Party can find to put up against Trump in 2020. Whomever the Democrats are able to find, he or she will have not only to go through a gruelling Democratic Party Primary process, but then also withstand and overcome the abuse Mr Trump employs against his opponents.

There is an assumption that Trump cannot win re-election. This is a flawed and dangerous fiction based on wishful thinking and political myopia. Mr Trump may have recorded the lowest approval ratings in modern history, but since his record lows he has been bucking the historical trend; where predecessors have seen steadily declining ratings, Trump’s have been rising. That should tell the reader something; an increasing number of US voters are growing to like what they see and hear from their sitting President. If the Democrats cannot muster a worthwhile candidate they will not overcome Mr Trump’s growing popularity with important coalitions within the electorate.

As for the Republicans, don’t expect anything from the party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. Many of the ‘Never Trump’ caucus have simply upped sticks and left for pastures new. Then there are those making use of Trump’s language and, I hesitate to use the word, ‘politics’ for their own ends. Others are sidling off stage in November, in order to try to avoid any further blame. As a party, time and again, the Republicans have failed to stand up to Trump’s particular brand of shock and gore.

There are some who see in Trump a disrupter, a man who really wants global free trade and is simply trying to shake up the international order to make it work ‘better’. For them, he’s the dealmaker who can come in and get the deal no one else could, because no one else had the balls.

The dealmaker line is one theory, however, if you just look at Trump’s record of language on trade, on NATO, on despotic regimes across the world for the last thirty years. Everything he has said over that period of time, everything he stood for, he is doing.

Fundamentally, the President has a total lack of respect for America’s allies, how they came to be allies and why they still count themselves as such. There is a complete void in understanding the serious consequences of starting a trade war with friends and neighbours. There’s then his deeply troubling obsession with despotic forms of government. And last but not least, the sitting President of the United States has a complete disdain for normal methods of media communications, actively galvanising public mistrust in a free press and media that has so many times before stood up against unlawful and dubious actions by government.

We are a very long way indeed from Henry Kissinger’s Realpolitik; paraphrasing Palmerston, Kissinger said that America does not have friends or allies, it has interests. That may be so, but at the very least America’s chief interest was making countries feel like friends and allies, sustaining an umbrella of interests and a foreign policy that, wherever possible, promoted democracy and liberalism over tyranny and state control.

In a way, it doesn’t actually matter whether Donald J. Trump loses the Republican Party their majority in Congress this November. It doesn’t matter if he is ejected from office in 2020.

The damage is done. Henceforth, promises given and commitments made by the United States of America will come with an asterisk attached. Because if they elected one Trump they might very well elect another.

Daniel Paterson is Senior Counsel at Barndoor Strategy

Image copyright Michael Scott Vadon