After Trump, a deeply divided empire in decline

What to say about US President Trump, now that he has left the White House? His political career seems to be over, but he has transformed the Republican party and the support that he still enjoys among them is very high. Most believe the elections were stolen and repeat his talking points about communism and China. The result of his divisiveness was plainly seen on the 6th of January when a mob stormed the Capitol.

Trump has shown himself not to be very smart. He was boastful and arrogant. He talked too much and obviously didn’t think things through, as he should have. He was always in conflict with someone, blaming his numerous enemies for this or that, fighting what he called fake news. When the storming of the Capitol took place, it was revealed he wasn’t even loyal to his own supporters. He enraged them with a speech and then watched from afar. Well, at least it became clear at that point that he was never the fascist dictator some wanted to portray him. He never had the intelligence to pull something like that off.

Truth be told, Donald Trump isn’t the sole reason the US is in the sad state it is in today. Americans are a deeply divided nation and have been for a long time. There is a kind of quiet civil war going on. Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, nationalists and socialists, have been fighting a long time about various issues like immigration, racism, misogyny, feminism, rights of the LGBTQ community, police violence, minimum wage, healthcare insurance, and so on. Much of this is perfectly normal in modern society. Political parties have different views on how to solve problems and which path to take into the future. But there is something very aggressive inside US politics and very dangerous as well. People got radicalized and Donald Trump is just the symptom of this radicalization and deep divides inside American society.

It might be said, and some would disagree, that it was the American right that fired the first shots in this war with its attacks on political correctness. All in the name of free speech, of course, but it degraded into insults and a very brutal climate was created, aided by the rise of social media, where people were competing who could be more outrageous and so get more likes and followers.

Trump is no ordinary politician and in the Republican primary leading to the 2016 election he stood out among the favorites of the party, men that promised to represent the conservatives values not only in their economic programs but also with their appearance and behavior. He easily presented himself as a man of the people, no matter his considerable wealth and his buffoonish behavior might have helped him with people who detested the ruling elites. Here is a man, they thought, that will drain the swamp. They couldn’t say that about Jeb Bush, could they? The man, who was almost destined to be the Republican candidate, was a brother of one and son of another US president. If ever there was a man of the political elite, that was him. And people disappointed with how things were going couldn’t support such a man. They rather hoped that the outsider would bring some change.

Trump was attacked from all sides, all the time. After he won all hell broke loose and the Democrats, media, and left-wing activists came to the conclusion, that the best way to fight him is to adopt the methods of their opponent. So they started fabricating conspiracy theories, like the one that Russians somehow influenced the presidential elections and inflating the threat of a fascist takeover. It went on and on, all in the hope that fear and hate will be enough to mobilize voters behind their banner. There was no more political correctness left, no respect.

What happens when two sides of the political spectrum adopt the same strategy of manipulation and fear-mongering? Exactly. Society becomes deeply divided, to the point that people openly hate each other. Trust evaporates, and people trust their activists, their media, their politicians and dismiss anything that comes from the opposite camp.

One proof of this great divide are protests. After the killing of George Floyd, American cities erupted in violent protests. A police station was burned down, stores were looted, police went hard on the protesters. Compare that with what happened with the storming of the Capitol in January. Compare the response of both political parties, journalists, and activists. While massive police forces and the National Guard in the streets in the case of BLM protests were a problem for the liberal media, more than 25000 National Guard members in Washington after the storming of the Capitol somehow isn’t. BLM protests have been portrayed as a just response to police brutality, while the actions of Trump supporters were presented as a terrorist act that must be dealt with most severely. The other side is hypocritical as well, full of accusations that Antifa is violently destroying everything in their path and the Democrats are aiding them in some nefarious plan to impose communism, while the protests of Trump supporters are presented in a much better light.

No, it is not all Trump’s fault. Divisions will remain after he is gone because both sides decided years ago that this is the best way for them to mobilize their supporters. That is the reason why half of America now thinks Putin put Trump into office and Russia is doing everything it can to meddle into their political process and bring about a fascist order, while the other half believes China has long ago bought the Democrats who want to impose communism.

The US foreign policy is guided by interests, not principles and those interests stay the same, no matter who the president is. There are some geopolitical realities nobody in Washington can ignore. The US is an empire with a huge web of alliances and military bases and to maintain that empire, to protect their standing in the world, aggressive actions are needed.

Donald Trump had the right instinct that it is now the age of economic warfare, not direct military action. He would have abandoned Afganistan and Syria operations if he had not been opposed all the way by people in his own administration and frankly if he had more courage. That does not mean he was a peacenik. No, economic warfare is something like medieval sieges. Many people die, many more suffer. It is a war with other means, so it would be wrong to claim Trump was somehow better than his predecessors because he didn’t start any new wars. He just found other, more effective ways of killing people around the world, although, it must be said that he was at times very reckless with the use of military force as well. He did bomb Syria and order the assassination of Iranian general Soleimani in Iraq, the action that didn’t lead to a larger war, only because the Iranian leadership figured they could strike back in a symbolic way and then continue with their so-far successful influence operations in the region.

Trump also understood that Russia is not as important as China for the continued American domination. He probably wanted to improve relations with Russia and try and turn them against China, but in the end, he did no such thing and went with the sanctions program and lead an aggressive policy against them. Don’t believe people, who say that wasn’t the case. It is simply not true. Again, he waged an economic war on his opponent and tried to prevent the completion of the North Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany. He also continued to support Ukraine.

The reality is, Russia is not a direct competitor to the US. It is a military behemoth but doesn’t possess the population or the economy to rival the US. China, on the other hand, is a real threat. It wasn’t Trump that first understood that. Obama started the pivot to Asia, anticipating that the main battle for global supremacy will be waged there.

In the end, Trump was unsuccessful. He was unable to stop the economic rise of China and the Covid-19 crisis only propelled that country further ahead, as it is now clear that it was the only major economy in the world that experienced growth last year. The trade war did no good for the US either. The imbalance in China’s favor is still there. Neither did support for Hong Kong protesters and spreading of accusation that there is a genocide going on against the ethnic group of Uyghurs destabilize China or managed to create a united front against Beijing. The EU even signed a comprehensive investment agreement and didn’t bother for Biden to take power in Washington and then coordinate with him.

Remember, the US is guided by interests and the change in the White House will bring a change of style, while the essence will stay the same. We already live in a cold war and tensions between the American empire on one side and China and Russia, but also Iran, Venezuela, and others will remain. It is important to note at his point, though, that Donald Trump did damage the diplomatic standing of the US with his unsophisticated behavior. Some US allies are starting to think hard about how to detach themselves and prevent them from being just pawns in the new cold war. Germany is one fine example of that. On the other side, one should not underestimate the wish the liberal elites around the world have for the return of the age of Obama or Clinton when they could blindly follow Washington.

But maybe it is already too late for that.

Donald Trump has left the US in a much weaker position than it was four years ago. It is not all his fault, but much is. He is a symptom of the radicalization of American society and has only contributed to the already existing deep divide. He could have, he should have acted differently and tried to unite, not divide and the US would now be a different place, not one where masses of soldiers must protect the inauguration of the new president. But on the other side, there is only so much an American leader can do in face of the spectacular rise of China and the comeback of Russia. The World is changing, the economic power center is moving to East Asia and there are numerous countries that will shape the future, because they have a large population and are experiencing enough growth, or because they are aggressive enough in their foreign policy.

History will not judge Donald Trump well and his reign might come to be considered as a turning point, the point when the US started to decline. We should be careful here not to assign all the blame to him. He was the symptom, not the cause of an already dysfunctional society, a society that is in need of deep reforms and unifying ideas if it wants to maintain its status in the world.