Trump’s enfeebled America stands alone


July 20, 2017

Trump’s enfeebled America stands alone

Economic change has affected other countries, but they have managed globalisation

by Martin Sanbu@www.ft.com

Image result for Trump Go it Alone Foreign PolicyDonald Trump with his Foreign Policy Novice, SIL Jared Kushner

The US President used to be thought of as the leader of the free world. America’s western friends are finding that they can no longer rely on it. But the truly transforming change is that they may find they no longer need to — and that the US needs the world more than the other way around.–Martin Sandbu

The greatest challenge posed by Donald Trump’s presidency is not that he will deploy American strength against the global common good. It is that he demonstrates how weak the US has become.

Recall Mr Trump’s inaugural address. The phrase that has resounded around the world is “America first”. But the more significant phrase he used is that other, more inward-looking one: “American carnage”. What sort of country describes itself, in the words of its highest leader no less, in such terms? Not one that feels strong.

Some Americans may not recognise the dystopian conditions his speech described. But a large group surely does. American decline is not a figment of Mr Trump’s imagination. The US economy has left large numbers of people with stagnant wages for decades. It is an economy in which millions fewer people have a job than at the peak in 2000, and which still leaves tens of millions without secure, decent healthcare.

It is an economy dotted with towns that were thriving within living memory, but have been devastated by the loss of factory jobs — lost because automation made plants too productive to need as much human labour as before, or because a failure to automate made them uncompetitive against rivals.

Above all, it is an economy in which centuries-old progress against mortality has gone in reverse for middle-aged low-educated Americans, who are dying from the afflictions of broken lives and broken communities: drug overdoses, liver disease and suicide.

Deep economic change has affected other advanced economies too. But others have not let globalisation get in the way of managing it. The US is weak not because it has uniquely been cheated out of a golden age of factory jobs by foreigners, but because it has failed to create a prosperous new future for all at home.

Mr Trump’s railing against Washington is therefore not without foundation. Economic dysfunction has long been matched by glaringly inadequate governance. The devastation of the global financial crisis — which was at its core a US financial crisis, unsuspected by its regulatory system — followed the gross incompetence of the George W Bush administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina and its adventurism in Iraq.

Mr Trump’s speech in Poland before the G20 summit was the international version of his American carnage speech. Just like the US, in his telling, is a landscape of decay at the mercy of corrupt leaders, he presented the western world as mortally threatened by destructive forces because of decadence within.

But while he may be a fiery prophet of US decline, he is wrong about the wider world. If other western countries display a quiet confidence vis-à-vis Mr Trump, it is because they have reason to. Their unrepentant globalism is striking. Canada’s reconsecration of its globalist destiny matches its ambitious welcome of refugees. Europe and Japan are creating one of the world’s largest free trade areas. The EU vows not to withdraw from globalisation but to shape it to its values of solidarity. Japan is leading the other spurned partners from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Mr Trump has pulled out of, in an effort to complete trade liberalisation without US participation.

What lessons can we draw from this contrast? First, take the theatrics of populism seriously. Populism paradoxically mixes machismo with an incessant focus on weakness — but blames weakness on elements that must be expelled, allowing the true representatives of the forgotten people a free hand.

Image result for Macron and Merkel

A revitalised Franco-German Partnership for a Strong EU–Macron and Merkel

Second, this worsens the problem populists promise to solve. It deepens existing divisions and paralyses democratic politics. For aspiring totalitarians that may be part of a plan. For others, it is simply a self-fulfilling prophecy. Look no further than Britain for a nation that has acted on a mistaken belief that its strength has been sapped by the global liberal order (in the form of the EU), only to throw itself into true political disarray and indecision.

Third, the clash between populism and globalism is theatrical all right, but it is a theatre of the grotesque that expresses reality by transmogrifying it. Those who most try to project strength are those with the most domestic weakness to hide. Leaders of harmonious countries have no need to brag.

Fourth, it is in countries where US-style social and economic decay is most visible that the global liberal order is most contested: above all the UK, but also France and Italy. The rest of the west must redouble efforts to improve the social protections that have kept decay at bay for now.

Germany is of particular importance: its labour reforms 15 years ago have produced a worrying increase in inequality and precarious work. It must not repeat the US’s mistakes.

Finally, the global liberal order is more than the US. Its remaining supporters aim to carry on by forging the unity of purpose collectively that the US cannot even muster at home. A few decades ago that would have been unthinkable. Today, it may just be true that US isolationism will most harm the US itself.

The US President used to be thought of as the leader of the free world. America’s western friends are finding that they can no longer rely on it. But the truly transforming change is that they may find they no longer need to — and that the US needs the world more than the other way around.

martin.sandbu@ft.com

5 thoughts on “Trump’s enfeebled America stands alone

  1. LOL. This is surely an exaggeration. It seems like Martin Sandbu has gotten into a mentalist where everything about the US is bad now that Trump is in charge. I’m distressed, too, that we’ve an idiotic asshole in the White House. I thought I live in the US but I don’t recognize the country Martin Sandbu is talking about. Just because we’ve an idiot as president doesn’t mean the country has declined so soon overnight. There’re no facts the author cites to about aggregate economic outcomes. The US was and is doing better than lots of other Western countries. There have always been distributional issues in the US. But it’s pretty silly to say that the US is some sort of economic sad sack. What’s outrageous about Trump is precisely that he’s sold narrative of decline to a thriving nation, based largely on race-based fear. This type of article lacks caution and balance.
    _____________
    LaMoy,

    Sandbu’s article is intended to produce a reaction like yours. I happen to think that Trump is the result of congressional and White House politics gone out of sync. 6 months into the Trump Presidency all that Trump can do is to use Twitter to spew rubbish. America is no longer in the pole position of global leadership. The EU (with France and Europe taking the lead), a resurgent Russia (with Putin at helm) and Xi’s China are the new power players. Trump is the odd man out given his Foreign Policy snafus.–Din Merican

  2. Yeah, Bang Din, the GOP controls both houses of Congress. It holds the White House. For seven years its leadership railed against ObamaCare, and its rank-and-file members voted to repeal it, over and over again. Yet here we are, six months into the Trump administration, and what has the party managed to deliver? Nada. Zilch. Zero. When it comes to actually doing something, the GOP’s got nothing.

    The GOP under Trump is deeply divided against itself. It has no idea what policies to support across a range of issues. And Trump has failed to provide any leadership because, simply put, he’s just an ignorant fool – uninformed, unprepared, and unclear about anything – not cut out be a leader.

    Take the recently defeated health care, for example: House Speaker Paul Ryan has wanted to gut Medicaid since he was a keg-guzzling college student. Hardcore libertarians, meanwhile, want to replace the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) mandates and regulated insurance marketplaces with genuinely free markets, consumer choices, and tax cuts. Then there are the moderates, who want ObamaCare to stay pretty much as it is, especially when it comes to its Medicaid expansion. And finally, the policy wonks want government-funded heath-savings accounts and tax credits for the working class.

    Then there’s Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who couldn’t care less about the nation’s health-care system. Like Trump, he is motivated entirely by a desire for a “win,” regardless of what it is. He promised the libertarians and conservative ideologues a rollback of Medicaid while simultaneously assuring the moderates that the promised rollback would never happen. He even responded to a collapse in support for the Senate’s bill by proposing to pass a full repeal of the ACA, with the consequences delayed for two years. That’s why McConnell’s repeal-only gambit was bound to fail.

    Health care is clearly a “major GOP defeat.” The next item on the party’s agenda is the tax-reform bill. As soon as the tax-reform bill begins to be debated, I anticipate we’re likely to see the very same fissures open up between conservative movement stalwarts and libertarians on the one hand and moderates on the other. The former will fight for the largest possible upper-income and investment tax cuts while the latter will fret about deficits, demand tax relief for the middle class, and favor modest revenue increases over spending cuts. And once again, compromise will prove elusive.

    All the while Trump continues tweeting throwing oil to the fire, play acting Nero to see Rome burning.

  3. @ Dato’ Din , I can only say that yours is par Excellence….. short but Incisive….typical of your style of brilliant synopsis ! ! (sincere appreciation )

  4. Donald J Trump’s presidency is toast.The horndog is asking his legal team about his power of pardoning his family members,aides and himself.Pardon himself?What stuff is this horn dog smoking?

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