Trump Not a Cause but a Symptom of Brave New World and as Such Quite Predictable, Lukyanov Says

Vladirmir Putin and Donald Trump Sitting in Chairs with Flags Behind, adapted from image at whitehouse.gov

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, June 25, 2018)

Fedor Lukyanov, president of Russia’s Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, argues that US President Donald Trump is not the cause by a symptom of fundamental changes in the world and as such is quite predictable, something other governments including Russia’s must take into account.

In today’s Ogonyek, the influential Russian foreign policy analyst says that up to now, “the world hasn’t learned to correctly ‘read’ the current American president” but must begin to do so in order to deal with a world that is changing far more rapidly and radically now than at anytime in the recent past (kommersant.ru/doc/3661715).

According to Lukyanov, “Donald Trump dominates in all genres – news, discussions, parodies, social network posts, analytic studies and secret reports. The actions and moves of the US president define the atmosphere of the world and dictate a general agenda” even among those who oppose him.

“The United States under him has fallen into a kind of isolation as very few support Trump’s course.” But his success in setting the agenda sets America apart and conceals its real power, role and possibilities in the international system,” the Russian analyst and commentator continues.

Many of his opponents shake their heads and can’t imagine what he will do next, Lukyanov says; but in fact, Trump’s actions now are exactly what he said he would do during his campaign and thus are from that point of view predictable. Moreover, that consistency is “one of the secrets of his success in the eyes of [American] voters.”

It seems to many of them that “Trump like in general all the so-called populists throughout the world finally has turned to their real problems, to what agitates ordinary citizens” who are worried about the decline of their part of the population and are furious at elites who seem not to care about that.

“Trump is convinced in his own correctness; in his role, he is a genuine missionary which completely corresponds to the American political tradition.” But his mission is not to extend what his predecessors have done over the last several decades in creating “global American leadership under conditions of neo-liberal globalization.”

Instead, Lukyanov says, Trump wants to reverse what they did. But in this, “Trump is not the cause of changes but their result: the American course after the Cold War has exhausted itself politically and economically” and new global competitors, “above all China,” have underscored that fact.

But, the Moscow analyst points out, “withdrawal from leadership does not mean a rejection of domination.” He cites the argument of MIT’s Barry Posen, a leading American realist foreign policy theorist, that “although the Trump Administration has undermined many of the pillars of liberal international, its course on security issues remains consistently hegemonic.”

“The reduction of the costs of hegemony, Trump and his supporters want to achieve by the fragmentation of international relations” by protectionism and the reduction of reliance on alliances and international organizations. Many of them believe that this is “almost the last chance” to save America and the West from losing their historical identities.

According to Lukyanov, “the paradox of the universal reaction to Trump consists in that his ideology is not alien to the American political tradition. More than that, such approaches have dominated a large part of American history, if one considers the entire period of the existence of the United States.”

The longtime sense of America as “‘a city on the hill,'” Lukyanov points out, can be realized in one of two ways: by actively bringing the truth of America to the world “as has been the case over the last three decades” or by closing oneself off and allowing “‘the gleam'” of America to be the guiding light for others.

“The latter means is above all more characteristic of American politics,” the Russian analyst says. Indeed, it is symbolic in a way that “Trump became US president exactly a century after President Woodrow Wilson carried out a revolution in American foreign policy by securing the participation of the country in World War I.”

“That became the first step to that global leadership, the apotheosis of which arrived at the end of the 20th century,” Lukyanov says. But the fate of Wilson is instructive: he was rejected by the elites of his time – they voted down US participation in his League of Nations – but his ideas then won out later.

Whether Trump, “the anti-Wilson,” will have a similar fate is as yet unknown, Lukyanov continues. “The level of domestic conflict in America is unprecedented, and the personal hatred to the occupant of the White House is extremely sharp in the establishment and in intellectual circles.”

“But just as Wilson opened the gates to a new political reality and ushered in the next political cycle, so too Trump has become a divide which separates the former course from the new one,” Lukyanov argues.

“It is thus easy to imagine,” he says, that his successors will become “a politician of an entirely different type and image” because society will be tired from Trump’s “extravagance.” But the next president won’t be able or even want to “destroy that reality which Donald Trump is so decisively creating now.”

“A different style? Yes; but a different content? Why?” Trump has done “all the dirty work,” Lukyanov says, and thus has left his successor “in the enviable position of a moderate and consensus builder. But already on new foundations – and in a new world.”