Best case, worst case
author: nick giokas | contributor
Since 1991, there’s been a global system in place that has spearheaded rapid economic and technological growth through globalization and the unchallenged geopolitical strength of the United States. This period of globalism, often referred to as the “Pax Americana,” has been slowly dying since 2014, when Russian soldiers seized the Crimean peninsula in brazen disregard for international law. Now, it appears as though the “Pax Americana” is dead, after the election of Donald Trump. This is because while Trump has flip-flopped on many issues, the one he’s stayed incredibly consistent on is American isolationism in foreign policy and trade. Incidentally, the president has the greatest influence and power in these two areas. Trump has stated he will reject the Trans-Pacific Partnership [TPP], take an antagonistic approach with China, re-evaluate America’s free trade deals, and re-evaluate NATO.
What this means for our future is the death of a largely unilateral global power structure led by the United States, and the birth of a multilateral one. While the US withdraws from the TPP, China will fill the gap with their own trade deal, and if combined with drawing down their militia-like fishing fleets, the Chinese could emerge as the de facto power in the region. By securing themselves as a dominant regional power, China would also be able to consolidate their geopolitical gains in Africa – something that has gone unchecked by the West. Another beneficiary of an isolationist America would be Russia, which would have far more leeway to pursue its policies of rebuilding its sphere of influence in both Eastern Europe and the Middle East. None of these outcomes are good and that’s the best-case scenario.
To make matters even worse, if Trump follows through on withdrawing from trade deals and deporting millions of illegal immigrants, it would decimate the US economy by a measure close to or worse than the 2007 financial crisis. This would make the probability for both China and Russia taking controversial, immoral actions far more likely, since the possible losses due to conflict would be much lower. If they opted to abandon soft-power projection in the wake of an economic downturn, an emboldened and empowered China, free from the checks on their practices by America, would be far more likely to take offensive actions in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the South China Sea. In a similar case, an emboldened and empowered Russia would be free to intensify the conflict in Ukraine (possibly with another invasion) and ferment revolt in the Baltic States, threatening stability in Europe. The result would be a weakened West accompanied by wide-scale upheaval and destruction.
To put it bluntly, if Trump enacts the policies that he has previously advocated for, there are no upsides. To put it even more bluntly, the best-case scenario in a Trump presidency is a world that is in shambles, but has the possibility to be salvaged; the worst-case scenario is a spike in conflict that we haven’t seen since the early days of the Cold War, accompanied by the oppressive domestic policies of that same period. To make things even grimmer, Trump appointing white nationalist and anti-Globalist Steve Bannon to a position in the White House makes the worst-case scenario even more likely, both domestically and internationally.
While there has been a horrifying normalization of Trump as an individual, there has been an equally horrifying normalization of his policies. Isolationist populists like Trump, Farage, Le Pen, Corbyn, and Sanders have marketed a view that “establishment” politics and the globalist system are things that need to be destroyed. By abandoning any attempt to moderate and incrementally reform the corporate sector or the government, they have instead argued a “burn it all down” approach that eschews facts for unsubstantiated rhetoric. Populism is a dangerous thing because it promises sections of society exactly what they want with no consequences, something that simply isn’t possible.
By buying into this rhetoric, by simply abandoning facts, a large section of the global populace have bought into a worldview that is so insular it borders on the narcissistic. Where only their concerns carry any importance and no one that isn’t like them matters. For people such as this, there is no such thing as mutual benefit; there are only winners and losers, and everything is a zero-sum game.
What I have described may sound grim, but it is the new status quo. All we can do now is attempt to change that and pray it changes quickly.