Athanasios Nathanail, EEB3
It seems like a very long time ago since, on November 3, the United States elections took place. The race for the future president of the country had billions, not only Americans, biting their nails. When the results came in four days later, it was official. The US of A had a new president-elect, and his name was Joseph R. Biden. While it is important to speculate about the effects of Biden’s win, it is equally important to discuss what Trump’s loss means: for the USA; for the world; for the future.
Trumpism: Will it outlast Trump?
From the beginning, one thing was clear: Donald Trump only ever cared about his voter base. In stark contrast to previous presidents, who at the very least campaigned on the promise of uniting America, the president entered the race ready to deliver attack after attack to his opponents. Jeb Bush, another Republican candidate in 2016, railed at Trump that “you cannot insult your way to the presidency.” Much to Bush’s own dismay, Trump accomplished that very thing. He crushed the opposition within his own party, and, due to the complex mechanism of the Electoral College, he also delivered a surprise blow to Hillary Clinton and the Democrats by managing to win the presidency.
Trump’s inauguration on January 20, 2017 kicked off a presidency unlike any other. As it dragged on, it became increasingly evident that the Republican Party of old was rapidly changing, being replaced by a new political ideology: Trumpism. Trumpism is an amalgam of conservatism, populism, and American nationalism. It taps into the feelings of the white disenfranchised blue-collar American, offering both a saviour to believe in and a scapegoat to rally against. In the last four years, Trump has set up a cult of personality around himself and created an “Us vs Them” mentality among his supporters. He has attacked news outlets and reporters, made incalculable false claims, covertly praised white nationalists, and openly threatened to overturn the election results multiple times. Throughout his presidency, he has done everything in his power to cling onto that seat.
Although Trump has not succeeded in his re-election efforts, is it safe to say that Trumpism will be a thing of the past? The short answer: No. Trumpism emerged due to the political failures of both parties. Barack Obama, the candidate of “Yes we can!” had promised a lot of changes for his second term, but ultimately failed to deliver on many of them, partly because the Republicans held the Senate majority from 2014 to 2016. His failure to provide good jobs to middle class Americans also led many of them to switch sides. They were tired of what they perceived as political stagnation and could no longer trust the Democrats to be the change.
The Republicans had also failed, twice, as they were not able to provide a candidate capable of beating the Democrats in two consecutive elections. This pushed them and their voter base to search for more extreme solutions. As such approach also turned out to appeal to some of the disenfranchised Democrats, the old-style Republicans could do nothing but fall in line, accepting Trump’s domination of the party. The road had already been paved before the 2016 elections, but Trump walked it so well, that, after becoming president, he faced almost no significant opposition.
Biden’s presidency can very easily imitate the last two years of Obama’s. The Democrats’ win in Georgia’s Senate runoff elections has provided them with a majority in the Senate. However, it is uncertain whether they will be able to make substantial changes. The US has also proven to be quite forgetful in its nature, and so Republicans might still have a chance to force a status quo in the 2022 Senate elections, even after the events in the US Capitol. A Republican candidate can arrive at the scene in 2024, attacking the establishment and promising to “drain the swamp”, like Trump did in 2016. For those who cheered when Biden’s win was announced, the following 4 years will need to be a time of action, not idleness.
A change in US global relations?
Arguably the biggest impact of Trump’s loss will be that on America’s foreign policy. Trump’s presidency can be described as the most isolationist period of the USA since the beginning of WW2. The president’s “America First” policy emphasised national interests, often to an extreme extent. His go-it-alone approach has harmed US relations with traditional allies like the EU, Canada, and NATO. Conversely, he has shown sympathy for autocratic leaders, such as Vladimir Putin, and expressed his support for populist politicians, such as Marine Le Pen, Andrzej Duda, and Boris Johnson.
Trump has admittedly taken a much more aggressive stance on China than previous presidents, although his inability to call upon other leaders to do the same has probably cost the USA in terms of diplomatic ties with the rest of the world. Expecting a second Cold War (this time with China) to arise within the next 10 years, Biden has already promised a more co-operative approach with traditional US allies. Many issues need to be smoothed over, from the transatlantic relationship with the EU to relations with Canada, but most of the world is looking forward to working with a president who values multilateral co-operation. As for US – Russia relations, they will also sour, now that Putin will lose a secret admirer in the White House.
Lastly, Donald Trump’s loss will likely not have a big impact on modern populism globally. Politicians like Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi have been around long before Trump was elected. Trump’s victory in 2016 definitely strengthened populist sentiment around the world and enabled populist politicians to be more aggressive. However, nothing indicates that his defeat will also lead to the downfall of populist regimes. As mentioned before, Trumpism, as well as other populist ideologies, stems from the failures of previous governments. As long as leadership fails to acknowledge and address the issues of their populace, there is little base for optimism.
The Future: What should we do?
So far, the reader might be excused to think that the future of the world, even with Trump gone, is portrayed as decisively bleak. Although this might be too far-fetched, we must come to terms with reality. Donald Trump has been the face of American politics and the true expression of the views of a significant portion of the US population for four years, and it will take a while until he is not. There are, however, some glimmers of hope, especially when it comes to the fight against climate change. Biden’s climate plan differs dramatically from his predecessor’s. It includes re-joining the Paris Agreement, creating new “green” jobs, and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. There is also hope for more co-operation between countries, albeit with more uncertainty.
“The era in which we could fully rely on others is over to some extent,” Angela Merkel famously said in 2017. “We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands,” she continued. This is what we have to take away from the past four years. We can no longer expect the USA to be the beacon of liberty, nor can we expect Trump’s loss to fix all the problems he created or exacerbated during his tenure. If we want a better system, better candidates, better future, we can only put faith in ourselves, in Europe, and in the European project.
This article was taken from the BEE3 magazine of Ixelles (https://ec.eeb3.eu/bee3/) – the BEE3 is partnered with the 13 stars newspaper.