The US has become a more dangerous nation and Donald 2.0, with his instinctive aversion to war, may even be less threatening to the world.
Joe Biden’s presidency has very little to write home about. When it comes to foreign and trade policies, he has not only continued his predecessor’s, but also maximised them. While Donald Trump started mainly a trade war with China, Biden has switched to full-spectrum containment short of a hot war.
Trump was rude to the Europeans. But thanks to the war in Ukraine, Biden really sticks the knife into their backs, leaving most of them with a once-in-a-generation cost-of-living crisis while forcing them to buy oil at inflated prices from American sources.
Trump started no war. Biden has committed America to two unwinnable proxy conflicts, in Ukraine and Palestine. With his almost unconditional support for the slaughter by Israel, the United States will never recover its claims on human rights and democracy. Those claims will not require considered rebuttals in future; they will just invite universal ridicule.
Both proxy wars may end up costing the US’ depleted global credibility as much as or even more than George W. Bush’s disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While Trump was trigger-happy with sanctions and tariffs against foreigners, including even some allies, Biden has weaponised the entire world economy, its US dollar-dominated financial system and supply chains, especially with those related to hi-tech such as advanced computer chips.
Indeed, he has done more to reverse globalised trade by tying up established supply chains – thereby significantly increasing costs for everyone – to contain China as it forces reluctant allied governments and firms, both foreign and domestic, to join in.
Trump shut down the Appellate Body of the World Trade Organisation by blocking appointment of new judges. Biden does the same under the guise of the need to reform the trade group. While Trump might have said nice things about autocrats, Biden has denounced them while having no trouble cosying up when he needs something from them, such as extra oil from Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Trump lied big time but he was also honest about the big picture and his true intentions. Biden is just a hypocrite. In many ways, the current president is worse.
Trump liked to say, “America first”. Biden has adopted industrial policy wholesale along with massive subsidies for operators in the domestic market.
Without exaggeration, one prominent commentator at the Financial Times has written that “Biden is the heir to Trump”. And yet, across the US, especially among the liberal elites, there is genuine fear about Trump’s return. Their hysterics are being transmitted to the rest of the world through the Anglo-American media.
It’s hard to see how Trump 2.0 could be worse than Biden. For the rest of the world, the US has long been the super-rogue state terrorising with missiles and bombs small countries that can’t fight back and bullying bigger ones if they don’t play ball. Trump will just do what every US president has done, though perhaps more war-avoidant, which is surely a good thing.
So, why does the US establishment fear him so much? Because if he does go back to the White House, it will be payback time. They have waged relentless “lawfare” against the man by throwing every criminal and civil law, in city, state and federal statutes, against him. If that happens in a hostile country, the US would have been denouncing such anti-democratic tricks and calling for sanctions.
Trump’s first presidential victory was a fluke; even he admitted it. This likely second win, which will have overcome the most overwhelming obstacles ever thrown at a candidate, should, by any objective measure, be the most convincing.
This time, he will have a much better sense of how to wield the awesome presidential powers at his disposal. It’s not for nothing that the office has long been described as the “imperial presidency” with each generation eroding further the checks and balances from the US Congress and the courts.
When it comes to going after his domestic enemies, Trump 2.0 will be Richard Nixon on steroids.
First published in the South China Morning Post January 17, 2024