Deja Vu: The dark prospect of Trump 2.0

Once again the world is in the grips of a heated US election season that could have global repercussions.

Former U.S. President and Republican candidate Donald Trump makes a keynote speech at a Republican fundraising dinner in Columbia, South Carolina, U.S. August 5, 2023. REUTERS/Sam Wolfe TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Former US President and Republican candidate Donald Trump makes a keynote speech at a fundraising dinner in Columbia, South Carolina on August 5, 2023 [Reuters/Sam Wolfe]

I have been reluctant to write yet another Donald Trump-related piece considering the general fatigue with his farcical politics. But America is leaving me and countless others no choice but to pay attention, as the former US president’s shenanigans have once again taken over the American election cycle.

Despite his three indictments, he remains popular, dominating his Republican rivals on the eve of the first presidential primary debate this week and raising the stakes in yet another consequential election for America and the world.

According to the latest surveys, he holds decisive advantage across nearly all demographic groups, regions and ideological wings of the party. His popularity among Republican voters has steadily increased from 43 percent in January to 53 percent this month.

His mostly white conservative supporters are driven by a deep-seated anger, suspicion and resentment of the Democrats and their social liberalism and liberal internationalism. They do not seem moved by Trump’s political follies and legal woes. If anything, they see his indictments – which include trying to defraud the US government in order to remain in office despite losing the 2020 election – as part of a conspiracy by the Democrat-controlled deep state.

Short of a major surprise, Trump is destined to win the Republican nomination by the middle of next year and face President Joe Biden at the polls at the year’s end.

The election is for the incumbent to lose. Aside from leading in the national vote count, he shows better ratings in the battleground states he won in 2020, like Georgia and Arizona; he could also hope to flip swing states he lost, like North Carolina.

But there are a variety of factors that could put Biden at a disadvantage, including his advanced age. In recent months, his fitness for office has been repeatedly questioned.

Indeed, the prospect of Trump’s return to the White House at the helm of the world’s superpower is very real and it is generating deep anxiety and freneticism, notably among liberals in the US, Europe and beyond. They fear a bitter, vengeful Trump, in denial over his defeat in the last elections, could lash out and do just about anything with the incredible powers of the American presidency.

Trump is surely watching what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is doing since his return to the premiership in Israel, in terms of “judicial reforms” that grant him greater authority to do away with his own indictment by an Israeli court. In fact, various media outlets are reporting that the former president is planning to do what it takes to solidify his power once he is back in the White House, including limiting the independence of federal agencies, deploying the military domestically, and cracking down on his detractors.

Trump appears ready to render the United States less liberal and more autocratic, as Netanyahu is doing now with Israel. The strong checks and balances of the American constitutional democracy may not withstand the vicious assault by Trump and his white nationalist and evangelical conservative allies. He would also find sympathetic ears in the US Supreme Court that has been dominated by conservatives, three of whom were appointed by him.

That being said, the international ramification of a Trump 2.0 may be more dramatic than the domestic ones. If he returns to the White House, he would find it less constraining to effect change in foreign policy than domestic policy. Indeed, he would have greater authority as the leader of a superpower to change the world for the worse, than he would have to change America to his liking.

Just as he reversed much of what his predecessor, President Barack Obama, achieved globally, whether on climate change, trade, nuclear proliferation, Russia, Europe or the Middle East, Trump would also seek to erase Biden’s progress on these and other policies.

Under a second Trump presidency, it would be impossible to reach another nuclear deal with Iran, or a more urgent accord on climate change. There would also likely be major cuts in public spending on social protections and renewable energy expansion.

As president, Trump would also act swiftly on the Russia-Ukraine war. He has already claimed that he can resolve the conflict in “24 hours”. Some have speculated that this means he would cut US military aid to Ukraine in order to facilitate a quick end of war in Russia’s favour.

The prospect of this scenario has irked Washington’s European allies, who have been highly supportive of the US efforts against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. They fear that appeasing Russia would weaken NATO, embolden Russian President Vladimir Putin, and force them to search for immediate, radical and costly European alternative to America’s strategic umbrella.

European centrists and liberals are also worried that a Trump victory in 2024 would create a domino effect across the West, strengthening populist right-wing leaders in Hungary, Poland and Italy, and encouraging more far-right electoral victories in France and Germany.

If all of this were to happen, it would weaken America’s own foreign policy push, especially its response to rising China, which is perhaps the only major foreign policy issue – aside from Israel – on which Trump and Biden agree. An emboldened Russia, a weakened NATO, and a divided West, would not help Trump’s haughty attempts at curbing Chinese economic and strategic influence.

Beijing likely does not mind seeing Trump return to the White House, not only because he is a divisive illiberal populist leader, who is ready to abandon US global responsibilities and replace its assertive leadership with pompous bombast, but also because he wouldn’t or couldn’t use the democratic pretext to advance US interests over other more autocratic nations.

Trump has threatened that if he were to become president again, he would give the Chinese government “48 hours” to abandon its “spy base” in Cuba or face severe economic sanctions. But such bombast has not worked in the past, neither against China, which has grown more powerful militarily and strategically during the Trump years, nor against smaller powers like North Korea or Iran, both of which have expanded their nuclear programmes during his tenure. If anything, Trump’s bravado has failed even against Bashar al-Assad’s Syria.

Biden’s foreign policy hasn’t been exactly successful or responsible either; his foreign policy has been imperialist, interventionist and hypocritical. But Trump’s alternatives are worse than Biden’s globalist prerogatives. They come in the form of reckless America-first hypernationalism, vulgar racism, apathy towards the environment and the climate crisis, total disregard for multilateralism and universal values, and overall, a dark vision of the world.

A Trumpian world, in which no sane person should want to live in.