The cover of the current edition of Foreign Affairs says it all:
America, many pundits, including many in America, Britain and Canada, say is in irreversible decline. The impact of Donald J Trump, they say, is greater than the fabled US Constitution and almost 250 years of history can overcome. America is doomed to decline and fall as did Rome and Spain and Britain before it. China, the unspoken but clear assumption is, will take over as global “top dog.” That, it seems to me, is the assumption which drives what I have come to believe is the invisible but very real government of Canada, the one which we did not elect and the one about which the media rarely comments, but the one which makes all the key policy decisions that Team Trudeau executes, as best it can. That invisible government ~ no it is not Donald Trump’s “deep state,” that is real, albeit nothing like what Tump imagined, it is, merely, the “administrative state” that, like it or not, is a feature of almost all modern democracies ~ it is something deeper, darker and less apparent and more frightening.
But I think that some of the distinguished scholars who write in this issue of Foreign Affairs may have it wrong. It seems to me, that America might have just gone through a painful but necessary process which we might describe as the political equivalent of passing a stone. It is unpleasant, even painful, but ultimately harmless and even beneficial.
President Biden, it seems to me, is the right choice for now. But, I doubt he will even seek to run for a second term. Meanwhile, in this interregnum, Americans must come to grips, over the next very few years, with the fears and angst that began in the 1960s, with Vietnam, and included the deindustrialization of America ~ the outsourcing, mostly to Asia, of many good, well paying, relatively low-skill jobs ~ and 9/11 and the inexorable rise of China. The divisions in America got deeper and deeper under Presidents Bush and Obama and paved the way for Donald Trump. But none of those divisions are insurmountable. The very fact that Barack Obama held office, at all, and that e.g. Colin Powell, born in Harlem to a working-class, immigrant family, could become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State testifies to America’s capacity to take on and resolve the most difficult problems. Recovering from the Trump experience is not going to be overly difficult.
I see, in The National Interest, a conservative journal that generally adheres to the realist school of politics, that Nikki Haley, an early front-runner for the Republican nomination in 2024, has “signalled her first sharp attempt to distance herself from former President Donald Trump in a new interview … a remarkable move as speculations have ramped up in recent months over her 2024 presidential hopes.” She’s not the only contender, but she is, I think, the odds-on-favourite right now. Governor Haley’s statement is a clear indication that while she remains committed to “America First” and some of the Trump legacy, she rejects Donald J Trump, the man, as do, it appears, an ever-increasing number of Americans.
Some people assume that China’s authoritarian model ~ that “basic dictatorship” that Justin Trudeau told us he admired so much ~ is more resilient than either liberal or conservative democracy. I disagree. I think that any fair reading of history says that Churchill was right …
… and history shows that, for all its flaws, most democratic states have outlasted every autocracy. I accept that Confucian societies have some difficulty with liberal democracy which is why, as I have explained, they have adopted a very successful conservative variant. I hoped, almost five years ago, that Xi Jinping would see that a conservative democratic model would be better for China than the autocratic one he inherited. He didn’t. Democracy in Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan works, imperfectly to be sure, just as it is very visibly imperfect in America, Britain and Canada, too. But nowhere in the world has autocracy ever worked well … imperial and/or fascist France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Spain all collapsed under the weight of either internal dissent or wars which they waged against the democracies. I cannot see why China will be any different. I do not believe that autocracy is a good system of governance and I am about 99% certain that those who are betting on China’s “victory” over the democratic West, including those who are setting Canada’s current policies towards China, are in for a cruel surprise.
My guess is that by the fall of 2022, when the US mid-term elections are held, Donald J Trump will be a spent political force. He will not go quietly, I see that he will speak at the Conservative Political Action Committee meeting in Florida at the end of the month, but he is being eased out to make way for more acceptable successors. Many elements of Trumpism, America First and America’s belief in its own exceptionalism and triumphalism and all that will persist, but Trump, the man, will be little more than a bad memory of things gone wrong. But I also guess that American voters will, as they so often do, be looking for “balance” and control of the US Senate, for example, might shift back to the Republican Party ~ 34 senators will be elected in 2022, currently, of that number, 14 are Democrats and 20 are Republicans, the GOP only needs to shift a small number to gain control of the Senate which is, currently, just about evenly split between the two major parties. Donald Trump’s “base,” tens of millions of angry, frightened Americans will still be there, but they will be looking for someone else to carry the torch for them.
I expect President Biden to begin, very quickly, to try to rebuild the grand alliance that Mr Trump tried to tear down. It’s not going to be easy. Many countries, led by France and Germany, have been chafing at America’s leadership for a generation and more. Few of them really think that America is finished, and almost none want to see China as the lone global hyper-power, but President Biden will, I think, find that he has fewer real, firm friends than he hoped. The alliance he will need to forge to face down China while America gets its own house in order, again, will be smaller than what any president between FDR and Donald Trump had at their disposal. It will be difficult but far from impossible.
There can be no doubt that America is, relatively, less powerful now, in 2021, than it has been at any time since 1971. But that is not because America is declining, much less falling. It is because China is growing in strength … but so is India. America has relied, since 1941, on allies to help it defend and then build the modern and largely democratic West. It must do so, again, today. Some allies are trusted and willing …
… while others will be tentative and weak:
But all, even Canada and France, would rather depend upon America than on China, and, in the final analysis, that ~ trust ~ is America’s great strength and China’s great weakness.