Is Trump Unpredictable? The View from Russia – 2
By: Elena Ponomareva
With Trump’s arrival in the White House, European leaders were the first to talk of «a new historical era» (Angela Merkel) and the fact that «the old world of the 20th century is over» (Frank-Walter Steinmeier). The alarmism running through these statements is fueling discussions about the uncertainty and unpredictability of the new American president. In my view, however, judgments on his «unpredictability» should be tempered slightly. At the very least because if a political entity is «unpredictable» and everything surrounding it suddenly becomes uncertain, then one can easily imagine that planning would be impossible, leaving nothing to do but wait and see what Trump is going to do next and then react. Ultimately, this way of thinking will prevent countries from developing their own national strategies.
If there is any «unpredictability» with regard to Trump, then it is only in comparison with the White House’s previous policies, which the new administration will not be pursuing. When Richard Nixon was impeached, it heralded a creeping coup d’etat that resulted in supporters of cosmopolitan finance capital coming to power in the US. Over the past quarter of a century, the interests of American banksters have brought about the large-scale demolition of industry and the middle class in their own country. A huge number of Americans with links to the real economy were never going to be happy with such a state of affairs, and this is where the interests of certain groups of manufacturers coincided with the interests of parts of the middle class and skilled workers. Trump’s arrival in the White House is a victory for this group of manufacturers and workers and is seriously changing the rules of the game that have existed for almost forty years. And in this sense, Trump’s victory could be considered revolutionary.
At the same time, however, Trump’s rhetoric and his ‘soothing’ remarks should not be idealised for a number of reasons.
Firstly, whatever extraordinary personal qualities the president may have, the US political system is designed in such a way that he needs the support of its major segments. Trump is not an island; he is a man of the system, or, to be more precise, a certain part of it. Only «collective Trump» was able to become the president of the United States. Wealth and connections are an indispensable part of big politics and if these are used to achieve supreme power, then this supreme power will, in turn, be used to serve the interests of all those who helped the rise of a new political star.
Secondly, by promoting ‘their’ presidential candidate, stakeholders already have a strategy, a plan of action, the audit results of resources and capabilities. What’s more, domination and influence are primarily ideas that produce money and galvanise other resources. Trump’s team has such ideas. They are balanced and well thought out and show the new US president’s ‘business approach’ to politics. And, equally importantly, Donald Trump is committed. Unlike Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and other hired managers of the ‘global elite’, he is sure that he’s right.
Thirdly, the laws governing the development of society, the class struggle, and social solidarity are still in place. As the richest president ever, Trump will not indulge in altruism or hand out money on the streets. His goal is to streamline economic and political institutions, which he’s already doing. The world views he expressed in his inauguration speech are acquiring clear outlines.
Among the recent news stories demonstrating his readiness to back up his words with deeds is his decision to introduce a tax on Mexican oil. This looks like the protection of domestic oil producers with a view to revolutionising the offshore oil and gas sectors. And let it contradict the rules of ‘free trade’ – for Trump and those who brought him to power, these rules mean absolutely nothing. The most important thing is to revitalise the US economy and improve the country’s industrial capacity.
By combining nationalism and protectionism, prioritising America’s internal problems, and appealing to labourers, blue collar workers and America’s Rust Belt, Trump is building on the authority of America’s seventh president, Andrew Jackson (who, incidentally, was the founder of the Democratic Party). Jackson’s ideology and policies are fundamentally different from the Wilsonian principles so dear to those in charge of the Federal Reserve System (it’s no coincidence that America’s 28th president, Woodrow Wilson, who is quite rightly considered to be the founder of the liberal world order project, is on America’s biggest bank note ($100,000)).
By following in Jackson’s footsteps, Trump is putting national interests rather than global leadership at the heart of his policies, and this is an interesting point that will not necessarily coincide with the interests of Russia and may actually go against them. During his inauguration speech, Trump said: «We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world, but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow». These words are worth thinking about.
Fourthly, the respected American analyst Edward Luttwak is convinced that the emergence of a politician like Trump was a reaction to what went before and was 90% unavoidable.
In fact, much of what went before has led to catastrophic changes in global politics. Anti-modern forces have replaced secular regimes in the Muslim world. The strategy of ‘controlled chaos’ chosen by the Democrats has not only helped destroy secular states, but has also given rise to anti-system forces where aggression and destruction, archaism and barbarity have infiltrated Europe along with hundreds and thousands of refugees who no longer have borders. With his global expansion policy, Obama drove the European Union into a trap and contributed to its weakening and imbalance. The split within the American elite and the support for Trump are largely down to a reluctance to repeat Europe’s experience. Hence the tough anti-immigration rhetoric and the new administration’s desire to destroy the Islamic State. That’s on the one hand.
On the other, «collective Trump» knows all too well that expansion does not just bear fruit in the form of military bases, a vassal mentality in the leaders of other countries, cheap goods, and the triumph of the dollar on all continents. Expansion is also a heavy burden that threatens to tear such forces apart. A little breathing space is needed to make a breakthrough and «shine as an example for everyone». Efforts need to be concentrated and regrouped and resources need to be optimised. The entire history of the US has been an alternation of two trends: a period of expansion, of enlargement (under the Democrats Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy) followed by a period of ‘contraction’, of concentration (under the Republicans, with the exception of George W Bush).
Trump as a reaction to what went before is, above all, this much-needed breathing space; it is America focusing on its internal problems; it is a period to digest what has been eaten. Trump’s America could be regarded as America getting ready for a new leap, for new heights. Hence its focus on its own internal problems. This focus is temporary, however. There is no point in portraying Trump as an isolationist. He will implement a foreign policy that will strengthen the US and there are a number of ways that this could happen. By weakening the European Union and China, for example, or by abandoning an active policy towards Ukraine. Ukraine had already become an old suitcase without handles for the Obama administration – difficult to carry, but a shame to throw away. Getting rid of something in politics is the same as losing face, but Trump is not in danger of losing face – he can easily swap Ukraine for other options.
As far as Russia is concerned, Trump’s arrival mostly opens a window of opportunity. While the US digests its thick broth of globalisation, brought to the boil by Obama, Russia will be able to solve a few of its own problems. The most important thing is that it has a clear understanding of these problems, and a clear understanding of America’s new strategy. And with such an understanding, there will be no «unpredictability».
About the Author: Elena Ponomareva is a Doctor of Political Science, Professor at the Moscow-based MGIMO University of the Russian Foreign Ministry.
This article (Is Trump Unpredictable? The View from Russia – 2) originated on STRATEGIC CULTURE and is republished here with permission and attribution to author Elena Ponomareva and STRATEGIC CULTURE.