I read an article last night by an American correspondent for one of the major British papers arguing, in so many words, that the entire global order is about to be upended as the US, which is the progenitor of the global trade regime, abandons that regime and also ends or vastly diminishes the NATO alliance and its analogue alliances in East Asia. These outcomes are profoundly ominous, not because any of these are sacrosanct or above reform but because any upending of the global order by its long time guarantor is the kind of jagged and chaotic change which leads to instability, global depressions and wars – and not just the kinds of wars that brutalize people in places far away from the United States. Perhaps my mindset is still too guided by the first half of the 20th century and its mix of economic autarky, revisionist states, rising and falling powers and the absence of the kind of international institutions the US created after World War II, but that is simply not a world you want you and your children to live in. Not in the least.
But there’s a big ‘but’.
If you listen to what Donald Trump has said, he wants to ditch and withdraw from the global trading order and pull back from our network of security alliances in Europe and Asia. In the latter case, at a minimum, he wants to make these relationships far more transactional. And yet, Trump’s party, which controls Congress, while not internationalist or alliance focused, is committed to the most robust and confrontational stances toward Russia (against which NATO is again primarily focused) and China (which is the implicit and increasingly explicit focus of our alliances in Asia).
What’s more, the GOP is dominated by ideological trade liberalizers and funded by corporate America which is profoundly beholden to the current international trade regime. Yes, a lot of the turbulence within the GOP has been driven by backbench and far right Republicans who oppose things like TPP. But the majority of the party is still firmly ideologically attached to pro-corporate unfettered trade. It’s leadership is certainly committed.
I don’t think it is too much to say that for corporate America and the US financial sector, an end to the global trading order, with its mix of free flows of goods, capital and also labor, represents an existential threat. Something has to give there. This is not a difference that can be papered over.
Meanwhile, Paul Ryan has just announced that as part of repealing Obamacare he wants to push forward and phase out Medicare and replace it with private insurance for seniors with premium supports. Democrats will and to a moral certainty must resist that with all their might (of which I believe they have more than many realize). That is hardly going to be welcomed by older, white voters in red states who were Trump’s most consequential voters and themselves experiencing a health crisis the origins of which are not even entirely clear.
None of this fits. And by that I don’t mean it’s not logical or has contradictions. Politics is full of that. Politics is that. I mean you have three or four profound and possibly unbridgeable divisions operating inside the unified Republican government which is supposedly to define Trump’s administration.
I have no grand analysis that I can share about how this all plays out. But I am pretty confident that it doesn’t play out in a straightforward or smooth way.