President-elect Donald Trump speaks during the presidential inaugural Chairman's Global Dinner, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, in Washington. AP Photo/Evan Vucci. All rights reserved.
Donald Trump is the wrong man. Even though responsibility suggests that the best course of action is to stay calm, we cannot fail to recognize that the situation is a very serious one indeed. At the risk of sounding pompous, the liberal order established after the Second World War on the basis of the United Nations principles and American hegemony, is teetering. It has been the glue that has kept the liberal international order in operation, but it has lost its adherence and is now dissolving. Russia and China are no substitutes for it.
Uncertainty and weakening
As globalization reaches maturity and demands the urgent establishment of institutions capable of ensuring its governance, its top promoter and guarantor is proposing its immediate dismantling and the replacement of free trade agreements with a tariff regime. The world elite, those 3.000 men (and some women, but not many) who account for 0.4% of the 1% who accumulate more wealth than the remaining 99% — 8 people have more wealth than the poorest 50% of humanity, according to the latest Oxfam report – are meeting this week in Davos under a single shared certainty: uncertainty.
The factors for this great global uncertainty are manifold: climate change, feeble economic growth, precarious employment, inequality, the energy model, cyber-security, jihadist terrorism, the stigmatization of democracy, the blame on the elites, attacks on the establishment, anti-politics, populism. And, of course, the en vogue couple: Brexit and Trump. No one predicted that the fall of the Anglo-Saxon empire would be so chaotic, or that it would come as a result of internal self-inflicted implosion.
Beyond the US, the two great spaces for prosperity and liberty-building in the West, Europe and Latin America, are currently weakening. The European project of peace and prosperity, built on the basis of 60 years of economic unification and the disappearance of internal borders as a prelude to political unification, has been betrayed by a blend of British nationalism, arrogance and feeling of superiority. Prime Minister Theresa May has just announced that Britons, instead of shooting themselves in the foot, will now directly blow their heads off. “Clean Brexit”, they call it. Philip Hammond, her Chancellor of the Exchequer, has been toying with the idea to turn the UK into a tax haven if Brussels does not give them what they want. Surely, the gravity of Brexit has been underestimated.
"Beyond the US, the two great spaces for prosperity and liberty-building in the West, Europe and Latin America, are currently weakening."
The institutions of Latin American integration, for their part, are going through hard times. Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, and Argentina, busy dealing with their internal crisis, are looking themselves in the mirror. And Mexico, which has been unable to consolidate the rule of law in its territory during the NAFTA bonanza years, is now directly threatened by an aggressive, hostile, anti-immigrant northern neighbour, precisely when Enrique Peña Nieto, its weak president, struggles between irresponsibility and irrelevance.
The most widespread perception of Donald Trump as a candidate, which has unfortunately been confirmed during his turbulent period as president-elect, is that his profile simply does not match the minimum requirements for the post. Anyone who has had managerial responsibilities in any organization knows that a casting error in management can be lethal and that, if the stabilizers fail, can quickly lead an organization to ruin. The truth is that Trump would not have successfully gone through any professional selection procedure, since he practically meets none of the requirements for the post.
Does he have government experience? No. Is he patient? No, he is instead impulsive and a naturally overwhelming character. Does he listen? No, he doesn’t listen when he doesn’t like what he’s hearing. Is he thoughtful and understanding? No, he has a tendency to dismiss any collaborator who dares to go against what he says: from the time of his successful role in the reality show The Apprentice, "you're fired" is one of his favorite expressions. Does he work for inclusion, does he respect diversity? No, he attacks Muslims, or Mexicans, whom he has called "bad hombres". Does he have due regard for the institutions of democratic control and the free press? Not at all, he usually disqualifies them. In his last – and only – press conference in the last 6 months, he refused to take a question from CNN, calling it "fake news", and stigmatized BuzzFeed as a "pile of crap".
What is disturbing about Trump is that he can confuse government with business, and tend to apply a zero-sum game logic and a practice of closing deals with a handshake without having read the contract. His problems with bankrupcies and dodgy businesses are numerous. The recent agreement to 25 million USD settlement for Trump University fraud cases is the last example of lartge scale wrong doing. He despises professional politicians, whom he considers inclined to making ruinous business deals, a fact that has led the US to pay huge sums of money for things that are not worth it, from Obamacare to the Atlantic Alliance. He presents himself as someone who will know how to save resources, both domestically and internationally, and proclaims that he will be “the greatest jobs producer god ever created” (sic).
"What is disturbing about Trump is that he can confuse government with business, and tend to apply a zero-sum game logic and a practice of closing deals with a handshake without having read the contract."
Some say that he does not read the reports he is handed, that he shows some signs of attention deficit, that he becomes impatient very quickly, that he is only guided by intuition, and that he improvises constantly. How will he handle his first major crisis? How will his obvious conflict of interest affect his performance? How far can the kompromat in Russian hands go? Too many unknowns, too much uncertainty.
Time to govern
No one with such an unsuitable profile has ever come this far. Governing in a democracy requires almost the contrary to the personal traits Donald Trump has displayed: trusting the team, listening, reading the reports, contrasting opinions, yielding, reaching compromises, avoiding conflicts and without fail, bearing the general interest in mind, over and above any particular interests (or even family interests, in this case). But will Trump know how to govern? Will he avoid nepotism? How long will he last?
The Trump administration promises to be the biggest stress-test American democracy has ever had to undergo. Many are confident that the institutions of democracy will endure the onslaught and that, once he gets to Washington, the establishment’s huge institutional power will end up having the upper hand and moderating the president's personal power, both in form and substance. Washington is not New York, and you certainly see things differently from the White House than from Trump Tower.
Stabilizers will have to work. The Republican Party’s absolute majority in both Congress and Senate can be a governing factor, at least until the midterm elections two years from now. It is to be hoped that the steep political learning curve of the most neophyte president in history will have come to an end by then, and that we will have a temperate, governmental Donald Trump in the White House. Until he begins to govern, there is still a loophole for the benefit of the doubt. After all, what he is communicating so far in his compulsive Tweets are his personal opinions, not yet his policies. The sooner he realizes that he cannot govern through 140 character messages, the better. He might end up being a popular and respected president. And yet, as any head of human resources will tell you, past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour.
The Trump administration promises to be the biggest stress-test American democracy has ever had to undergo.
Be this as it may, after the Inauguration pomp and circumstance – where we shall see Donald Trump at his most narcissistic, thrilled to be starring in the best reality show ever imagined – the time to govern will come.
European and Latin American responsibility
But the unbelievable election of Donald Trump raises so many serious questions and has filled so many chancelleries with so much uncertainty – starting with those of Latin America and Europe -, that anxiety is palpable. We should be prepared to experience great upheavals. Is it perhaps the occasion to strengthen ourselves internally? Is it time to strengthen the European Union, to give up nationalism, and take courageously our joint future into our own hands under no guardianship? Is it time for Latin America to seriously consolidate its democracies? In the face of American self-absorption, there is no excuse for not assuming our responsibility to be free.
"Is it time to strengthen the European Union, to give up nationalism, and take courageously our joint future into our own hands under no guardianship?"
Today we know that Fukuyama's end of history was a delusion. This is being confirmed by Donald Trump, the wrong man. Let us hope that he is nothing more than a historical accident. But the 1930s of the last century must not be repeated. In this historical moment, Europe and Latin America must find a way to seek allies within the United States and avoid abandoning liberal America to its fate. They must also learn to defend the republican ideals of the French revolution, open society, the associated individual liberties, and cosmopolitanism in general – by themselves. When they wake from their nightmare, our American friends will thank us.