Understanding Trump

As mentioned before, the immediate or short-term concern or priority for the American state is resurrection and revival after decades of corruption and war. But there are three major challenges facing the American state in its efforts towards resurrection and revival, namely, Donald Trump, Russia, and China. Which of these challenges are more difficult and more serious than the others for the American state to address and to tackle is subject to debate and discussion. 

There are a number of factors which contributed to the rise of this home-grown challenge to the American state on the part of Donald Trump and his allies. Newt Gingrich, in a book titled “Understanding Trump,” argued that there were six major factors behind Trump’s rise. 

For one, there is the issue of the disconnect and the “lack of responsiveness” between the folks in government, academia, and the mainstream media on one hand and regular people on the other hand. Second, the assault waged by the mainstream media on Donald Trump actually helped Trump’s cause rather than undermine it. Third, there is a “national rejection” of liberalism that has taken hold of the United States as of late. Fourth, there is the issue of a transition from a unipolar world dominated by the United States to a multipolar world which requires a novel approach to the world. Fifth, there is Trump’s ability to connect with regular people and to serve as a mirror for their beliefs and concerns. And sixth, there is the nature of the partisan divide in the United States itself, which means that the fight between Trump and the American state is one that has to go to the finish, given that it is a kind of partisan divide which the United States has never experienced before. 

Francis Fukuyama also highlighted the issue of authenticity in politics and argued that Trump does wield and display a certain level of authenticity, despite his harshness and vulgarity: “Trump was the perfect practitioner of the ethics of authenticity that defines our age: he may be mendacious, malicious, bigoted, and unpresidential, but at least he says what he thinks.” 

Arguably, the challenge which Trump poses to the American state exceeds the challenges posed to it by Russia and China. In terms of Russia, the challenge emanates from the fact that the West’s love affair with Ukraine since 2014 made the Russians feel left out. If Ukraine is being embraced so warmly by the “Western family” per se, then why should Russia – which is bigger and richer and more technologically advanced than Ukraine – be shut out of this love affair? Hence, if a poor and small country like Ukraine is to be integrated into the West, then Russia will demand the dignity and respect it feels entitled to by virtue of being an important power in the international system. 

As Barack Obama argued before leaving office, Ukraine is a “core Russian interest” but “not an American one,” which means that Russia will continue to escalate its war over Ukraine until it gets what it wants out of the war, whereas the United States will not risk a major war with Russia over Ukraine. Obama argued: “The fact is that Ukraine, which is a non-NATO country, is going to be vulnerable to military domination by Russia no matter what we do.” Ukraine, according to Obama, is “an example of where we have to be very clear about what our core interests are and what we are willing to go to war for. And at the end of the day, there’s always going to be some ambiguity.” Moreover, the nature, range, and scope of the conflict with Russia adds to the ambiguity which Obama highlighted, and this means that everything has to be done in order to prevent the conflict from reaching its full range and scope. 

Whereas the Trump challenge exceeds the Russian challenge for the American state, the Russian challenge exceeds the China challenge. While the difficulty of overcoming a dynamic and a relationship with Russia that is defined by “inevitable” and “perpetual” conflict is immense and it surpasses whatever little common ground that would emerge from diplomacy with Russia, Chinese and American interests are largely aligned. And as the two largest economies in the world, their economies are also largely interconnected and intertwined with one another. Whether Taiwan is a ‘red line’ for the United States is unclear, and like Ukraine, Taiwan is not a “core interest” of the United States, whereas Taiwan is indeed a “core interest” of China. In sum, not only does the American state have to acknowledge the three main challenges it faces in the way of its resurrection and revival, but it must also prioritize and rank them in terms of their level of difficulty if it is to address and tackle them both effectively and systematically.

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