The Post-War World Order Is Crumbling One Nation At A Time

Donald Trump address supporters at his election night rally in Midtown, Manhattan.
Donald Trump address supporters at his election night rally in Midtown, Manhattan.

Donald J. Trump has been elected to be the 45th President of the United States, defeating former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a shocking upset. Pollsters, pundits and experts all predicted a fairly comfortable Clinton victory and absolutely no one thought Trump had a serious shot at Michigan, Wisconsin or Pennsylvania.

I’m not going to get into an Electoral College or popular vote analysis, because that’s not what I do.

What I will talk about are the policies that are at stake because of Trump’s victory and what that means for the United States and the entire world.

The Bretton Woods agreement of 1944 laid the foundation for what would become the post-war liberal order. It created the International Monetary Fund (IMF), encouraged open markets and free trade, thus putting an end to economic nationalism (otherwise known as protectionism), and settled trade disputes for 44 allied nations. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) followed these institutions after WWII, as did the United Nations.

The free world, led by the West, had fully embraced globalisation and the trade agenda. As a result, we saw the economic boom of the 1950’s and 1960’s, particularly in the United States, where household incomes rose more than 20 percent and the standard of living for most Americans improved to levels never seen before.

Between 1980 and 2005, the global economy grew by an average of 4.7 percent (Source: World Bank). Billions of people previously in abject poverty found themselves earning more and, thanks to trade, everything we take for granted became possible- foreign cars, cheaper appliances and better food. The financial sector (banks, hedge funds, stock markets) generally performed well because of a competitive edge countries tried to have over one another in GDP gains.

Because of the global economy and the success for families and individuals that came with it, more people could afford to buy a home, more people had access to university education than ever before and more people could travel to more places more easily.

This is not to say that all of this is going to change overnight. However, all signs point to a change in attitudes among constituents of the governing classes away from globalisation, and this is more troublesome than people realize. President Obama’s trade agenda of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership are at serious risk of failing, almost a guarantee in fact.

This race was won by the Trump campaign on the basis of socioeconomics. Mr Trump rallied less-educated, white, working class men around the idea that globalisation has cost them their jobs. Free trade agreements such as NAFTA and the proposed TPP and TTIP would ship their jobs overseas and crush American manufacturing. Never mind that manufacturing output in the U.S. has DOUBLED in three decades to near record rates (a time period that includes NAFTA and other FTA’s, by the way).

In fact, job losses in the industrial sector are not lost to cheap labor in the U.S. or abroad. Technology has replaced workers in many fields (especially the auto industry, hence Michigan & Wisconsin going Trump’s way).

What Trump did, from the communications perspective, was brilliant. He successfully made millions of Americans believe that free trade doesn’t work. He convinced enough Americans (though not a majority, interestingly), that their jobs will come back when he’s President. Despite record low unemployment. Despite all the evidence to the contrary about globalisation. The American executive is a powerful office, but no President is able to change market trends with the stroke of the pen, at least not without serious consequences.

Let’s not forget about Trump’s eco-skepticism. He has called climate change “a hoax” and has pledged to scrap the Paris Climate Agreement and Clean Power Plan immediately upon taking office. Our planet is already at extreme risk of being too far-gone to repair, and refusing to take steps to address the climate crisis will do irrevocable damage to our environment. For goodness sake, even China and India think Trump’s stance on climate change is absurd, and they’re the world’s two biggest polluters!

Trump has also excoriated NATO during the election cycle. His claim that other members do not pay their fair share towards the common defense budget is not sufficient for reducing America’s role in the military alliance. In fact, now more than ever, NATO needs America to increase its role in Europe, given Russia’s aggression. A scale-back or even a withdrawal from the world’s most powerful military alliance would be catastrophic for the balance of power in Europe and the rest of the world.

We should not underestimate the influence Trump’s victory will have on elections elsewhere in the world. Both Germany and France have national elections next year, and both countries are experiencing a rise in populism and the far-right. Italy has a plebiscite in early December on constitutional reform and many consider the vote a referendum on Matteo Renzi’s leadership as a whole. If he loses this vote to populism, he might be forced to leave office. Austria is voting in its second round of the Presidential elections there and have to choose between a far-right nationalist and a Green. The Visegrad Bloc, led by Hungary and Poland, are resisting refugees and are enacting policies that constrict freedom of speech, centralise authority in the executive and attack the free press.

We are seeing the post-war status quo of liberal democracy be shaken to its core. I truly believe that Trump will make this trend a permanent reality that mainstream parties and voters will need to challenge. Everything the liberal consensus has given us is at stake. We must now fight harder than we ever have before.