Adieu, Trump, if leave you must!

President Donald Trump walks toward sunset at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, Charlotte, North Carolina, Nov 1, 2020.

Into the final stretch of the US elections, a Joe Biden presidency is lurking on the horizon. Votes are still being counted in Pennsylvania, Arizona, North Carolina, Georgia and Nevada. The races are too close to call. 

However, as the former British MP George Galloway writes, no matter the final outcome, “Donald Trump has ‘won’ the US presidential election because he has not lost it.” Trump faced formidable obstacles — American deep state and the liberal classes, Russiagate and an impeachment, Mueller Report, Black Lives Matter, Coronavirus — but he increased his vote tally. 

Compared to 2016, Trump polled over 5 million votes more this time. More women voted for him although the “suburban white women” were reputed to have an aversion toward him for his overtly vulgar sexist attitudes. Curiously, more Latinos and Blacks voted for Trump, too. 

“He tripled his majority in Florida,” Galloway writes, “and comfortably won Texas and Ohio, where the shattered punditocracy had claimed the opposite would happen. It seems obvious that the liberal-centrists of America don’t know their country at all. The east and west coast political salons – a giant, self-referential bubble – are bust.” 

Although Joe Biden leads Trump by about 3.5 million votes and polled the highest ever tally in American history, the latter still pins hopes on an intervention by the Supreme Court, which is of course “stuffed to the gills with conservative justices, like a giant Christmas turkey.”  

Without Trump, the world stage will be poorer. Trump was good for world peace. He didn’t start a war anywhere, which is not something that can be said for most of his predecessors. Trump was a master of skulduggery — a farcical coup attempt in Venezuela, a ghastly political assassination in Iraq — but indeed knew where to stop when Iran rained a hundred missiles on the American bases in Iraq. 

Trump claimed to be ever ready to have a battle but never had one. He vowed to unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea but ended up saying, “We fell in love”, after the [then] historic meeting in 2018 with Kim Jong Un. In reality, Trump unwittingly speeded up the processes favouring multipolarity. 

Three factors contributed to this. One, Trump couldn’t do much about the rising tensions in Russian-American relations (despite his ardent desire to do business with Vladimir Putin). 

That had a strange effect on Putin who was obliged to explore the option of a strategic embrace of China. Putin’s preferred option would have been to position Russia as a “balancer” to maximise Moscow’s gains and he did sense an opportunity during the Trump presidency. 

Putin was patience personified. But the Beltway simply blocked Trump’s path, torpedoing every single move of his. The Russian leadership expected that once Trump got rid of the Albatross of “Russia collusion” and the impeachment, he would press the pedal on detente with Moscow.  

But that didn’t happen: Russia had become a toxic subject in the Beltway being a template of surcharged domestic politics. All that Trump could do was to keep tensions in the relations with Russia from spinning out of control. Indeed, he did what he could but increasingly let matters drift as his mind began wandering toward the November 3 election. 

Putin nonetheless appreciated that Trump was simply around as a moderating presence in the western world where Russia faces isolation. The Kremlin’s lingering hope would still be that freed of election cycle, Trump 2.0 would still pioneer a comprehensive engagement with Russia. Fortuitously, Putin’s own term runs till 2024. 

The Sino-Russian entente strengthens multipolarity in the world order. In almost a similar way, the disillusionment in Europe over Trump’s policies brought about a sea change in the thinking in the continent that Euro-atlanticism was not the be all and end all of life and Europeans must take their destiny into own hands. France and Germany pioneered such thinking. 

Discord in the transatlantic partnership first erupted over Trump’s abrasive stance that American taxpayer would no longer finance the “freeloaders” in NATO. Soon, differences began appearing on multiple fronts. Europe criticised Trump’s exit from Paris Accord on climate change, disagreed with his policies toward Iran, retaliated against the US’ trade sanctions, hailed the WHO and ignored “Wuhan virus”, and dissociated from Trump’s trade and tech wars with China and his Indo-Pacific strategies. 

Europe signalled support for Biden but a thinking also gained ground that Europe’s interests will be best served as an autonomous power centre on the world stage with independent policies toward Russia, China, etc. This favours favourably for multipolarity. 

A third factor — arguably, the most important — is the explosive rift in US-China relations. The rift began with the trade war but dramatically broadened and deepened through the past one-year period. 

Trump tapped into the latent anti-China sentiments in the American domestic opinion by projecting himself as a strong leader upholding American interests (in comparison with “Sleepy Joe”), which also diverted attention from his catastrophic mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

As the rift intensified and China began retaliating, Beijing sought greater coordination with Moscow on foreign policy issues. Inevitably, this boosted the multipolarity in the international system. Thus, China played an uncharacteristically upfront role to inflict the humiliating defeat on the US campaign to reimpose UN sanctions against Iran and began negotiating a 25-year, $400 billion strategic partnership agreement with Iran. 

China breathed new life into its traditionally fraternal ties with North Korea and began creating a new global supply chain with the ASEAN countries, which aims at reinforcing Pyongyang’s capacity to withstand US pressure and encourages the Southeast Asian nations to refrain from taking sides in the US-China rivalry. 

Globalisation and the BRI are powerful tools for Beijing to encourage the world community to opt for multipolarity and spurn the US’ containment strategy against China. No matter who wins the US election, this broad trend reinforcing multipolarity can be expected to continue in Chinese policies. 

Equally, as European countries get used to pursuing their specific national interests in a world economy whose structure has phenomenally changed, when an ubiquitous “enemy” no longer there on the horizon in the East to glue the Western alliance system — and, critically,  given the imperatives of economic recovery of Europe’s national economies — the US’ ability to sustain its cold-war era transatlantic leadership remains on the wane even in a Biden presidency. 

However, the crux of the matter is that a Biden presidency will ultimately have to navigate its way in a government more divided than ever, all but paralysed by partisan warfare. The election results have deepened the national division, which of course will have sobering implications across a range of existential issues: the COVID-19 pandemic, race relations in an increasingly diverse society, climate change — and the health of democracy itself. 

Clearly, there is no Blue Wave. This means that even if Biden wins, the deep divisions — “schism” is the more appropriate expression — will remain in the balance of power in Washington, DC. With dialogue broken and trust in short supply, compelling issues — climate change, health care, income inequality, etc. — may be difficult or impossible to address. Even civil discussion becomes a challenge for the Biden presidency.  

Biden’s win will not end America’s flirtation with illiberal populism and white nationalism. The heart of the matter is that Trump may find it easier to rule America than Biden. 

The Republican control of the Senate will likely continue and the party has flipped as many as 7 seats in the House of Representatives. Paradoxically, the national mood favouring Trump’s politics has crystallised just when he might be deprived of a second term.