Has Trump handed over American Hegemony? Poisoning the world – the new American dream.

It’s always been one of the themes of history that I have found most interesting; that moment when the primary power in the world sees its position usurped.  History is replete with turning points where one massive power is surpassed by a rival.  The causes can be varied from natural disasters to simple economics.  As often as not wars are involved but rarely is suicide the reason but that could just be the case with the decision of President Trump to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Ever since China surged from a series of Five Year Plans and a number of economic reforms in the mid to late 20th Century, it was inevitable that China would eventually become the dominant global power at least for a time.  Has this week’s decision however brought this day ever closer?

It is hard to always make a judgment call as events unfold contrasted to the advantages of future historians being able to see how events actually unfolded.  Often changes in the balance of power aren’t always as obvious as they might be.   The Turkish Ottomans were a fearsome bunch but after their defeat at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, they were never quite the same.  It took centuries for them to collapse and from time to time they discovered their old glories but the overriding theme was one of decline and withdrawal.

The Battle of Ayn Jalut finally saw The Mongols lose their mojo in 1260, not that you’d want to face them in battle in 1261 but they never again were entirely indefatigable.

Other powers have seen their powers wane more slowly, Portugal to Spain.  France to Britain.  Britain’s fall from grace is one of the closest to suicide possible when under the weight of WW1, it was clear to all that embarking on WW2 would be the end for the glory days but it did so anyway for a greater good.

The passing of power from Great Britain to the United States is one of the few times when such a transfer happened peacefully, assisted by a common language, history and culture.   It’s long been a worry how the world might journey from one of American hegemony to Chinese.  Nuclear War would be the worst option and if escaping that is a relief, inheriting a dying planet is something of a phyric victory for the rest of us.

For several decades, most of the world has followed American leadership on a wide variety of issues but this has been less so since the Obama presidency and the arrival of President Trump is seemingly alienating all such nations, whilst alarming opponents.   This could be just the opportunity that China has been waiting for, the opportunity to take a global lead in a cause that almost the entire planet supports and in an area that is entirely peaceful and on the surface without any downsides.

Unlike Mr. Trump, I was aware of global warming by about the age of 8 in the early 1980's... long before China became the power it is today and when it was against environmental measures as much as the USA is.

Unlike Mr. Trump, I was aware of global warming by about the age of 8 in the early 1980’s… long before China became the power it is today and when it was against environmental measures as much as the USA is.

Whilst there are many reasons why many of us would rather live in an America of old than a China of today and that alone will ensure in terms of soft power that China won’t ever have its own way in everything, nevertheless, in other ways it can only improve relations between China and other states and allow it to move into prominence in other ways too.

Could it be even that President Trump will do to the United States what President Putin did or re-enforced with Russia?  Making it a rogue state, feared only for its military but in every other way something of a pariah.  A country we laugh at for the very reasons Trump says we won’t.  A people who we feel sorry for in the same way we do for those in other rogue states?

The impact of Trumps decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement is clear. The USA is the second biggest polluter in the world. Whilst the world is better with the Paris Agreement excluding the USA than none at all, it means either CO2 will increase at a slower rate or everyone else will have to work extra hard and cut back​ even more. In effect, President Trump has decided that it is ok for him and his country to solely poison our planet. The new American dream?

The impact of Trumps decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement is clear. The USA is the second biggest polluter in the world. Whilst the world is better with the Paris Agreement excluding the USA than none at all, it means either CO2 will increase at a slower rate or everyone else will have to work extra hard and cut back even more. In effect, President Trump has decided that it is ok for him and his country to solely poison our planet. The new American dream?

It will take a long time for the repercussions to become clear and it would be hard to imagine that Europe for one would jump into bed with Russia though it could in theory find a way to do business with China as many African nations have.  Perhaps something of this can be seen by the joint press conference in Brussels yesterday with the EU and China standing up for putting the planet first over any one nation.

The decision doesn’t even make economic sense in the United States, regardless of the environmental costs.  More American jobs are tied into renewable energies and new industries rather than those like coal mining.   Last week, President Trump was once again putting America first by complaining about German cars and how there are barely any American cars in Germany.   Aside from Fords, there are barely any American cars in France or the U.K. either.  The reason being is due to the supremacy of German (and other) cars in terms of quality, appearance and practicality.  Practicality in a large way ties into size and fuel inefficiency that make American cars all but a non-starter in Europe not just in terms of cost of fuel but the terrible cost to the environment that barely anyone could contemplate supporting by purchasing such a car.  It’s clear to everyone to see except those few climate change deniers in the USA and in the end, their opinion almost becomes irrelevant as if 95% of the planet thinks otherwise then simple economics will bring about change in many other areas of life, not just car manufacturing.

There comes a point when it is time to stop cutting off your nose to spite your face and if America doesn’t soon then it will become more like Russia, a slightly crazed country that everyone else has to keep under control rather than a normal and friendly state.

To keep the position of primacy, the United States should be maintaining the most important relationships around the world and address what the citizens of allies consider their most important problems such as economic growth and the environment but instead rather like a spoilt child who is unhappy how the sports game is turning out, they’ve taken their ball and gone home.  Which is fine but it leaves everyone to get on with a new game and with their own rules.

That sentiment was evident on Thursday in Berlin. Just hours before Mr. Trump spoke, China’s premier, Li Keqiang, stood alongside Angela Merkel, and used careful words as he described China as a champion of the accord. China believed that fighting climate change was an “international responsibility,” Mr. Li said, the kind of declaration that American diplomats have made for years when making the case to combat terrorism or nuclear proliferation.

China has long viewed the possibility of a partnership with Europe as a balancing strategy against the United States. Now, with Mr. Trump questioning the basis of NATO, the Chinese are hoping that their partnership with Europe on the climate accord may allow that relationship to come to fruition faster than their grand strategy imagined.

Naturally, the Chinese are using the biggest weapon at their disposal, namely money. Their plan, known as “One Belt, One Road,” is meant to buy China influence from Africa to Britain, from Malaysia to Hungary, all the while refashioning the global economic order.

One Belt One Road Map - From London to Bejing and beyond.

One Belt One Road Map – From London to Bejing and beyond.

Mr. Xi announced the sweeping initiative last month, envisioning spending $1 trillion on huge infrastructure projects across Africa, Asia and Europe. It is a plan with echoes of the Marshall Plan and other American efforts at aid and investment, but on a scale with little precedent in modern history. And the clear subtext is that it is past time to toss out the rules of ageing, American-dominated international institutions, and to conduct commerce on China’s terms.   What China didn’t expect was that the USA would so quickly and so willingly leave them an open goal.

Like those who witnessed the Battle of Ayn Jalut 750 years ago, it might not seem quite as pivotal today as it does in decades to come and there might be the odd final flourish for more internationally minded Presidents but it would be hard to deny that this week finally saw China take its place at the top of the world leaderboard. That it was something that the USA brought upon itself and in what traditionally would be seen as such an inconsequential policy area is just one of those many quirks that make history so interesting…. or scary if you happen to be tasked with living through it.

 

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About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including a #1 seller, I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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16 Responses to Has Trump handed over American Hegemony? Poisoning the world – the new American dream.

  1. Francis says:

    You’re absolutely spot on in this excellent article. We visited China last year and will again this November. It’s well on the way to becoming th world’s no 1 economic power (if it isn’t already) and th US now seems so out of touch with global reality that it’s virtually unbelievable. That’s why, incidentally, the UK’s distancing from the EU market and its supposed alliance with the US (even if the PM expressed her disapproval of the US in pulling out of the Paris agreement) makes total nonsense.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yes it’s true. The more I think about it, the more the USA really does seem like Russia albeit with the vestiges of democracy but from everything from the environment to gun control to social policies to nationaism and military expenditure, it really bears no similarity to a modern western state…. or even a democratic African or Asian state come to that. If it wasn’t for its gigantic military, we’d think of it almost as backwards which i guess is what most people think of Russia despite their massive military spending too.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Rosemarie says:

    Excellent commentary, Stephen.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Reblogged this on The Secular Jurist and commented:
    “This could be just the opportunity that China has been waiting for, the opportunity to take a global lead in a cause that almost the entire planet supports…”

    The Secular Jurist recommends this superb and timely editorial as MUST READ. It adroitly brings together topics which are too frequently addressed in isolation – nationalism, climate change, geopolitics, macroeconomics, and history.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Stephen, I’m afraid you’ve gotten all of it right. And by “suicide” no less.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Ankur Mithal says:

    Wonderful summary. I think it is a basic law of nature hat success will, at some stage, lead to lack of it. There is a tendency to become inward-looking, avoid risk and protect what you have or what you come to believe is your right. Has America reached that stage? Only time can tell.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you’re right. It is a natural cycle really and the same thing will happen to China though I imagine unless the country breaks up after ‘Communism’, it will stay on top for a couple of centuries like GB or Spain did rather than a couple of decades. I guess it is similar to the corporate world in that companies start of innovative, flexible and willing to take risks before becoming established and ‘boring’ to be replaced by new upstarts.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. vicky says:

    As an American citizen, I whole hardly agree with your words. So many of us here in the U.S. are terrified of the muck up Trump is making. Every day I am afraid to watch the news for fear of what this megalomaniac has done over night. To even express the opinion there is no global warming shows his complete lack of even the most basic of common sense! All one has to do it stand by their car in a parking lot and feel the heat coming from it, then multiply that by millions! Not to intent industry… so simple a child understands that. He has no care or concern about health care or the disabled. I am shocked and appalled that he has been elected by the very people he is doing the most harm to. Shame on the American people who bought into his spewing of greed and monitory gain and to hell with the world! Shame! America going down…..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Vicky, thanks so much for your comments. I entirely agree. We all learnt about climate change at school in the UK in the early 80’s and at a primary level (5year-11 year old). It is so obvious to anyone over about 30 who has seen the climate change. And what dastardly comments to make about the London terrorist incident over the weekend, trying to make an illogical comment about how there was no outcry about gun control (because in the UK guns are outlawed and even terrorists can’t get them… thats why they went with knives). Then for nth time, he criticised the London Mayor. I can’t ever imagine our Prime Minister making comments like that to the New York mayor after a terrorist incident. Way to alienate your closest ally even further 😦

      Like

  7. Graham says:

    Hi Stephen. Nice work as usual. A growing part of me thinks that this world of ours is looking rather doomed…and I’m not a negative person! 🙂 I would love to see a US decision on climate backfiring on them in a big way such that the other countries in the world decide to just move forward without them and forge closer ties with each other…including Britain. I don’t believe we all need America to make a difference, why not work with the Chinese? Let us all leave the US behind and isolate them, make them irrelevant and suffer from their own ignorance. To be honest, I’m getting rather bored of hearing about the US president…it still confounds belief that an alternative candidate couldn’t be found, but I don’t think it is just him, I think it smacks of a broken system.

    On a slightly related note, if you read fiction, have you ever read the Ender’s Game series of books by Orson Scott Card? He paints a very interesting view of what a future united world might look like.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It would certainly serve Trump right if it did. Maybe a trade embargo as their activities are threatening world prosperity and peace. I too would be tempted just to ignore them, shun them in every way like we do with Russia or Venezuela. I don’t really understand why we in the U.K. even hear about Trump at all. We all know he is an idiot, there is no need for running commentary when there is so much serious news happening and bad things happening to innocent people rather than an elected official doing what he was voted in for… even if it is a stupid thing to do. I don’t think it is him either, all that money and protracted campaigns and vested interest groups and the fact that his opponent was the ghastly Hilary sum things up if out of 310 million people they were the best on offer. I haven’t read that series but I shall certainly check it out this evening!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Graham says:

        I was trying to think of the right adjective for big Don the other day. I wasn’t sure idiot was quite it because in many ways I think he has proven how good he is at manipulating and selling over time to get his own way. But that said, some of the things he says and does are straight out of a school playground – the only decent thing I have heard was him describing terrorists as evil losers! Stick to name calling! I just wish I could think of another word…might have to check the thesaurus. 😄 Thanks for your response as always.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Graham says:

        Hi again. I think I’ve settled on an adjective…I think “dickhead” works pretty well. Pardon my French there.

        Liked by 1 person

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