Immanuel Wallerstein, the sociologist who gave us World Systems Theory, has devoted his latest commentary to the consequences of a Trump victory. (From the end of the month it will appear as Commentary 437 in the archive.)
Domestically he says it doesn’t matter how much he won by or whether he won the primary vote. He won.
What is more he won the trifecta – the Presidency, Congress and the Supreme Court.
Democrats might win back the Senate and even the Presidency in four or eight years, however the Republicans will hold on to a Supreme Court majority for a very much longer time.
In Wallerstein’s judgement Mike Pence has positioned himself as a the real number two in Trump’s office. He thinks Steve Bannon’s appointment as chief strategist and counsellor is a consolation prize, it is doubtful that he will have any real power.
This would be a comfort to Bloomberg, who nominated him way back as the most dangerous political operative in America, a representative of the ‘alt right’, and if not fascist, showing tendencies to white supremacist sentiments.
What will play out is a combination of Trump’s more pragmatic instincts, the right and the ultra right.
- However this intra-Republican struggle turns out, it is still the case that U.S. politics are now significantly further to the right. Perhaps the Democratic Party will reorganize as a more leftwing, more populist movement, and be able to contest the Republicans in future elections. That too remains to be seen. But Trump’s electoral victory is a reality and an achievement.
Internationally, Wallerstein’s main message is that the US is a declining hegemon, but one with a military capable of doing a lot of damage. However, Trump or anyone else who might have been elected will have no real power.
The problem is very simple. Neither he nor any other president – be it Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or for that matter Ronald Reagan – can do very much about the advanced decline of the erstwhile hegemonic power. Yes, the United States once ruled the roost, more or less between 1945 and circa 1970. But ever since then, it has been steadily declining in its ability to get other countries to follow its lead and to do what the United States wanted.
So doing harm is quite possible, but doing ‘good’ seems virtually beyond the power of the United States.
- No one, and I mean no one, will follow today the lead of the United States if it thinks its own interests are being ignored. This is true not only of China, Russia, Iran, and of course North Korea. It is true as well of Japan and South Korea, India and Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, France and Germany, Poland and the Baltic states, and our erstwhile special allies like Israel, Great Britain, and Canada.
So Australia doesn’t rate a mention!
- I am fairly sure that Trump does not yet realize this. He will boast about the easy victories, like ending trade pacts. He will use this to prove the wisdom of his aggressive stance. But let him try to do something about Syria – anything – and he will soon be disabused of his power. He is most unlikely to retreat on the new relationship with Cuba. And he may come to realize that he should not undo the Iran agreement. As for China, the Chinese seem to think that they can make better arrangements with Trump than they would have been able to do with Clinton.
So, a more right-wing United States in a more chaotic world-system, with protectionism the major theme of most countries and an economic squeeze on the majority of the world’s population. And is it over? By no means, neither in the United States, nor in the world-system. It’s a continuing struggle about the direction in which the future world-system (or systems) should and will be heading.
Personally I think China would welcome the US pulling the plug on the TPP, which China is not party to. It opens an opportunity for the Chinese to mold the patterns of trade around the Pacific, which longer the US may then feel compelled to join.
In past commentaries over the years, Wallerstein has made it clear that the invasion of Iraq was a failure on two counts. Firstly, it did not achieve its stated aims of bringing an exemplar of modern democracy to the Arab world. Secondly, it demonstrated in spectacular fashion the inefficacy of US power, beyond the pure military. Even there its limitations were exposed.