Envisaging a post-Trump America | Mayerthorpe Freelancer

U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign staff applaud him as he waves after speaking to them while visiting his presidential campaign headquarters on Election Day outside of Washington in Arlington, Va., on Nov. 3. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)


In his nearly four years in office, U.S. President Donald Trump has sown more disarray in the United States and in the world at large than all of his predecessors combined. He still has two months to go in his presidential term, and it would take a better crystal ball than mine to figure out what more mischief he can still do. But the end is in sight, and it is not too early to begin envisaging what a post-Trump world will look like. The team of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will face extraordinary challenges in trying to repair the damage Trump has done.

During the transition period, they will have to put together a new administration. This means finding and appointing the thousands of senior officials needed to run the vast bureaucracy of the American state. This is an onerous task at the best of times but will be particularly challenging this time around because Trump failed to fill many of those positions throughout his time in office. Many of those positions have withered on the vine or been filled by junior substitutes. But getting the right people into those jobs will be key to restoring the effective operation of the government. It will also be key to restoring public confidence in the ability of the government to carry out its duties.

Biden and Harris will also have to put together a new team to run the White House. Important positions in the fields of national security and economic policy will have to be filled with experienced experts. They will also have to recruit seasoned people to fill the all-important communications functions. In so doing, they will have to pay equal importance to the qualifications of these people and to their temperaments. The last thing that the country needs now is a repeat of the volatile atmosphere that characterized the Trump years when the hinges on the doors of the White House were creaking from over-use and outbreaks of acrimony were the order of the day. Boring predictability may not make for much excitement, but it is an essential element of good government.

The new team will be faced with what is an even greater challenge: restoring a degree of civility to politics in Washington and in the country at large. Trump’s vitriolic attacks on Democratic opponents, such as Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, have poisoned the political well. So, too, have his attacks on a variety of state governors, such as those of New York, California and Michigan. The degree of polarization is alarming. The point has been reached where many Republicans and Democrats no longer simply see themselves as adversaries but as enemies. This is a very unhealthy situation for the well-being of the nation in the future. Biden and Harris will not only have to work hard to calm the emotions of their own supporters, but they will also have to reach out to Republicans in an effort to create a new political atmosphere. This will be a tough but essential task.

The Trump era has been a disaster for the United States on the world stage. More foreigners now disapprove of the United States than at any time since polling began. That level of disapproval surpasses that which was registered at the time of then-President George W. Bush’s horrendous decision to invade Iraq in 2003, and that is saying a lot. Trump is almost universally viewed as a brash bully who respects no one except the sycophants who support him electorally and the brutal dictators who oppress their people in countries such as Russia, North Korea and the Philippines. In Africa alone, Trump’s handling of race relations in his own country has tarnished the image of the United States. Restoring that image will require a major effort in the realm of public diplomacy.

But beyond the question of image, there is the substance of American foreign policy. For decades, the transatlantic alliance was the bedrock of American foreign and security policy, and the United States was the undisputed leader of the alliance. All of that changed with Trump, who denigrated NATO, hurled personal insults at NATO leaders and declared economic war against the European Union. One of the first tasks of the Biden administration will be to restore harmony within the alliance and to provide the leadership which Europeans yearn for. A similar effort will be required in the Asia-Pacific region where America’s relations with its traditional friends and allies have cooled significantly under Trump. This is particularly true of Japan, South Korea and Australia whose support the United States will need if it is to contain Chinese expansionism.

Then there will be the job of repairing the damage done by Trump to international agreements and organizations. Trump single-handedly scuppered the Iran nuclear deal, which had been painstakingly negotiated by the world’s six most powerful countries. If Iran’s nuclear ambitions are to be constrained, it will be necessary for the United States to lead an international effort to conclude a new agreement that will have to take account of current Iranian nuclear and economic realities. Similarly if the United States is to rejoin the comity of nations, it will have to once again subscribe to the Paris accord on climate change, which was unilaterally ditched by Trump. And Trump’s efforts to undermine the World Trade Organization and the World Health Organization will have to be replaced by new American investments in both. In the same vein, the new administration should resume funding the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees, something Trump terminated in an effort to curry favour with his friend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In short, there are quite a few things Biden and Harris will have to undertake in the realm of international affairs. Most of these are amenable to fairly simple fixes. Others will require long-term commitments to diplomatic resources, e.g. the Iran nuclear deal. But beyond those individual issues, the end of the Trump era may be as good a time as any to undertake a comprehensive review of America’s foreign and security policy. There are many questions on the horizon. How to deal with the hegemonic tendencies being displayed by China and Russia? How to cope with the growing threat of nuclear weapons proliferation as exemplified by the arsenals of India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea? How to restart meaningful arms control negotiations with Russia? How to confront the continuing threat of Islamist terrorism? How to deal with the growing problem of right-wing extremism in the United States? How to help Israel and the Palestinians to reach a reasonable peace accord? These and other similar questions will be on the agenda of the American foreign and security policy establishment during the Biden-Harris years. Taking an all-encompassing look at them would be a good starting point for the new administration.

After four years of mindless bluster and bravado on the world scene, the time for a reboot is now.

Louis A. Delvoie is a retired Canadian diplomat who served abroad as an ambassador and high commissioner.

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