The world according to Trump

NEWS 16.04.2020 18:48
Source: N1

“The future does not belong to globalists. The future belongs to patriots. The future belongs to sovereign and independent nations who protect their citizens, respect their neighbours, and honour the differences that make each country special and unique”, US President Donald Trump read in his speech before the UN General Assembly in September 2019.

A lot has been written on the death on multilateralism ever since Trump has pulled the United States from the Paris climate accord, withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, ever since the beginning of the trade war with China, since he denied funding to the UN’s Human Rights Council…

Not long after signing his name on the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin allegedly told the revolutionaries: “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

After WWII, the US has always, more or less obviously – depending on the administration – had its own interests in mind. However, the shock brought about by Donald Trump’s aggression and crassness pulled the rug out from everyone’s feet. On the eve of last year’s UN General Assembly, Germany and France, without the US, founded the Alliance for Multilateralism, in open defiance of Trump’s “America First” motto.

Alliance for Multilateralism without the US which many have seen as the pillar of multilateralism in the world after WWII. We can debate whether that stance was fundamentally true or not. But, I will skip that for now and focus on the cracks in the 21-century world which, before the pandemic, were singled out as important for the future, but also for the position of the world’s first economy.

The first crack is precisely the one between the first and second-strongest economies in the world. The rivalry between the US and China in areas of trade, technology, and geopolitics was described as threatening to break the world apart into two camps with different trade and financial systems, internet platforms, artificial intelligence, military strategies and alliances.

The second crack appeared on the surface of the global social contract. In many countries, people have lost trust in their leaders and political institutions and, left on the margins of globalisation and economic transitions, they flooded the streets as unequals, everywhere from Chile to Algeria.

Economic growth and development are exclusive and ruthless, social consequences tangible, measurable, and inevitable. Polarisation and frustration, populism, demagoguery, racism, xenophobia, dehumanisation, persecution – they all became a part of social daily life.

Can the diversity of the world even be considered an advantage anymore? And, if yes, on what basis?

The crack that keeps getting bigger and comes with fundamental existential consequences is the one between the planet and its human inhabitants. The climate, droughts, floods – they all affect the future of life itself, of resources, they are fertile ground for manipulation and threats of conflict.

The last crack is one of technology – from innovation, which has the potential to make everyone’s lives better, to the prospect of an automated future which creates new pools of unequals, rips away freedoms and privacy whether it be through authoritarian politics or corporate models of tech giants who cannot be controlled, primarily through taxation.

“The world is breaking apart. The status quo is untenable,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres exclaimed at the Paris Peace Forum late last year.

And so, 2020 rolled in. Year Zero for globalisation and multilateralism. The year of pandemics and the virus. The election year for Donald Trump, in which, just like in his speech before the UN General Assembly last year, the US President does and says everything with only his audience in America in mind.

Only America which, to him, comes first, America which came from the position of unprecedented growth on the stock market and record low unemployment, to standing on the precipice of a global recession, potentially worse than the Great Depression of 1929. America which remains economically self-sufficient in the times of crisis and whose leader indicated that the role of the West, at least as long as he is the country’s leader, will no longer include imposing its model onto others.

After tackling the crisis caused by the outbreak at home, Trump found an international target to heap blame on for the pandemic – the World Health Organisation – and painted it as an organisation which, to interpret freely, is trying to pal up to China.

Trump hit pause on United States’ funding of the WHO, the multilateral organisation funded by member countries and donors, and the United States, due to its size and economic power, is the greatest net contributor of all countries.

He was angered because, in the early days of the coronavirus epidemic in China, the WHO believed China and relied on the information received from official Beijing. In the lush White House garden, Trump announced he wants an investigation that would determine to what degree the WHO was responsible for its poor reaction to the pandemic and, as he said, covering up information, before the US pays another cent into the WHO coffers. Criticisms similar to Trump’s could be heard from India and Japan, China’s traditional rivals, as well as Australia, its south Pacific neighbour led by conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

However, backlash to Trump’s announcement thundered from the rest of the world, from the European Union to Bill Gates. WHO Director, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned countries to not politicise the pandemic.

All of that brings us back to the basic principles of multilateralism. The conception of the world in which we live, due to globalisation and interconnections, would not exist without multilateralism. And what is that? Among other things, it is an order which gives the small countries a voice and influence that would otherwise be impossible for them to wield at the same table with the big players.

It is the order in which there is agreement on common principles of action. Even though, after decades of globalisation processes, there is still no such thing as a global government, some rules have been put in place regardless. Among others, rules that apply to the UN’s health organisation – its first assembly, held in April 1948, was chaired by none other than Croatia’s Andrija Stampar.

WHO, just like many other multilateral organisations, depends precisely on national inputs.

They do not have offices in each country. Under the principle of transparency, they rely on data received from national countries. The idea that everyone is working for themselves, faking data, giving wrong estimates, all in order to cover something up or wield malicious influence, goes against the very foundations of multilateralism. And there’s the catch.

The catch is that, in order to function properly, multilateralism must be based on the common interest of all the citizens of the world. And that is difficult, and often disappointing, if we look at the results of numerous conflicts and wars waged around the globe and if we analyse the way many multilateral bodies, including the WHO, have functioned so far.

On the other hand, looking at the big picture, often that is the only thing that helps. To build a school or a hospital in eastern Congo, to supply food and shelter to the people stuck on the Greek-Turkish border, to give voice to abused and raped women across the world, to know the risks we are facing – from droughts, unemployment, food supply crisis, all the way down to pandemics.

Risk assesments done by multilateral bodies, ignored by national authorities. Each country must decide for itself how much multilateralism it wants and needs and what it can get from it. The big question after the pandemic is over will concern the trust in multilateralism and the issue of adapting such a global system, its basics, and rules.

Yes, China is an authoritarian state of complete control and repression; yes, the EU is a regional multilateral organisation that sometimes struggles to speak in a single voice; yes, Africa is still feeling the deadly consequences of colonialism and drowning under debt; yes, Latin America, with its economic and social fragility, is still subordinate to its northern neighbour.

However, does that mean we need to give up on global cooperation and resolving issues such as pandemics in the only way they can be resolved – globally?

The United States is not the only country that acts unilaterally. Nearly all the big powers do the same. Can the Lilliputians of the world stand united against the giants? Can the strong ones still be there to protect the weak and maintain balance or will they, like Trump, deny funding and support or, like Putin, annex sovereign countries’ territories?

Honestly, I do not know. If I knew, I would not be writing this. If I knew, I would make a unilateral decision to remove myself from the community known as the humankind, because I would have enough money to travel to space or at least buy an island somewhere in the middle of the Pacific.

The small ones, who are the majority in the world and who depend on multilateralism, for example one put together in UN’s millennium development goals, do not have that luxury. The small ones, whether they are refugees from Idlib or those looking for work on the peripheries of London, cannot survive without a network which does not leave room for egotism. Or, can they?