The Trump Administration has already left an undeniable mark in the country and in the world, regardless of the result it manages to obtain this Tuesday.
One week before the presidential election in the United States, the U.S. Senate confirmed the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett as the new Supreme Court judge in the country, the third magistrate Donald Trump has appointed since taking office on January 20, 2017, in an action that should have a great impact in the coming decades, by giving this judicial body a deeply conservative approach.
It was the recent episode of a whirlwind of successive events since a busy year at the White House. Who still remembers the final stretch of the impeachment voting process, the third in US history to go so far, or the attack that Trump ordered in Iraq that resulted in the death of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in January?
But, aside from the incessant current, history has been made in these four years. With the electoral result of next Tuesday, November 3, shrouded in uncertainty, we seek to gauge the legacy and significance of the Trump Administration for American politics and for the world with the help of experts Diana Soller, Bernardo Pires de Lima, and Tiago Moreira de Sá.
“Trump will go down in history for his own personality, for the way he expresses his positions, although perhaps many years from now, when that is forgotten, stay in history as the President who transformed the strategic position of the United States in a context of transition of power. Even if Joe Biden wins the elections, he doesn’t have the chance to go back, ”says Diana Soller, a researcher at the Portuguese Institute of International Relations.
Trump assumes – without saying it – that the United States is no longer the only major power in the international system and acts accordingly. “If you are elected for a second term, this line is likely to continue. And normally, in the second term, the Presidents have fewer ties because they are not concerned with reelection ”, underlines the researcher.
Diana Soller considers that Trump’s main orientation is the idea of sovereignty: “The idea that the United States is an independent nation-state. First of all, they have to be concerned with their own well-being, with their own survival, in an international context in which they cease to be, by their own choice, the leaders of the international system, and become a normal state, centered on their interests ”.
On the other hand, there was “a management with a chaotic side, with a succession of cases and succession of entries and exits by members of the Administration, from State secretaries to National Security advisers to Secretaries of Defense”, says Tiago Moreira de Sá. According to the Brookings Institution, Donald Trump had already reached the record of changes in a presidential office of his first term as President of the United States in early 2020.
Chaos is also the word chosen by researcher Bernardo Pires de Lima: “An administration of cases, chaos and ruptures. Breaks with the major decisions of the Obama administration – TTIP, TPP, Paris Agreement, Iran Agreement, Obamacare – and with structured, albeit nuanced, traditions of American foreign policy, such as support for European integration, NATO cohesion, legitimacy post-war multilateral organizations ”.
It is an Administration in which politics is made “by the circle close to President Trump” and in which decisions and the way of communicating are “totally divisive of social peace, adding tension and non-union, aggression and not appeasement, trench and not negotiation ”, he adds.
“It is also an Administration based on cases, in an immense suspicion of obscure private activities that meddle in presidential decisions. All of these effects are felt daily in America and the rest of the world. A re-election would only aggravate them ”, considers Bernardo Pires de Lima.
In almost four years as President of the United States, many decisions and actions have gone down in history: from domestic politics to international politics, through widespread protests in the country or the ongoing health crisis. Although so many other moments are left out, we list here 13 dates that decisively marked Donald Trump’s first term.
“Emptiness” of international organizations and use of force
Chaotic on the surface, but with method. For Diana Soller, the Trump Administration has changed the way the country looks at its allies: “Permanent alliances no longer carry the weight they had. NATO, for example, does not cease to exist, it does not cease to be of importance. Yes, it ceases to be an alliance of democracies to become a military and defense alliance, ”he explains.
“They have called it an anti-multilateralist view, but I would say it is an ad hoc multilateralism, or of wills, case by case. (…) It is an international order of alliances of will instead of permanent alliances. It is not the coalition that does the mission, it is the mission that does the coalition, ”says Tiago Moreira de Sá.
“The previous American international order was fundamentally an order of democracy, in the sense that they had a special legitimacy in international relations, that is why the United States privileged relations and alliances with democracies”, adds the professor at Universidade Nova de Lisboa, author from the book “O Método no Chaos”, launched in 2018 in collaboration with researcher Diana Soller.
For the expert, and despite some exceptions, Trump started to give preference to alliances with strong states and with military power, even if they are not democracies: “Trump’s conception in international relations is very much the conception he has in life. It is a war of all against all in which the strongest prevail over the weakest. In a world like this, what counts is the strength and power you have ”.
And he also gives the example of the Atlantic Alliance: “There is a change in the concept of what an alliance is. An alliance like NATO was an alliance in which everyone had the same rights and duties regardless of how much they contributed to that alliance, how much they paid. Allies now have the right to the extent that they fulfill their duties, and their duty is to pay for that alliance. (…) For him, the United States has no interest, neither the duty nor the capacity – because they do not have the wealth they had in the past – to continue to pay practically alone for the common defense of the alliances they have ”, adds Tiago Moreira de Sá.
“There is a deliberate exhaustion of international organizations, of liberalism. There are much more concrete relationships with nation-states that can help the United States achieve its goals from an international point of view. There is the departure of the United States from the liberal leadership of the international system. There is a vacuum caused by the fact that Donald Trump said that he was no longer the leader of the world, not even of the free world ”, adds Diana Soller.
Increasingly self-centered, the United States dedicated itself to strengthening the Armed Forces. “Precisely to show that the USA is able to solve its problems on its own whenever it thinks it is necessary”, says a specialist from the Portuguese Institute of International Relations.
During his term, Donald Trump has emphasized increased defense spending, with the Administration noting that the military sector has been depleted since the last presidency. According to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, defense spending has, in fact, increased consistently since Trump took office in January 2017. However, the figures are still significantly lower compared to the spending of the Obama Administration in the first term.
In this context, Diana Soller also highlights that there is a tendency in Trump for direct intervention and the surgical use of force “for punitive, dissuasive reasons, so that opponents realize that the United States has extraordinary military strength”. It is a “classic form of deterrence that Trump recovers.”
“Trump is convinced that the liberal international order has gained prestige in the United States because the enemies have ceased to fear the United States. His answer is the use of force ”, he adds.
However, not everything was broken in the Trump Administration. Also with this President, there was an understanding that the United States was “overextended”, that is, involved in too many problems in various parts of the world. In previous administrations, there was already an understanding that this effort was leading to the relative decline of the United States.
The intention to withdraw troops from various stages worldwide has been central to Trump’s foreign policy. Although the withdrawal process started before 2017, the President announced in October that he plans to drastically reduce the number of military personnel deployed in Afghanistan by Christmas. Tom Brenner – Reuters
“Donald Trump continued something that comes from behind, which is the American strategic withdrawal. He does not invent it, he already started at the end of George W. Bush’s second term. The North American strategic withdrawal means reducing political, diplomatic, economic, and even military involvement abroad, and also reducing it to regions that are strategically vital to the United States from a security point of view ”, he explains.
But this position of withdrawal and emptying of organizations by the USA in this Administration has not been compensated at any level, defends Bernardo Pires de Lima. “In the foreign field, the trade war with China has brought nothing positive to the American economy, the torn agreements have not been replaced by anything better, the proximity to other authoritarian leaders is too unsettling, without realizing where the organization’s private interests begin. Trump and American national interest ends ”.
“Even the recent mediated agreements for the formal recognition of Israel by some Gulf monarchies, pointed out by many as an achievement, in addition to alienating Palestinian political forces, sought much more to surround Iran, making it an outcast, than to guarantee regional peace to Israel, which in addition to already maintaining relations with these Gulf states, was not even threatened by them ”, he adds.
One country, two tribes
When the focus is on domestic politics, experts are unanimous about the growing polarization in the country. “From the point of view of domestic politics, I highlight the fact that Donald Trump started the term with a very divided Republican Party and ended the term with the overwhelming majority of the party, both from the base and from the Republican elite”, highlights Diana Soller.
Tiago Moreira de Sá explains that the extreme of current positions in American society “begins in the 70s of the 20th century”, following the oil crisis, and that began to thicken in the post-Cold War, with the end of the “Great consensus that existed around the danger of communism and the Soviet Union”.
“There are two sides that not only don’t talk, they hate each other. That moderate center between moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats – which allowed regime consensus – has completely disappeared. There is no longer that moderate center in Congress. That is why the Government is blocked, it cannot work ”, says Tiago Moreira de Sá.
Much is also explained by the concept of tribalism. “There is the division of America into two large tribes that are constantly at war with each other, who hate each other and have completely different views of the country and who the Americans are. They have a completely different idea of the country’s past and the country’s future, in an irreconcilable and even violent relationship between these two tribes ”, he adds.
Bernardo Pires de Lima also says that the polarization predates the current President, but that it has worsened in the last four years: “It is a trend that has worsened since the mid-1990s, but that is gaining traction in Trump’s term. The vote is increasingly opposed to someone else, voters have a crystallization of habits and ideas that exclude any convergence with the opposite field, the behavior of the main decision-makers and the information intoxication caused by social networks ended up doing the rest ”.
It also considers that this “hyperpolarization” that is currently experienced causes “enormous electoral and political fatigue” in society.
Still internally, Diana Soller highlights “the vehement condemnation of white supremacist groups in this polarization that exists in the USA”. Trump “never demarcated himself from the actions of white supremacist groups, the main cause of serious violence in America according to federal reports, aggravating the social tension that is being experienced”, also says Bernardo Pires de Lima.
One of the main campaign themes has been the post-election scenario. Due to the widespread vote by correspondence, it is possible that on November 3 it is not known who will be the next President of the United States.
“The overwhelming majority of Republicans are going to vote in person and there are a significant number of Democrats who say they will vote by mail. We can have Trump clearly ahead on election night because postal votes have not yet been counted and some have not yet been delivered. By the way, in some cases, the postal vote will be able to be made until November 6th. If Trump is clearly ahead he will declare victory. Then, with the counting of votes by correspondence, clearly in favor of the Democrats, the counting can be changed and Biden can win at the Electoral College ”, explains Tiago Moreira de Sá.
According to the New York Times, several states will not get the full results on election night and only eight states expect to have 98 percent of the vote counted on November 4. On the other hand, 22 states and the District of Columbia have authorized the arrival of new votes until after election day, and some decisive states for the distribution of votes in the electoral college, such as Michigan or Pennsylvania, have already warned that the counting of all newsletters may take several days.
In these cases, there may be doubts as to the legitimacy and possible fraud in these elections. “The threat of constitutional crisis is” totally real and Trump is looking for it “, considers Bernardo Pires de Lima.” In fact, this double threat of not recognizing defeat, disputing the transition, and of throwing mud on the integrity of the electoral process is the central theme of your campaign ”, adds the IPRI researcher.
For Bernardo Pires de Lima, the constitutional crisis is already real due to the Trump Administration’s own performance over these years: “The disrespect for the separation of powers, the arbitrariness of decisions, the aggressive nature of the presidential political message and above all the lack of transparency between their businesses and the position they occupy, raise serious doubts about the fairness of the constitutional framework ”.
“The truth is that Trump has resisted and survived an impeachment. The next shock will come from an eventual defeat. If I win, I believe that this political-constitutional framework will be even more deteriorated ”, predicts the expert.
Diana Soller shares the same concerns: “The President himself said that he could not accept the results of the elections because he considered that the postal vote – which is being much higher in these elections because of Covid-19 – was fraudulent or could be subject fraud. I think we have to prepare ourselves so that, if candidate Trump does not win the elections, he does not accept defeat ”.
“It is a test for institutions. The constitution provides that if Donald Trump challenges the elections, what institutions have until the beginning of December to recount the votes. If the candidate who loses does not accept it yet, the recount goes to Congress. (…) Constitutionally, we can come to watch repeated counting of votes until the candidate who challenged the elections assumes defeat ”, warns the investigator.
However, Tiago Moreira de Sá is more optimistic in this scenario: “What I have seen is that the North American institutions, starting with the Republican Party, almost without exception, have categorically said that the transition will be peaceful, whatever happens ”, He stresses.
The professor points out that, looking at the history of the United States, the first “peaceful transition of power between two different parties” occurred in the 1800 election, between two of the founding fathers, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Therefore, the academic believes that the process of peaceful transition is in the DNA of American democracy and that the institutions will be able to control the process, as they have done over the past four years.
“I do not believe that the Americans, that the States, nor the Armed Forces and the security apparatus or even public opinion accept anything other than the peaceful transition. If anything the Americans are, they are highly patriotic, and something different would do profound damage to America. In these four years, the institutions have worked and checks and balances will make the transition peaceful, regardless of what the main players want. This is not to say that there cannot be specific outbreaks of violence, this has happened in the past. But from the point of view of political elites and institutions, it will end up being a peaceful transition, I have no big doubts about it ”, he considers.