The Trump Presidency now surpasses climate change, overpopulation, nuclear war, failed states and food security as perhaps the single greatest threat to human civilization.
Because America lies right in the middle of them all, and if America pulls the blanket, then everything on the table falls. To grapple with the great challenges of the 21st century, we need a functioning global order—but Trump promises to break it, and that makes him more dangerous than any other challenges currently on the table.
The current global order has been governed for decades through a loose and overlapping network of organizations and agreements run by mostly developed democracies. We have agreements banning chemical and biological weapons, laws of the seas, trade pacts and climate treaties. We have shared norms and a constellation of alliances, focused on NATO, the G-8 and the EU. And all of it has been drawn into question.
It is a largely dysfunctional order that is biased toward the interests of developed democracies, and it does not get a whole lot done. The global institutions constituting this order have been built up since WWII—starting with the United Nations itself—and they made possible the most peaceful and prosperous era in human history. It has been a time in which democracy has reigned in almost half the countries of the world, and the mass-murder once so common in war has been shunted to the margins.
The work of these international institutions has a lot to do with the extraordinary success of so many states, but that order is now strained to the breaking point. The biggest worry lies in the American nuclear umbrella. Trump sees America pulling much closer to Russia and drawing away from commitments to defend much of Eastern Europe and East Asia. And he does not see a problem with many more states acquiring nuclear weapons.
This leaves numerous states vulnerable to a newly aggressive Russia and China. If South Korea and Japan cannot rely on America, we should expect them to rapidly build-up their militaries. If Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Finland can no longer rely on the American nuclear umbrella, we should expect them to look elsewhere. Japan is well-known to be ready to scale-up a nuclear program at a moment’s notice. And several of these states will do whatever it takes to preserve their freedom. We should be prepared for several new nuclear powers to arise under a Trump Presidency, so many that it is quite possible the nuclear genie will be let out of the bottle for good.
Perhaps the biggest danger lies in a breakup of NATO and the European Union. Right-wing and fascist parties are growing in strength throughout Europe, and any change in American commitments to Europe can strengthen their hand—and thus, the hand of Putin, with whom they tend to be friendly. The danger is that two or three more conflicts like that in Ukraine will spring up in Eastern Europe, and another couple in East Asia, over the course of the next four-years.
The bigger danger is that this will bring on an unprecedented global arms race. Each state will turn inward to protect itself, bringing to power the most militaristic leaders and orienting its budget away from social programs and toward defense. Meanwhile, the institutions and agreements of the current order will go ignored. Little energy will go into climate agreements. We will ignore overpopulation and the global water crisis. And failed states will begin to proliferate, with each more dangerous than the next. And as the number of failed states grows, so also will the number of refugees, which will further empower Right-wing governments the world over.
When the leader of the world’s most powerful state joins together with the leader of the world’s most aggressive state, which is currently participating in what increasingly looks like a genocide in Syria, we should prepare ourselves for violence. When the leader of the world’s most powerful state has demonstrated himself to be erratic, narcissistic, bombastic and cruel, we should prepare ourselves for tyranny.
The Trump Presidency may prove to be the most trying period of American history—or he may be stopped by the Republican leadership, who comparatively look peaceful and sane. But unless Trump is impeached, it does not matter what he is able to pass or what alliances he might forge on the international scene. For his words alone have the power to send nations scrambling for cover in anticipation of the moves of other states, defending against their worst fears and bringing to power their most authoritarian and militaristic leaders.
When the most powerful man in the world is a tyrant, with little concern for anyone but himself, we should expect a tyrannical global order. When the world’s most powerful man lacks the ability to control himself, we should expect an anarchic and dangerous order. Whether the world can survive such a shake-up, amid so many global challenges on which we are already losing ground, remains to be seen.
Make no mistake, we are in a race against Trump to save the world, and every person is needed.
If you liked this article, please check out my book, Convergence: The Globalization of Mind, and join the dialogue on Facebook.
Author: Theo Horesh
Image: Instagram @cubachik
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina