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Bed wetting or well founded? Renewed warnings for second Trump presidency

As we head towards what will be a hotly contested US general election in 2024, the world watches and waits with bated breath as concerns about a second Trump administration do the rounds, but in light of the current chaos on the global stage, are these concerns well founded or a case of pre-emptive bed wetting?

As we head towards what will be a hotly contested US general election in 2024, the world watches and waits with bated breath as concerns about a second Trump administration do the rounds, but in light of the current chaos on the global stage, are these concerns well founded or a case of pre-emptive bed wetting?

Depending on who you ask about the most contentious US president of modern times, you will be met with one of two general responses: elated jubilation with an air of roguish, underdog rebellion against the “establishment” or a complete and utter emotional meltdown at the potential of a second Trump administration.

Prior to coming to office following a shocking election victory in 2016, Donald Trump had firmly established himself as the enemy of the mainstream media, much of the post-Second World War order’s multilateral institutions, and the international alliance built by the US throughout the Cold War, or as he defined it, the swamp”.


For large portions of the American public, made up of the forgotten Americans” or deplorables” as characterised by Hillary Clinton, Trump positioned himself as a champion of the outsider, the working and middle class who had been largely left behind by the rapid globalisation of the 1990s and early-2000s that had hollowed out much of America’s once unrivalled middle class.

Promising a revival of Ronald Reagan’s period of economic, political, and strategic realism and optimism became synonymous with Donald Trump’s campaign slogan of Make America Great Again”.

In speaking directly to the swathes of middle- and working-class Americans across the flyover states and the Rust Belt of the formerly immense US industrial base, he acknowledged their lived experience that America’s position as the global hegemon and the globalisation championed by successive administrations had ultimately failed them.

Equally, his promise to end foreign wars and make America’s allies across the globe pay their way and pull their weight at the strategic level garnered further support from these portions of American society who had been disproportionately asked to shoulder the costs in terms of both blood and treasure” for America’s costly wars and efforts to maintain the post-Second World War order.

Rounding out the Trump administration’s signature, transactional approach to foreign policy was the brash, bombastic, and “troll like” nature of the man himself, which had served him well in his prior careers as a property developer and reality television star.

All of this combines to heighten concerns among the policymaking establishment across the Western World, particularly nations like Australia which depend heavily on the strategic benevolence and ensuing stabilising factor provided by the United States.

Highlighting this is The Economist, in a piece titled, Donald Trump poses the biggest danger to the world in 2024, but is this a case of pre-emptive bed wetting or well founded?

Establishing its central thesis, The Economist states, This is a perilous moment for a man like Mr Trump to be back knocking on the door of the Oval Office. Democracy is in trouble at home. Mr Trump’s claim to have won the election in 2020 was more than a lie: it was a cynical bet that he could manipulate and intimidate his compatriots, and it has worked.

America also faces growing hostility abroad, challenged by Russia in Ukraine, by Iran and its allied militias in the Middle East and by China across the Taiwan Strait and in the South China Sea. Those three countries loosely co-ordinate their efforts and share a vision of a new international order in which might is right and autocrats are secure.”

Fear, despair sets in globally

Undoubtedly, Trump’s first election as President of the United States sent shockwaves around the world as his bombastic nature and rhetoric, coupled with his America first” ideology began to rapidly shake confidence in the commitment of the US to maintain the global order it built in the aftermath of the Second World War.

Some nations were more concerned than others, as they rapidly drew the ire of the mercurial US president, particularly across Europe and the treaty allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) which had long taken advantage of America’s enduring funding of the collective security arrangement.

The backlash he faced for taking a direct and confrontational approach to alliances is particularly ironic, given his rhetoric surrounding allies pulling their weight is no different to that of the much fawned over Obama administration, where Barack Obama repeatedly chastised major European powers, namely Germany, France, and even occasionally the United Kingdom, for not pulling their financial weight in the alliance.

Free riders aggravate me”, one could be forgiven for thinking this statement is from the maligned Donald Trump, but it is in fact the direct, disparaging assessment by Obama to his most important global allies.

Indeed, even in Obama’s 2016 State of the Union, he remarks, We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis, even if it’s done with the best of intentions. That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately will weaken us. It’s the lesson of Vietnam; it’s the lesson of Iraq – and we should have learned it by now … on issues of global concern, we will mobilise the world to work with us, and make sure other countries pull their own weight.”

Yet despite this uncomfortable reality, The Economist states, Mr Trump would be unbound in his pursuit of retribution, economic protectionism and theatrically extravagant deals. No wonder the prospect of a second Trump term fills the world’s parliaments and boardrooms with despair. But despair is not a plan. It is past time to impose order on anxiety.”

For middle powers like Australia, the reality is that the United States, in relative terms, is a declining power, with waning influence on the world stage and beset by a series of major domestic, economic, and financial challenges.

Simply put, the United States isn’t as united as it once was.

Ultimately, this reality means Australia will need to take more direct responsibility for its own security, stability, and prosperity in the era of great power competition and multipolarity, no matter who is president of the United States.

This uncomfortable reality is now our new norm and has arguably only accelerated in the last few years as both the Biden administration and America flounder from one foreign policy blunder to another.

Nevertheless, The Economist states, Abroad, Mr Trump’s first term was better than expected. His administration provided weapons to Ukraine, pursued a peace deal between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain, and scared European countries into raising their defence spending.

"America’s policy towards China became more hawkish. If you squint, another transactional presidency could bring some benefits. Mr Trump’s indifference to human rights might make the Saudi government more biddable once the Gaza war is over, and strengthen relations with Narendra Modi’s government in India,” The Economist states.

Unpacking this further, The Economist adds, But a second term would be different, because the world has changed. There is nothing wrong in countries being transactional: they are bound to put their own interests first. However, Mr Trump’s lust for a deal and his sense of America’s interests are unconstrained by reality and unanchored by values.”

A win for the autocrats?

Despite the reality that Donald Trump actively took the fight” to Xi Jinping’s China through a range of legislative, policy, and regulatory mechanisms, actively and forcibly punish Iran, crushed ISIS, brought North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un to the negotiating table, The Economist argues that a second Trump administration will ultimately be a win for the global autocrats.

The Economist states, Yet a Trump victory next year would also have a profound effect abroad. China and its friends would rejoice over the evidence that American democracy is dysfunctional...”

Further highlighting this, The Economist adds, Mr Trump judges that for America to spend blood and treasure in Europe is a bad deal. He has therefore threatened to end the Ukraine war in a day and to wreck NATO, perhaps by reneging on America’s commitment to treat an attack on one country as an attack on all. In the Middle East, Mr Trump is likely to back Israel without reserve, however much that stirs up conflict in the region.

In Asia he may be open to doing a deal with China’s president, Xi Jinping, to abandon Taiwan because he cannot see why America would go to war with a nuclear-armed superpower to benefit a tiny island.”

This would ultimately have a dramatic impact on the global balance of power and the stability of the post-Second World War order that nations, like Australia, have become increasingly dependent upon over the last four decades.

But knowing that America would abandon Europe, Mr Putin would have an incentive to fight on in Ukraine and to pick off former Soviet countries such as Moldova or the Baltic states. Without American pressure, Israel is unlikely to generate an internal consensus for peace talks with the Palestinians.

Calculating that Mr Trump does not stand by his allies, Japan and South Korea could acquire nuclear weapons. By asserting that America has no global responsibility to help deal with climate change, Mr Trump would crush efforts to slow it. And he is surrounded by China hawks who believe confrontation is the only way to preserve American dominance. Caught between a dealmaking president and his warmongering officials, China could easily miscalculate over Taiwan, with catastrophic consequences,” The Economist adds.

Final thoughts

Fundamentally, where much of the analysis falls short is as a result of the lens through which many analysts and commentators view foreign affairs, mainly through an almost romantic, gentlemanly” lens where the realpolitik is done behind the scenes, while empty platitudes, pointless press conference, and joint communiques are the status quo.

This romantic world view often leaves us vulnerable as a result of viewing the world as they would like it to be, rather than how it actually is. The world, whether we like to admit it or not, is a jungle and the law of the jungle is one of when the lion is hungry, he eats.

The uncomfortable reality is something we are now witnessing in real time with the chaos sweeping across the world in the face of the seemingly weak Biden administration.

It is understandable then that when a brash, womanising billionaire with a no-nonsense approach to life, who prioritises loyalty and competence, the experts” who view the world in a romantic manner feel put off, after all, their advice is only accurate if the world plays by a set of rules no one else seems willing to play by now.

In this era of renewed competition between autarchy and democracy, this is a conversation that needs to be had in the open with the Australian people, as ultimately, they will be called upon to help implement it, to consent to the direction, and to defend it should diplomacy fail.

If we are to achieve this, Dr Ross Babbage of the Centre for Strategic Budgetary Assessments told Defence Connect, “I think what we’ve got to show what’s the vision for Australia, you know, what can we achieve and what you know if we go on the trajectory we are on at the moment. I’ll tell you what, you know, a lot of people, a lot more people in a decade’s time are likely to be either in really dumb jobs or maybe not have jobs at all, and in the society be a lot weaker and will be a lot less prosperous.

“So what we want to say is, look, there’s plenty of scope for doing more and smarter things, encouraging investment to do that, and then there will be some very, very interesting additional jobs and opportunities, a lot of high tech, and so on, I can tell you that, you know, talking to foreign investors, they’re quite keen on principle to work here, and do a lot more here and provide a lot more good jobs for Australians,” he explained.

This requires a greater degree of transparency and a culture of collaboration between the nation’s strategic policymakers and elected officials and the constituents they represent and serve – equally, this approach will need to entice the Australian public to once again invest in and believe in the future direction of the nation.

Get involved with the discussion and let us know your thoughts on Australia’s future role and position in the Indo-Pacific region and what you would like to see from Australia’s political leaders in terms of partisan and bipartisan agenda setting in the comments section below, or get in touch at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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