I am increasingly admiring of Donald Trump…I have become more and more convinced that there is method in his madness…Imagine Trump doing Brexit. He’d go in bloody hard… There’d be all sorts of breakdowns, all sorts of chaos. Everyone would think he’d gone mad. But actually you might get somewhere. It’s a very, very good thought.
So said the British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, in a leaked recording of a private speech to a Thatcherite group. Perhaps Boris is half right. If Trump were to do Brexit, he may very well go in “bloody hard” and cause the whole thing to break down. Everyone, indeed, would think he’d gone mad; in fact, they probably already think that he’d gone mad before even coming into the negotiations.
Where Boris is probably wrong is that it might actually get everyone somewhere. If Trump conducted the Brexit negotiations anything like how he behaved at the G7 summit, the result would simply be disaster.
It was at this summit that Trump fully abandoned America’s leadership of the international world order that it had created.
Most striking, of course, was the economic clashes that Trump engaged in as a result of his decision to impose tariffs on America’s closest allies. Trump ended up slamming the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, as “mild and meek” and “dishonest and weak”. More dishonest and weak were his arguments in favour of slapping tariffs on Canada, Europe and Japan, but when has the lack of substance behind an argument ever hindered Donald Trump?
But even not on the economic front, signs of disagreement were everywhere. It was noted by the New York Times that the American delegation opposed the use of the term “rules-based international order”- after all, in TrumpWorld, no one plays by the rules. Trump called for Russia to be re-admitted to the G8, re-affirming impressions that he is not much more than a Putin’s puppet. And he came late and left early, missing out on the final day’s talks about the environment and climate change- which, of course, Trump does not believe in.
Never has American leadership in the world been abdicated so clearly, forcefully and petulantly.
Prior to the summit, President Emmanuel Macron of France had tweeted:
This was exactly what ended up happening, as Trump refused to endorse the joint communique.
Macron also tweeted:
Forceful words, to be sure, but unfortunately, Trump probably agrees with what Macron has said but from a reverse perspective. Trump believes in the survival of the fittest. He does not believe in the rule of law. America may have always exercised hegemony, but the American hegemon has never chosen to wield its power in a way that is so contrary to the interests of the world order it has created.
So what happens when the one that exercises the powers of hegemony acts like a rogue state? Who knows?
A more practical question may be: if Trump is attempting to exercise the power of the United States over the G7, but refuses to acknowledge the values and rules of the G7, then should he be there at all? Trump wants to coerce the rest of the G7 through the brute force of America’s economic power. But by doing so, the United States has abandoned the cornerstone of its foreign policy, and indeed, its self image, as the guarantor of democracy, liberal values, the rule of law and internationalism.
There is now a G6- one that still believes in the international liberal world order- and the United States, who would rather join the now-expelled Russia and other authoritarian dictators. (The fact that Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong-un is likely to go better than his meeting with Justin Trudeau indeed says a lot).
And there is no changing Trump’s mind. He does not engage in facts or in forward-thinking, and refuses to acknowledge that there is more to economic policy than protecting dying industries. There is little point for other world leaders to engage with Trump. The light in the tunnel is that America (for now) is a democracy, and Trump’s administration will not last forever. He is term-limited.
But until then, what? Will the rest of the world have to put up with America’s economic ravaging? Who will take up the mantle of world leadership? These questions remain unanswered. The only thing we know is that the united G7 is no more, at least until Trump leaves office.
It’s clear: Boris Johnson is wrong. There is no method to this madness. US foreign policy is now based on the whims of an angry, misinformed old man. Until the changing of the guard, the remaining members of the group who still believe in the international world order may very mell rather meet as the Group of Six.