When Trump Visibly Crashes

Commentary No. 487, December 15, 2018

As the 2020 U.S. elections begin to be the major front-page concern of the media, there is increasing speculation about what will be the form it takes. Could Trump really be impeached? Will the Democrats move still further left or rather move back to the center? How strong is Trump’s base, and how faithful?

As someone who has argued for a long time that the United States has been in a steady and irreversible decline, I am constantly asked: “Well then, why isn’t Trump crashing?” And if he is, will the crash become more visible? And if it does, will it be a sudden smash, or simply a steady downward slide?

The issue of visibility is seen differently from within the United States and in the rest of the world. Let us take each in turn. Trump in his tweets gives an ambiguous answer. On the one hand, the call for making America great again implies there has been some decline, albeit a reparable one. The repair is what Trump claims to be doing.

On the other hand, the polls and the innumerable analyses of the situation point to less U.S. confidence in the future than before, even among Trump’s core supporters. The fact that Trump spends so much time attacking “fake news” shows that he is worried about the lower level of U.S. confidence. He seems to be spending much energy seeking to persuade everyone that a lower level of confidence results from a misreading of the data.

Thus far, within the United States, Trump’s decline is a matter of public debate, between and within all political tendencies. Most people are still seeing what they prefer to see.

The picture is quite different outside the United States. For one thing, people are having to cope with declines of one sort or another in their own countries – in England because of Brexit, in France because of the return of a long tradition of uprisings, in Russia and India because of economic tightness, in China because of the increased resistance to their own outward thrusts. In fact, it is hard to find a country that is not fighting its own decline. They are therefore not impressed with an argument that the United States is different.

They are so impressed with the reality of U.S. decline that they feel they have to do something about it. They are fearful of a sudden dramatic collapse of the U.S. currency. They think this could lead to rash war decisions. And they worry also that a currency collapse would hurt them as much as it would hurt the United States.

All this points to a combined effort to make sure that a U.S. crash takes the form of a steady slide rather than an explosion. But steady slide there will be.