Politics & Media
Nov 28, 2023, 06:30AM

The World If Trump Returns

Hostile regimes will exploit a second Trump era.

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The external enemies of democratic societies often have an advantage of time. As they don’t have their own elections to worry about, and can long suppress adverse public opinion among those they rule, dictatorial regimes can watch and wait for signs of weakness and moments of opportunity in the countries that they target or that stand in the way of their ambitions.

This is evidently what happened in the months preceding Hamas’ Oct. 7 invasion of Israel. Israeli military intelligence repeatedly warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the dangers of an attack were increasing as Hamas and Hezbollah observed intense divisions in Israeli society over efforts by the governing coalition to sharply reduce powers of Israel’s Supreme Court. Such divisions, along with the goal, prioritized by Iran, of derailing a prospective diplomatic accord between Israel and Saudi Arabia, go a long way in explaining why Hamas undertook a massive attack when it did.

Hostile regimes will be no less astute in analyzing internal political dynamics of the United States. At present, Russia has an incentive to delay negotiating an end to its war in Ukraine, on the possibility that Donald Trump will be re-elected and, as promised, seek to settle the conflict in “24 hours”; such a pretension suggests a second Trump administration would withhold aid, as Trump did prior to his first impeachment, and so force Ukraine to accept territorial concessions and other terms favorable to Russia.

Much attention has lately been paid to Trump’s promises for a second term marked by sweeping autocratic measures focused on domestic political enemies and undesirables. These include massive detentions and deportations of unauthorized immigrants; a transformation of the federal civil service into one dominated by partisan loyalists, with law enforcement agencies tasked with “going after” the President’s opponents; and a general crackdown on people deemed “vermin.” “The threat from outside forces is far less sinister, dangerous and grave than the threat from within,” Trump said on Veterans Day.

Such a governing approach can be expected to generate widespread opposition and turmoil within the U.S. This would be observed by allies and adversaries alike, and would make the international scene radically more dangerous, with prospects of drawing to the U.S. into new or expanded conflicts despite (and, in part, because of) isolationist aspirations and efforts to disengage from U.S. alliances worldwide.

Imagine it’s early-2025, and President Trump has won an electoral victory (probably, if it occurs, a function of the Electoral College, as in 2016, without a win of the popular vote). There are massive demonstrations in the streets, some of which turn violent. Federal law enforcement and resurgent militias such as the Proud Boys engage in violence against demonstrators. The administration moves to ensure that loyalists are in top positions within law enforcement, intelligence agencies and the military, with authority to undertake purges against malcontents in the rank-and-file under their command.

In such a situation, military and intelligence officials in hostile states such as China, Russia, Iran and North Korea can be expected to advise their respective leaders that the U.S. is too distracted and disunited to respond effectively to a broad range of adversarial actions. It’d be professional malpractice on the part of such foreign leaders and officials not to draw such a self-evident conclusion. As for what actions the foreign leaders might undertake, likely these would initially be ones that focus on damaging U.S. interests without causing the U.S. public to rally in response to a provocation. The calculus probably would be not to target the U.S. homeland directly, but rather to attack U.S. allies that can no longer rely on prior assurances of U.S. protection. Such scenarios could include a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, a North Korean invasion of South Korea, or a coordinated large-scale war against Israel by Iran and proxies including Hezbollah and the Houthis. Stepped-up Russian aggression might target the Baltic States, Poland or Finland, amid a weakened or disintegrating NATO.

The United States under a second Trump administration would lack the wherewithal and will to contend against such developments. It would also lack the moral authority, as an authoritarian U.S. would have little basis to complain about advances of authoritarian societies elsewhere. However, as it’s unlikely that the U.S. would manage to swiftly withdraw its forces worldwide in accordance with an “America First” foreign policy, the possibility that the U.S. would be drawn into foreign conflicts sooner or later would remain, albeit now as a former superpower with depleted alliances and military assets.

It's possible that, in the ensuing global turmoil, enemies of America might overreach and underestimate our nation’s residual power and capacity for renewal. In any case, though, a calmer world is unlikely to be a consequence of Trump returning to the White House.

—Follow Kenneth Silber on Threads: @kennethsilber

  • I suppose everyone has his own nightmare scenario, but I don't find this very persuasive. It also begs the question- what is the alternative? To cast Trump as a foreign policy disaster-in-the-making doesn’t hold up. That in fact is what we have now. Trump has already been President and the outcome was world peace for a change, and that is far more likely to prevail than the present moment, which is truly dangerous across the board. We currently have an administration of almost complete incompetents, (only Blinken might be slight exception),the country is already in disarray, morale is at an all-time low, we are woefully unprepared for major conflicts, our resources have been squandered, every social indicator is at an all time low, we are more vulnerable than we have ever been, and woke policies have seriously weakened the military and for that matter just about every other department. You cannot overstate the extent of destruction the left has brought about. Clearly then, this is the moment for adversaries to strike and they will never have a better opportunity, especially in the case of Taiwan. It is really rich to hear about how repressive things are going to be and then have clowns here insisting anyone on the other side is guilty of “treason.” It is truly ironic that all the time in office Trump did absolutely nothing to persecute political enemies, in contrast to what has been happening across the board, especially with regard to the undermining of our justice system. Nevertheless I don’t disagree that this time around there might well be some desire for payback, but to go so far as to say that “democracy” is going to end is really a stretch. Never mind that “democracy” is what often strongmen in the first place. One doesn’t have to be a fan of Trump to realistically look at what alternatives are available. What is far more certain is that if we continue on the present disastrous course we will be so far gone that recovery will be impossible. There is also no certainty that Trump will be the candidate a year from now. If Democrats succeed in some way in sidelining him they will being doing Republicans a favor, for the simple reason that Trump could win the next election, but not by much, whereas anyone else would win in a landslide. Alluding to things I’ve been engaged with, there is a deeper dysfunction in all of this. We have been talking about the next election ever moment since the last one ended. All politics, all the time, and you wonder why so many of whatever political persuasion have gone off the deep end, and why the “other” has come to mean enemy If we don’t seriously curtail this insanity we will self-destruct on one way or another. There is nothing wrong with the constitution and institutions can be redeemed. Our biggest problem is basically an election system on endless autopilot yet for all the energy expended too often yields up mediocre to inferior candidates. The only way to end this is electoral reform- seriously limit the time frame of campaigns, limit or scrap primaries, etc. and reconstitute the process that gives us good, competent people rather than those who are good mostly at running for office and raising money.

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  • I see your comment here, George, after responding to same on Facebook, so I'll just report my reply now: I disagree with most of what you said, George, in that I think Biden's handling of foreign policy's been skillful; and that what Trump says he'll do and what he's done in the past (especially re the 2020 election) indicate a genuine threat to democracy. I agree we need electoral reforms, and would put ranked choice voting high on that list, as a way to get more-competent and less-polarizing candidates.

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  • I recommend people read this if they haven't yet: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2023/11/30/trump-dictator-2024-election-robert-kagan/ And this: https://plus.thebulwark.com/p/theres-a-storm-coming-we-all-know

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  • And this. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2024/01/donald-trump-reelection-second-term-agenda/676119/?utm_source=copy-link&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=share

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