The presidency of Donald Trump has divided the United States along racial, ethnic, and religious lines. He has shredded the Constitution by acting and speaking as if he were above the law. Like autocratic leaders from time immemorial, he identifies himself with the nation. As the French monarch Louis XIV famously said, “L’état c’est moi.” Following this despotic logic, Trump has accused White House aides of treason for providing a whistleblower with information regarding his own unlawful conduct. He has made a habit of accusing his political opponents of treachery, calling his Department of Justice to investigate them while his loyal crowds chant “Lock ’em up.” This is classic autocratic conduct. So, where is the silver lining?
In my view, the formal impeachment proceedings launched by the House of Representatives may ironically inspire Congressional reform. If we know anything about Donald Trump, we know that he is not likely to resign quietly. He will fight back, and he will fight dirty. He will highlight the corruption of Congress. This is how he dealt with Hilary Clinton and how he is dealing with Joe Biden. He is already telling his supporters that his “corruption” is trivial in comparison to that of the corruption of the ruling elites—and there is more than a grain of truth in what he says. In the absence of term limits, many Congressmen and -women have “served” for decades. They have become an entrenched political class. Trump will highlight what Americans already know: Congress is a wholly owned subsidiary of corporate power and the lobbyists—foreign and domestic—that fund congressional campaigns. In other words, he will highlight what catapulted him to the presidency in the 2016 election, when he promised to “drain the swamp.”
Ironically, the silver lining of the impeachment process may not be the removal of an unfit president but the reinvigoration of a Congress ready to tackle its own corruption by setting term limits and reining in the power of lobbyists—starting with the NRA. Only three days into the official impeachment inquiry, a bipartisan Senate committee was investigating the corruption in the NRA with the intention of stripping it of its tax-exempt status. This is a momentous step that has the potential of robbing the NRA of its financial leverage over Congress and enabling lawmakers to rein in gun violence. If Congress succeeds in regaining its honor, it may succeed in depoliticizing the judiciary, starting with the removal of the corrupt Attorney General, William Barr, and Trump-installed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
On the international stage, Donald Trump’s foreign policy looks like a catastrophe, but it is actually a boon to the world. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001, the United States bombed Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, and Syria in the name of exporting democracy or fighting terrorism. These countries continue to implode with no democracy in sight, only more Islamic terror. Meanwhile, America washes its hands; Europe is left to contend with the mess. Thanks to Donald Trump, the promotion of democracy as the cornerstone of foreign policy is on hold, so the world can enjoy a reprieve from American belligerence.
Then, there is Trump’s fortuitous liaison with Russia, which helped him win the 2016 election. This means that a major conflict between the two countries with the greatest number of nukes is not at hand. So, the world can relax—for now. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States has bungled a golden opportunity for peace with Russia. Contrary to the promises made to Mikhail Gorbachev when he single-handedly dissolved the Soviet Union, the United States and its European allies goaded Russia by extending NATO (a military alliance) to include countries in Russia’s backyard—Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and Slovakia. This was totally unnecessary because at that time Russia did not pose a threat. As Canadian political scientist Jacques Lévesque has illustrated, Boris Yeltsin, who was president of Russia from 1991–1999, had boundless enthusiasm for democracy and free markets. In listening to American media, one would think that the Russian annexation of Crimea and the invasion of Ukraine were totally unprovoked.
Also, by allying himself with dictators such as Vladimir Putin of Russia, Kim Jong-un of North Korea, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, and Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, Trump has unwittingly undermined America’s alliance with the European Union. This means that the Europeans are free to strike out on their own, defending their own self-interest, without following the harebrained schemes of the United States.
In his delightful book Has the West Lost It?, Kishore Mahbubani argues that it is about time for Europe to realize that its interests are not identical with the machinations of the United States. Europe should forget about the American obsession with Russia, which poses no threat to Europe. Instead, Europe should worry about the chaos that American warmongering has created in the Middle East and Northern Africa. This chaos has brought refugees by the boatload into Europe, causing political unrest and the rise of right-wing parties. Mahbubani rightly argues that to save itself, Europe should help China rebuild Northern Africa and lift its people out of poverty, as it has lifted 800 million Chinese.
In short, the silver lining of the Trump presidency consists of keeping Americans busy with the disarray of their own nation while leaving the world to muddle along without American “leadership.” Unwittingly, Trump has made the United States less and less relevant on the international stage. As a result, the self-proclaimed “indispensable nation” is becoming dispensable. Even if this is only a temporary reprieve from a smug superpower with a messianic vision of its role in history, the world has reason to rejoice.