Trump is the face that materialises on a crystal ball when you go to a medium to ask them what a future apocalypse would look like. The medium would lean forward, stoically, to correct you, “Apocalypse, not in the future, but Now!”

It appears increasingly inevitable that Trump’s policies will accelerate America’s slow descent into a war with Russia and China. This is what American historian and neoconservative, Robert Kagan, has been warning in such articles as those in Foreign Policy and Brookings. Kagan argued that by encouraging former KGB operative Putin, or hardening his stance on China, Trump will only embolden the two countries in exploiting his weaknesses or resolving issues militarily. As Kagan writes, there are two lines today. On the one hand, there is the “great revisionist powers” of Russia and China, and on the other hand, the “declining confidence” of the US: 

“As those two lines move closer, as the declining will and capacity of the United States and its allies to maintain the present world order meet the increasing desire and capacity of the revisionist powers to change it, we will reach the moment at which the existing order collapses and the world descends into a phase of brutal anarchy, as it has three times in the past two centuries. The cost of that descent, in lives and treasure, in lost freedoms and lost hope, will be staggering.”

For Kagan, Trump’s presidency will likely “hasten us toward crisis” because he hasn’t considered “the future ramifications of his rhetoric and his actions”, particularly, his controversial attitudes towards Putin and his “tough talk with China.”

Russia and China are revisionist powers. What does this mean for Kagan? He says that they both are trying to restore their hegemonic dominance in their regions. China wants East Asia (Japan, South Korea, and Southeast Asia’s nations) to conform to its economic and political choices, while pushing America to the eastern Pacific. Russia wants to exert its influence in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Both the autocratic regimes of Russia and China see the US as their main threat and want to limit its power as the leader of the global world order, by weakening America’s influence and strengthening their position. 

Chinese and Russian ambitions have been controlled by US economic and military power

Kagan notes that up until now the American system of political and military alliances in Europe and East Asia has acted as a preventive wall deterring Russian and Chinese aggressive impulses. By including Russia and China in an open international economic system has offered them more advantages than disadvantages. But the growth of democracies, the free circulation of information, freedoms and global capitalism has threatened their autocratic regimes and their rule.  For a long time, then, America’s global position has kept these two powers in check: “The United States stepped up, and Russia and China largely backed down—or were preempted before acting at all.”

Democracy has weakened 

The dire economic situation, the resurgence of nationalism and the weakness of mainstream parties are a few reasons why democracy is in crisis. With the rise of xenophobia and an inward turn towards the nation, coupled with an increasing lack of faith in government, people seek solutions and guidance from a strong leader. Kagan writes that the question now is whether America wants to remain a global power and whether something like this is feasible with Trump as the leader. 

Putin, for example, has been pushing harder, and has proven that the West is inadequate to respond to his aggression. In 2014, when Crimea was seized, the US was reluctant to push Russia back. Kagan says that “Obama, in fact, publicly acknowledged Russia’s privileged position in Ukraine even as the United States and Europe sought to protect that country’s sovereignty. In Syria, the administration practically invited Russian intervention through Washington’s passivity, and certainly did nothing to discourage it.”

America’s reputation with the two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has weakened, and this is an opening for China and Russia which continue to challenge American power. While China has been more patient, Russia appears more aggressive, invading Georgia and the Ukraine, in 2008 and 2014, respectively. More recently, with its interference in the American electoral process, dissemination of fake news, and hacking, Russia has managed to disrupt the West. 

Against the global, America First

It’s not only Trump who has been preaching about a narrower version of American interests and a retreat into the comfort of American values, but also Obama and Bernie Sanders, who have also supported a view of America First. But Trump’s insistence in looking inwards, or avoiding to see clearly the dangers ahead, wallowing instead on Twitter or dreaming of building the US-Mexico wall, are leaving America exposed to tangible threats. This is not so much to argue that America needs to intervene more in global conflicts, but rather to offer resistance and support to allies, instead of turning away from global troubles. Is Trump able to respond to his new role? As Frankie Boyle said in yesterday’s Guardian article, Trump “is going to prove a lot of people wrong, but sadly not George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, or whoever wrote the Book of Revelation.”