Donald Trump has a thing for rebuking America’s democratic allies and their leaders—his latest target being Australia’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull. The UK appears to be an exception to this trend. In his first interview with the British press as president-elect, Trump explained that the UK has a “special place” in his half-Scottish heart and pledged to support a post-Brexit UK-US trade deal. Reportedly a big fan of Winston Churchill—and of Boris Johnson’s Churchill Factor—he also asked the UK government to loan him a Churchill bust that his Republican predecessor George W. Bush kept in the Oval Office.
A guest post by Seán Molloy, Reader in International Relations, University of Kent
Now that the contours of post-Brexit UK foreign policy are clearer following the Prime Minister’s ‘Global Britain’ speech, the time has come to ask the most critical question: is the project feasible? The central thrust of Theresa May’s pitch is that freed from ‘inflexible’ Brussels mordant grip the UK will soar to new heights. ‘Global Britain,’ May confidently asserts, will be a trading dynamo.
Nobody who lived through the referendum campaign could agree with the Prime Minister that the vote on June 23 was a declaration of Britain’s determination to build a “truly global” Britain. Insofar as the depiction of Britain as an economic titan destined for global greatness once free of the EU featured in the referendum it was a distant also-ran compared to immigration, the fabled £350m per week to be lavished on the NHS, and the restoration of British sovereignty. These objectives were all domestic in nature and not consistent with the Prime Minister’s characterisation of Brexit as the expression of a confident, thrusting nation about the take the commercial world by storm. The electorate voted with its eyes open, but its gaze was primarily fixed upon the perceived domestic consequences of EU membership and other grievances related to the operation of globalisation rather than an insistence upon seizing external opportunities.
If what was genuinely at stake in the referendum eluded the Prime Minister, the full scale of its effects also seem to be absent from her articulation of the policies her government is poised to enact.
In our final post centring on the US presidential inauguration, Ulises Ali Mejias reflects on the phenomenon of ‘fake news’ and the role of social media. Ulises is associate professor at the State University of New York at Oswego. He is the author of Off the Network: Disrupting the Digital World (2013, University of Minnesota Press). With Nick Couldry, he is currently writing a book on data as a capitalist social relation.
While we didn’t exactly predict the rise of ‘fake news’, in 2013 a Russian colleague and I completed an academic article on the disinformation tactics used during the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Like many others, we started to recognize the ways in which citizens generate, consume and distribute false information by interacting with old and new media, contributing to a social order where lies acquire increasing authority. While we focused on the Russia-Ukraine case, we felt it was important to point out that these tactics might serve as a template for future scenarios, including in Western democracies.
The article will not see the light of day until this year, four years after it was finished. Interestingly, part of the reason it has taken so long to get it published is that some reviewers felt our argument should omit references to Western democracies. The sentiment seemed to be that this kind of stuff could not happen here.
That was, of course, before the 2016 US presidential elections.
Donald Trump has been one of the most critically scrutinized political figures in recent history. But what has so far escaped much attention is how Trump promised to ‘Make America Great Again’ by ‘winning’ on all fronts. Yet victory has long been a centrepiece of Trump’s vision for American renewal. Here is Trump on the stump in April 2016:
You’re going to be so proud of your country. […] We’re going to turn it around. We’re going to start winning again: we’re going to win at every level, we’re going to win economically […] we’re going to win militarily, we’re going to win with healthcare and for our veterans, we’re going to win with every single facet, we’re going to win so much, you may even get tired of winning, and you’ll say “please, please, it’s too much winning, we can’t take it anymore” and I’ll say “no it isn’t”, we have to keep winning, we have to win more, we’re going to win more!
Andrew Priest is senior lecturer in Modern US History at the University of Essex. He is co-editor, with Andrew Johnstone, of US Presidential Elections and Foreign Policy: Candidates, Campaigns, and Global Politics from FDR to Bill Clinton (University of Kentucky, forthcoming 2017), and he is currently writing a new book on US foreign policy and notions of empire in the post-Civil War period. Here, the day before Donald Trump is inaugurated as the 45th US president, Andrew sets him in the context of American populism through the centuries and offers some thoughts on Trump’s foreign policy in the making.
As hard as it is to believe, only on Friday will Donald Trump finally become president of the United States. During the ultra-marathon that is the modern presidential election, which has given way to a transition period that has felt almost as long, Trump has given us many hints but few details of what his presidency will actually bring. While strident in his views about America’s place in the world, he shows little interest in the details of foreign policy and disdain for diplomatic niceties. This will have important implications for Trump’s role as architect of American foreign policy for the next four years.
A few weeks ago, when I checked Twitter and saw that Fidel Castro had died, the news felt strangely distant. True, Fidel was a giant of the twentieth century rather than the twenty-first, but I think that feeling of observing the news of his death from afar had more to do with the fact that we (Cubans and Cuba-watchers, journalists, scholars, beret-wearing backpackers) have already been living with the spectre of his death for so long. And, as he has faced death so many times through the years, the mere fact of his death – now material, tangible – seems hardly enough to stop him from living on.
This is a guest post by Jeanne Morefield, Professor of Politics at Whitman College and a Professorial Fellow at the Institute for Social Justice, Australian Catholic University. Her scholarship works primarily at the intersection of political theory, history, and international relations with a particular focus on the political discourses of British and American imperialism. She is the author of Empires Without Imperialism: Anglo-American Decline and the Politics of Deflection(Oxford, 2014) and Covenants Without Swords: Idealist Liberalism and the Spirit of Empire (Princeton, 2005) and has published articles in journals such asPolitical Theory, History of Political Thought, Theory and Event as well as numerous chapters for edited volumes on the history of international and imperial thought. Jeanne is currently Co-President of the Association for Political Theory and is writing a book on the political thought of Edward Said.
Although it seems like an eternity, it was actually just over a month ago that those legions of Republican and Democratic pundits and professors of International Relations associated with the foreign policy establishment – in all the overlapping, echo-chamberish, reinforcing glory that Ben Rhodes termed “The Blob” – were busy issuing dire warnings about a Trump foreign policy. From realists, to liberal internationalists, to neoconservative ranters, a huge swath of foreign policy regulars committed themselves to the idea that Trump demonstrated “a predisposition to strategic recklessness” and that his espoused policies amounted to “a de facto withdrawal from the liberal world order.” Words like “crackpot,” “temperamentally unsuited,” and “the Islamic State’s dream candidate” came pouring out of a seemingly crestless wave of professorial and think-tank generated articles, op-eds, and open letters while journalists took to the Twittersphere to proclaim Trump’s foreign policy vision “dangerous,” “unprecedented,” and “terrifying.”
In Robert Kagan’s words, if elected, Trump’s “ultimately self-destructive tendencies would play out on the biggest stage in the world, with consequences at home and abroad that one can barely begin to imagine.” The mood was perhaps best captured by Jeffrey Isaac in his last ditch attempt before the election to convince the – largely fictional but rhetorically useful – hordes of leftist hold-outs to vote Democratic. While his concern was domestic, the ultimatum he presented beautifully reflected the broad sentiments of the foreign policy establishment. The choice before us was simple: “Clinton or barbarism.”
Then Trump won, the barbarians entered the gates, and in a matter of days many of these same harbingers-of-doom were confidently assuring us that, while they still had a few doubts, all would be well on the foreign policy front.
Not surprisingly, Western Civilization’s most dogged empire-whisperer Niall Ferguson – crowing with satisfaction at his prescient decision not to couch his pre-election warnings about Trump as support for Clinton – jumped quickly on the Trump-possibility bandwagon. Not only, he argued, did it appear that Trump’s foreign policy limned more closely to that of Ferguson’s outsized hero (Henry Kissinger), it could potentially shore up liberalism’s core principles by more forcefully opposing the oppression of women, gays, and people of different faiths in the name of Islam.