Trump’s Presidency: Rise of Illiberal Globalism?

The liberal international order which supports protections for individual freedom, as led by the United States, is in crisis. The threats are both external from authoritarian governments and internal from disgruntled populists who sense a loss of opportunities. The United States is signaling a withdrawal from its role in fierce protection of the liberal international order, argues the author of “The End of American World Order,” Amitav Acharya. “A major question about the future of the liberal order is whether [Donald] Trump’s victory might encourage authoritarianism around the world,” he writes. “Such an authoritarian wave may not materialize or last long. But there is little question that Trump’s victory has given democracy’s foes a reason to pounce.” Acharya anticipates new forms of globalization emerging in what he calls a multiplex world: from Asia, with more regional arrangements and greater emphasis on development and infrastructure investment than trade. Civil society and corporations may replace nations in leading with global governance to resolve the world’s biggest challenges. – YaleGlobal 

Trump's Presidency: Rise of Illiberal Globalism?

Threats to international liberal order and democratic nations, both external and internal, shape new forms of globalization
Amitav Acharya
Thursday, January 19, 2017

Donald Trump sworn in as president 2016 January
Illiberalism rising? Donald J. Trump is sworn in as US president

BEIJING: The liberal order is imploding. The ascent of Donald J. Trump to the presidency of the United States is the consequence, not the cause, of the crisis in the liberal international order led by the United States. That crisis and decline has been forewarned for some time, including this author’s 2014 book, The End of American World Order, and in the pages of YaleGlobal, although many of the liberal order’s proponents were slow to acknowledge it.

Until now, it was generally assumed that the main challenge to liberal order or what may be called liberal globalism would come from external factors, especially from the rising powers led by China. Trump’s victory and Brexit suggest that the challenge to the liberal international order is from both within and without.

Exit polls show that the states Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton was expected to carry – such as Wisconsin, which had not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1984, as well as Pennsylvania and Michigan, which had not done so since 1988, as well as Ohio and North Carolina – voted for Trump because of sentiments against economic globalization underpinning the liberal order. Trump’s electoral platform on trade carried such elements as: “Negotiate fair trade deals that create American jobs, increase American wages, and reduce America's trade deficit.” Point 1 of his “7 Point Plan to Rebuild the American Economy by Fighting for Free Trade” is to “Withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has not yet been ratified,” a threat he has lost no time in affirming. Point 6 is to “Instruct the U.S. Trade Representative to bring trade cases against China, both in this country and at the WTO. China's unfair subsidy behavior is prohibited by the terms of its entrance to the WTO.” The Trump team has indicated that it will place greater stress on bilateral deals based on a strict and direct reciprocity rather than multilateralism.

Although alliances should be viewed as instruments of power politics, American liberal internationalists have viewed them as key instruments of the liberal order and for the US ability to dominate the world. Trump is not the first American leader to call for allies to do more for their own defense. But his approach is much more than the usual “burden-sharing” talk of past presidents such as Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. Trump seems to betray a fundamental lack of faith in the strategic and normative utility of alliances. He is also the first US president who has explicitly warned about the withdrawal of US protection should the allies not comply with his demand. Trump’s sympathy for Russia means his stance on alliances cannot be easily brushed off as another attempt at burden-sharing, but motivated by a fundamentally different geopolitical calculus.


A major question about the future of the liberal order is whether Trump’s victory might encourage authoritarianism around the world. As many commentators have pointed out, Trump’s victory is encouraging to anti-democratic leaders not only outside the West such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, but also far-right movements in the West, such as those led by the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders, Italy’s Salvini, Britain’s Nigel Farage and France’s Marine Le Pen.

Such an authoritarian wave may not materialize or last long. But there is little question that Trump’s victory has given democracy’s foes a reason to pounce. “Democracy is the loser in U.S. Vote,” declared China Daily while criticizing the level of personal attacks and “nasty aspects” of American-style democracy during the long and brutal presidential campaign. And as argued by Richard Javad Heydarian, a political science professor at Manila’s De La Salle University, Trump’s election has raised questions about the maturity of American democracy.

Trump’s victory has already eroded the country’s claim to leadership in projecting liberal values, a key element of American primacy and the US-led liberal order. Volker Perthes, the director of the German Institute of International and Security Affairs, says that Trump's victory "represents a hard knock for the West’s normative bedrock of liberalism.” It has also dented America’s soft power, which rests largely on the attractiveness of its domestic politics, culture and institutions. People around the world are unlikely to forget Trump’s attack on the Hispanic judge in California, which fellow Republican and House Speaker Paul Ryan described as a “textbook case of racism,” or his attack on Mexican immigrants and the parents of a Muslim US soldier who died from a car bomb in Iraq after ordering subordinates to stand back while he inspected the vehicle. Few elected leaders of a major liberal power could express such distinctly illiberal views on race and women as Trump did during the campaign.

The emerging powers can only wait. Some analysts argue that emerging powers, Russia and China in particular, may profit from the political crisis. But when it comes to the liberal order, Russia and China have different interests. Putin, who tried to help put Trump in the White House, according to US intelligence agencies, stands to gain if Trump carries out his stance on alliances and reduces global engagement. Unlike China, Russia has been a loser in the post–Cold War shift in power and wealth. Russia has little interest in preserving the liberal order and stands to gain geopolitically if Trump and Brexit weaken NATO and the European Union.


But China is another case and, as the main beneficiary of the liberal order, has much to lose from its collapse. The country will protest a precipitate collapse of the liberal order, but also gains wider leeway to shape and lead a new kind of globalization. This is the message of President Xi Jinping’s unprecedented presence at the annual World Economic Forum at Davos. Unlike many others, this author does not think that globalism or globalization is over. Instead, we may see a different form of globalization. The new globalization will be led more by the East, especially China and India, and other emerging countries than by the West. Globalization may be based more on South-South than North-South linkages. Moreover, the new globalization may see greater emphasis on development, such as infrastructure development, than trade liberalization. Due to the prominence of China and other emerging powers, globalization will be more respectful of sovereignty, more economic, and less political or ideological.

All these trends will affect the global governance architecture. The election of Trump casts a shadow over the future of global governance. Many of his stated policy platforms suggest a nationalist, inward-looking US foreign policy. While his demand for US allies to pay more for their own defense need not affect global governance, the policies on trade, environment and security will influence global institutions, such as the World Trade Organization and the United Nations as well as global climate change negotiations.

At the same time, Initiatives such as the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank may be joined by new ones led by emerging and regional powers. Regional arrangements will continue to proliferate. Civil society actors may organize against populist regimes in the West to create new avenues for protest and offer alternative pathways to global governance. While demand for global governance will remain, the architecture will continue to fragment and decenter, confirming the onset of what this author has called a multiplex world.

Amitav Acharya is the Boeing Chair in International Relations at Tsinghua University and author of The End of American World Order (Polity 2014, Chinese translation by Shanghai People’s Press, 2016). Read an excerpt.

Copyright © 2017 YaleGlobal and the MacMillan Center


s very interesting article indeed. What is missing amongst the causes of the rise of this movement is the huge American deficit of some 20 trillion $ (?) in the national economy and the rise of unemployment and dependence of many American workers on the 'dole' as they see no future in their creativity and way out of dependence on the dole. President Trump seems to have capitalised on this "failing" as I see it during the election run up. There were other issues as well but I refrain from commenting on these aspects.

The International Liberal Order created and defended by America achieved its major objective the defeat of the Soviet Union back in 1990. The US does not need to support nations that do not want to defend themselves (e.g., pay 1% GNP on defense) or run decades of trade deficits with the US. "Free Trade," does not work in that most outcomes are not optimal mainly because comparative advantage is a learned behavior. The US is attempting to renegotiate a world order where all nations have skin in the game and the US does not kill its middle classes via Trade. China has an opening, but I do not think it will do them any good. They are interested only in running trade deficits with their partners, balanced trade does not appeal to them because it would require massive increases in manufactured imports. They still need to employ tens of millions of State workers and new adults. The US tends to leave nations when asked (rare in history, think Europe, Japan, Phillipines, Iraq). The Chinese tend to expand into inferior nations (Tibet, Northern India, South Chinese Seas), but historically have not been big Imperialists. It is clear that over 80% of economic growth depends on technical and organization change vs. more labor and capital inputs. I could be wrong, but the Chinese tend not to be that innovative. Most likely they will go the way of the Soviet Union and Japan and not keep us with the productivity growth of the US, especially if they are cut off from trade. Although, the last 10 years of US TFP has not been very good; around .2% vs the more usual 2.0%

The withdrawal of TPP is unnecessary policy of Trump. The existing of RCEP depends on Asian's national economic crisis. But TPP has occured with a different purpose from a different perspective. So, There is what kind of gaps that China and US try to fulfill with integrations??? Globalization phase is not only problem for China but also for other countries in the region as emerging market countries, that's why globalization of China has to be evaluated witihin Emerging Market countries. With One Belt One Road project China is creating strategy with infrastructures supported by government financing. But US and other western countries need to approach constructive relations to east Asia. China cannot drive a new global policy alone with its government party and institutional structures. Both countries need soft policies for the welfare of other EMCs. Because there will be results of globalization of China for other countries too as fills and gaps.