The breakdown of established liberal democratic norms has become the theme of Donald Trump’s election to the presidency of the United States. For this reason America and the White House are likely to be at the centre of many crises that unfold in 2017. Uncertainty about Trump’s capacity to respond rationally to unexpected crises makes the coming year a dangerous one for America and the world.
In Europe, the fear of instability and conflict is perhaps being felt most keenly. The new president has questioned the relevance of NATO while praising Russian President Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian rule.
Trump has also actively resisted, even denied, the findings of his own intelligence services of Russian interference in the US election. This is unprecedented behaviour and threatens to undermine the liberal democratic norms and institutions that have been essential to maintaining European security.
Closer to home, Trump has consistently characterised China as a threat to US economic interests. The possibility of a trade war between the two would have devastating consequences for the global economy. New US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has threatened military intervention in the South China Sea dispute, setting the scene for a military conflict.
In the Middle East, Trump has threatened to undo the decades-long work of reaching a diplomatic solution to the problem of Iran’s nuclear program. Coupled with his irresponsible remarks about nuclear weapons use, the potential for nuclear proliferation is deeply worrying.
Yet it is domestically that Trump could have the most destabilising impact. During his first few weeks in office he attacked the democratic bedrock of a free press, intimidated federal agencies to go silent on climate change, and began to unravel Obamacare and policies aimed at reducing America’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Trump has issued orders for immigration restrictions that are a flagrant abuse of human rights (which have since been overturned by a federal judge). He has moved to roll back progress on health care and women’s reproductive rights. And, in general, he has displayed an emotional incoherence and disregard for facts and evidence that is seriously alarming.