Donald Trump and the end of history

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tags: election 2016, Trump



The last time we blew up the international system, it took two World Wars, a Cold War, and a Great Depression before we were able to get it back to where it'd been in 1913. With any luck, it won't require quite as much this time around.

That, make no mistake, is what Donald Trump's election might mean. I say "might," because we really don't know what he'll do in office. He's gone back and forth and back again on almost every issue. But if he's serious about jailing his political rivals, about cracking down on the free press, about potentially abandoning our allies, about encouraging them to get nuclear weapons of their own, and about ripping up free trade agreements, then the liberal international order that has bequeathed us a relative Pax Americana the past 70 years will be no more. It'll be the end of the end of history.

That's become a familiar theme the past year. From Europe's anti-immigrant parties edging closer to power to Britain's all-but-winning it with the country's vote to leave the European Union to Trump's ascension to the White House, Francis Fukuyama's famous idea that free-market liberal democracy had vanquished all its ideological foes and was the "final form of human government" seems to be, well, a little more temporary. Just as he could have told you himself. Fukuyama, you see, believed that just because we'd reached the end of history didn't mean we'd stay in the end of history. That peace and prosperity might not be enough for some people who would, "struggle for the sake of struggle" simply "out of a certain boredom" from living in a world that doesn't seem to have meaning or identity any more. And so we might see a 227 year-old republic succumb to someone who evinced only the slightest respect for constitutional norms and even less for minority groups. ...

It's possible that 2016 will be our own 1914. Not that we'll descend into a paroxysm of suicidal violence, but that a world that was defined by openness might give way to one that's not. For the last 70 years, liberal democracy has guaranteed people's individual rights, and the U.S. has guaranteed liberal democracy's right to exist. All of that is doubt now. What will President Trump do if Putin sends the tanks into Tallinn or Riga or Vilnius to ostensibly defend ethnic Russians against persecution? Or if North Korea threatens to overrun Seoul? Whatever its flaws, the liberal international order gave us peace and prosperity on a scale heretofore unknown in human history. And perhaps in our future too.

History was better when it was over.




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