Why Elites are Wrong and President Trump Can Restore America’s Global Leadership
Donald Trump has the potential to stabilize American politics, says a former NATO secretary-general
The intellectual elites in much of the Western world are still shell-shocked by Donald Trump’s election victory in November. However, instead of squawking nervously about every tweet, astute political observers should focus on the underlying political dynamics in the coming months and years.
The elites would do well to remember that populism is often based on a core of truth. Rather than ostracize populists, establishment parties are often better off welcoming them and working with them. The government I led in Denmark between 2001 and 2009 was based on a successful coalition of so-called populists and established center-right parties. We didn’t agree on every issue, but together we were able to reform the welfare state, improve our immigration laws, and back the U.S.-led coalitions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Most importantly, we dealt a cultural blow to political correctness and bureaucratic elitism.
The emerging Trump coalition of conservative activists has broad appeal in America, which remains a fundamentally center-right nation politically. Barring significant errors of execution, Donald Trump has the potential to stabilize American politics and restore reliable American leadership to the world stage in the coming years.
So far, Trump has made several personnel appointments that present a more nuanced picture of future U.S. foreign policy than superficial media coverage suggests. He has brought in many globally respected figures from business and the military. These strong leaders won’t tolerate a weak and meek America. And personnel is policy, as the saying goes.
I believe President Trump will be unorthodox, challenge the status quo and look at the global stage with fresh eyes. If applied wisely, this could be an effective approach. Let’s take military spending as one example. It would be disastrous to abandon U.S. allies in Europe, but Trump is right to point out that the U.S. is paying a disproportionate share of total defense costs in the NATO alliance. Trump’s unambiguity on this issue combined with Russia’s saber rattling have sent shock waves through many European countries. Most recently, Latvia and Lithuania have taken concrete steps to reach the 2% defense target in 2018. Others are likely to follow suit.
The attack on Pearl Harbor taught us that American isolationism won’t make the U.S. safer. It will only strengthen the hand of authoritarian leaders and threaten the future of the rules-based international world order that has brought freedom, security and prosperity to the American people since the end of World War II. Trump might be an unorthodox president, but I don’t believe he will take America in an isolationist direction. On the contrary, the Trump administration could actually bring a much-needed boost of energy and creativity to the world stage.
President Trump will set the tone of his presidency in his inaugural address. He should listen to President Kennedy who said that “we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty”. And he should listen to President Reagan who believed in American exceptionalism and said that “peace doesn’t come from weakness or retreat. It comes from the restoration of American military superiority.”
Of course, President Trump will use his own words. But the essence of the messages from his two great predecessors would send a strong and reassuring message to America’s many friends all over the world. And at the same time, he would send a clear warning to his country’s enemies.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the founder and chairman of Rasmussen Global, is a former prime minister of Denmark and a former secretary-general of NATO.