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Present at the Destruction? The Liberal Order in the Trump Era


The election of Donald Trump in 2016 sent shock waves across political classes globally and prompted debates about whether his ‘America first’ agenda threatened the liberal international order. During his first year in office, Trump seemed determined to undermine the hallmarks of the liberal international order: democracy, liberal economics and international cooperation. So, are we witnessing the emergence of a “post-liberal” and “post-American” era? Four sources of evidence help frame – if not answer – the question: history, the crisis of liberal democracy, Trump’s world view, and the power of civil society (globally and nationally) to constrain any US President. They yield three main judgements. First, continuity often trumps change in US foreign policy. Second, the liberal international order may have been more fragile pre-Trump than was widely realised. Third, American power must be put at the service of its own democracy if the US is to become the example to the world it used to be.
Keywords: US foreign policy, US politics, liberal order, multipolarity