The Key Challenge and Issue for the United States in 2018 is Donald Trump

posted by Robert Shapiro on December 12, 2017 - 12:00am

The United States is likely to face a unique challenge in 2018: How to manage an international economic or geopolitical crisis in the face of growing doubts about the competence, integrity, wisdom and stability of U.S. leadership.  No one can say if a serious crisis will erupt next year in the Middle East, the Korean peninsula, the Pakistan-India border, or at the heart of the financial systems of Southern Europe or China.  We do know that if the United States and its allies are unable to take unified. Intelligent and decisive action, the economic and political consequences are likely to be dismal and daunting. 

This is not a feverish partisan daydream, but an informed scenario based on growing evidence of eroding international confidence in the quality of U.S. leadership under President Donald Trump.  Over the past year, such confidence in America’s commitments to its international agreements has been shaken by Mr. Trump’s decisions to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord, end U.S. participation in any type of Trans-Pacific Partnership, and consider withdrawing from NAFTA.  Similarly, international confidence in America’s direct commitments to its allies has been shaken by Mr. Trump’s refusal at the NATO meetings to publically reaffirm the U.S. obligation to defend any NATO ally under attack, as well as by his public and personal attacks on critical long-time U.S. allies such as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the President of South Korea, and the Chancellor of Germany.  Further, international confidence in the integrity and competence of the U.S. Government has been shaken by large-scale resignations from the U.S. Foreign Service and Mr. Trump’s failure, after nearly one year in office,  to even nominate anyone to more than 50 percent of the most senior positons at the Departments of State, Treasury, Justice and Energy, and about one-third of the most senior positions at the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security. 

International confidence in American leadership is also shaken on a daily basis by actions of Mr. Trump that cast doubt on his character and judgment, from his regular stream of verifiable lies and distortions, and personal efforts to elect a candidate who would bar Muslims from serving in Congress, criminalize same-sex behavior, and has been credibly accused of child molestation, to revelations of unethical and illegal behavior by senior officials of his presidential campaign and early White House. In all of these respects, Mr. Trump is unique among all modern U.S. presidents.  One result is that he retains much less public support than other modern presidents at comparable points in their presidencies, and another is that he has become the only U.S. president in modern times whose actions and character spur serious, non-partisan, national discussion of his basic fitness to serve.

As 2017 comes to an end, the economic and geopolitical costs of this well-based lack of international and domestic confidence in Mr. Trump’s leadership seem both genuinely serious and, alas, ultimately unavoidable.