Trump Administration: a Template for Change

ROBBIN LAIRD  –  Nov 29, 2016

We are in the midst of significant global change.

Consider the strategic dislocation of the Middle East, the Putin Russian revival, the Brexit dynamic, the Euro crisis, the German migrant opening at the middle of Europe, the Chinese power grab, the Chinese economic malaise, the Japanese power reset, and one could go on.

The point is that several trends are underway at the same time and they add up to a significant redefinition of the global scene, power and policy priorities.

We will probably see an Italian government fall next week after losing a key referendum, which will be indicative of Italy’s future role in Europe.

In France, a conservative is likely to become President next year who has an opportunity to shape a de Gaulle-type moment as Europe and the Trans-Atlantic community enter a very different phase of development than the past 20 years.

The next decade will be QUITE different from the past two. Donald Trump will become President in the midst of a significant period of global change, disruptive change, and he will have his own impact upon it.

It is no wonder that the American voters wanted a President who sees the need for fundamental change rather than continuity with the past four presidencies. To that end, President elect Trump is appointing new faces who are not simply camp followers. A case in point is the South Carolina governor to the post of U.S. UN Ambassador.

The “globalization” template shaped in the post Cold War period is becoming part of the historical past more rapidly than might have been expected. President Obama stated in Europe that he hoped that President Trump would not revert to realpolitik, but that is clearly what is needed for the free world facing very active and pro-active non-liberal regimes and significant crises of legitimacy at home.

Historical change is a complicated process whereby when one enters a new era, new questions are posed and answers sought, rather than simply seeking new answers to former defining questions.

It is about shaping “order within chaos” (which was the title of my PhD dissertation, by the way). In shaping a new structure for order, new templates are forged and new consensus shaped. It is an art; not a science.

It is clear that Trump has been elected precisely to lead an effort to shape something different from the regimes that preceded him in the post-Cold War order. Nothing less than a redefinition of American power is in process.

This is coming in the wake of the clear arrival of a multi-power competitive world with an ongoing fight against terrorism which simply does not accept liberal societies, with a small l.

It is surprising then that the vast bulk of writing about Trump shaping a new team seems to be measuring him against the past 20 years when clearly he is trying to put together a team which can shape the next decade. 

If he succeeds or fails is a reasonable question; but it is clear that America has elected its first information age president and with it a team that will follow the path he is shaping.

Conrad Black put it well: "Mr. Trump was running against the Bush-McCain-Romney traditional Republicans, the Cruz far-right Republicans, the Clinton-Obama long-term management of the Democrats and the quasi-Marxist Sanders left of the Democrats, and almost all the press and polling organizations. These were impossible odds against him, except that he won."


The same press that was an attack dog during the campaign, is now pushing out a constant stream of “interpretations” of what Trump is doing or not doing.

The point is that he is trying to move America in a different direction, and trying to forge a team that can do so.

This means that rather than measuring him against Bush-McCain-Romney-Cruz-Clinton-Obama-Sanders, analysis needs to be generated from the challenge of managing a strategic shift. Trump has set a different objective for himself and his Administration: to set in motion a strategic shift for America where industry can thrive again, America defends its interests, agreements are transparent and not buried in the obscure language of multi-lateral agreements with no clear enforcement mechanism against non-liberal societies, and a defense team appointed designed to actually win a war against ISIS.

He may succeed, or he may fail; but it is against the template of change he will be judged, not on how close he comes to the Bush-McCain-Romney-Cruz-Clinton-Obama-Sanders style or objectives.