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The Chaos Trumplifier

Vassilis Ntousas
Head of European Operations, Alliance for Securing Democracy, German Marshall Fund of the United States

It has only been a little more than 12 months since one of the most consequential US presidential elections ever. It certainly feels substantially longer.


What the extremely dense past year has shown is that the widely held pre-election opinion that the office Mr. Trump now occupies would change him for the better proved to be nothing short of a fallacy. If anything, all the chaos showcased during his coarse, combative election campaign has been amplified, having been infused with the most dangerous of all attributes: power.

It is indeed now very clear that there seems to be hardly anything pensive in the US president’s content and conduct of (foreign) policy-making. Fuelled too often not by real intelligence or information but by snippets of data, Fox & Friends reports, or the person he last spoke to, Mr. Trump’s words and actions simply represent knee-jerkism at its most incoherent and short-sighted. The exact context of this might change from day to day and from week to week, but proof of his angry, reactionary attitude trickles in every tweet, every tirade, every ingratiating comment, every petty quarrel he becomes embroiled in, and every raucous and rakish policy announcement.

Yet, perhaps counter-intuitively, the most worrying thing about Mr. Trump’s chaos-inducing behaviour is not (only) this behaviour per se. The most pressing threat can be found instead in the profoundly regressive agenda the new US chief serves to advance, no matter how erratically implemented.

The most worrying thing about Mr. Trump’s chaos-inducing behaviour is not (only) this behaviour per se.

His actions both domestically and internationally are two sides of the same coin: they wither America’s standing in the international institutional landscape as much as they serve to erode internal American institutions, norms and processes. His disdain for multilateralism and the international liberal order, as evidence by his decision for withdrawal from the Paris climate accords, UNESCO, TTIP, TPP and his threats regarding NAFTA, the Iran Nuclear Deal and North Korea, is mirrored in his craving for acting like a strongman, internally unchecked and externally unfettered. His clear preference for a world based on the law of force and not the force of law is echoed in his decision to impose severe cuts to the State Department’s budget or his love of all things authoritarian and militaristic. His unsettling disregard for facts or reality hampers American international credibility as much as it works to puncture the democratic underbelly of the country’s body politic.

For a tumultuous world that is perhaps now more than ever in need of the projection of American resolve, sobriety and continuity, Mr. Trump’s America-First nationalism already has real consequences. It creates enormous risks of emboldening other countries to also follow a similarly irrational behaviour, it jeopardises America’s privileged position on the international stage despite being presumably destined to elevate it, and above all, it creates a vacuum. A destabilising vacuum which certainly tickles the appetite of other players to fill in and engage in regional or global parallel order-shaping.

A destabilising vacuum which certainly tickles the appetite of other players to fill in and engage in regional or global parallel order-shaping.

Consider, for example, the recent developments in the Middle East where the US has been conspicuously absent. Consider Mr. Trump’s pronouncements following the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China and his recent trip to the country. Consider also the way Mr. Trump is personally treated during the majority of interactions with foreign leaders when hosted abroad. A showering of hospitality, adulation and flattery, yet always combined with a hidden sense of unease or disbelief in the background, in a way reminding one of the highly orchestrated shows of affection towards North Korean leaders on national television.

Mr. Trump of course does not fully realise the extent to which his un­or­tho­dox behaviour and polarizing agenda do in fact accelerate the national decline he so often and so bombastically has sought to reverse. As Orwell warned ‘To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle’ and Mr. Trump’s exhibited myopia over the last year is surely not going to subside in the future. One year after the 2016 US election, the pandemonium of Mr. Trump and his White House is simply a reflection of the worldview he is promoting all across and beyond America: narrow, divisive, vindictive and erratic. In short, a chaos amplifier.

photo: Joseph Sohm/ 

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