The Trump Hangover

Council on Foreign Relation, November 10, 2020
Luis Rubio,
Chairman, Mexican Council on Foreign Relations (Mexico)

The U.S. founding fathers clearly stated that the United States would be a republic, not a democracy. This distinction has become one of the most contentious elements in American elections and the cause of mockery the world over, particularly in fragile democracies and in countries led by authoritarians close to Trump. Although the media has declared Biden the winner, Trump has not conceded, creating dangerous uncertainty. The election has proved much closer than expected and the primary long-term consequence will be the further erosion of America’s greatest asset abroad: soft power. Over the past decade, the United States—promoter of democracy, liberal values, and market economics—has squandered its image and institutions as its politicians abused them and Trump undermined them.

Few nations have been hit as hard by Trump’s rhetoric and actions as Mexico. Starting in 2016 with his campaign strategy of blaming “Mexican rapists” for American ills, Trump went on to force changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a vital factor of Mexico’s economic growth. He produced a new agreement that, despite establishing rules for economic interaction, undermines the value of NAFTA: legal and political certainty for investors. Forgoing geopolitical considerations critical to its security and even with its closest of neighbors, the United States under Trump has been inward-looking and incapable of understanding long-term trends and consequences. The prospect of four more years of similar policies was not enticing.

How much damage is done between now and Biden’s inauguration on January 20 will be crucial to the future of the United States. At stake will be the strength of American institutions, which will almost certainly be tested by Trump’s refusal to abide by tradition. “A republic, if you can keep it,” Benjamin Franklin said. The world will be watching, from some places with malicious intent, but most with the hope that the United States will once again prove to be a shining light of democracy and institutional strength.