Weekend Roundup: Will Donald Trump End the New Cold War?

The irony of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s “America First” policy is that it could end the budding new Cold War that has been developing between the West and Russia and China. His non-ideological, deal-making approach, which doesn’t challenge how the Russians and Chinese govern themselves, promises to lessen tensions that have been getting dangerously out of control. That in turn would weaken the tie that binds those two nations ever closer together in growing hostility against the West.

Writing from Moscow, Fyodor Lukyanov sees the end of an era arriving with Trump. “The main difference from the previous administration,” says Lukyanov, “is that the ideological promotion of democracy and a certain model of development, which provided the conceptual and axiological justification for America’s global presence, is being rolled back. Russia,” he continues,  “welcomes the return of pragmatism to international relations and the retreat of liberal ideology.”

Also writing from Moscow, Vladimir Frolov concurs: “A liberal, normative world order underpinned by U.S. leadership, could be replaced with the ‘art of the geopolitical deal between the great powers.” Yet, he also feels “a palpable sense of apprehension within the Kremlin.” Anastasya Manuilova reports from Moscow that Russians are divided over Trump, with many doubting he will keep his pledge to mend ties with Russia. “How [can] Trump start a new relationship with Russia if now he has become the president of [a] country where half of the population vot[ed] for Clinton with her much more hostile attitude towards us?” Anna, a 25-year-old facilities manager from Moscow, told her. “He can’t just ignore all these people, especially if they already started protesting against him.”

Former NATO commander James Stavridis puts Russia and Israel in the column of “winners” in a new Trump administration, with trade and the traditional security alliances as “losers.” Harvard’s Simon Saradzhyan and William Tobey caution against expectations of any big change in the U.S.-Russia relationship. They point out the many obstacles from worries over Russian ambitions in the Middle East to constraints on U.S. ballistic missile defense systems demanded by Moscow as a condition for reviving nuclear security cooperation.

Though in the short term conflict with China over trade is likely, Chinese-American relations could improve over the longer term as well. “The Chinese prefer a relationship with a United States that doesn’t try to remake the world,” Eric X. Li wrote from Shanghai this week in The New York Times. “The Chinese know how to compete and can deal with competitors. What the Chinese have always resented and resisted is an America that imposes its values and standards on everybody else. Mr. Trump’s America is likely to break from this pattern. He has shown no desire to tell other countries how to do things.”  

Such pragmatic accommodation in a vacuum, however, comes at an obvious price. As the philosopher Charles Taylor fears, absent a commensurate will from the U.S. to build and sustain a rules-based order that fosters global cooperation, the world will likely devolve into a series of spheres of influence reminiscent of the age of empire. In that fraught arrangement, Taylor told WorldPost advisory board member Dileep Padgaonkar, “Each side gives the other a ‘free hand’ in their ‘own’ sphere. Trump’s version of ‘America First’ seems to imply not needing to placate allies. This in turn will add lustre to an internal politics of discrimination and exclusion. It may easily go along with scrapping international treaties, like the Paris accords on climate change.” 

Writing from Stockholm, Goran Rosenberg agrees with Pope Francis that the vilification of others Trump has regularly practiced is itself a form of terrorism. “Every human being is capable of turning into a terrorist simply by just abusing language,” he quotes the pope saying in a recent interview in a Swedish publication. “You see,” the pope continues, “I am not speaking here about fighting a battle as in a war. I am speaking of a deceitful and hidden form of terrorism that uses words as bombs that explode, causing devastation in peoples’ lives. It is a sort of criminality and the root of it is original sin. It is a way of creating space for yourself by destroying others.” Rosenberg fears that Trump’s example encourages the darkest forces in Europe that are gaining ground every day. “Trump’s victorious election campaign,” he writes, “has poisoned the political climate of liberal democracies. We have been shown that defamation, hatred and lying can be a road to power.” 

Writing from India, Sandip Roy makes the same point from the other side of the planet, likening Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Trump. “It’s not about Donald Trump,” he writes, “it’s about those he emboldens. It’s about those who bully in his name. And this is an issue we understand firsthand in India. A Narendra Modi in office chooses his words carefully, gives lofty high-minded speeches, talks about vikaas and Constitution. But those who are emboldened in his name are the ones who tell critics to ‘go to Pakistan.’”

The appointment by Donald Trump of Steve Bannon as a key strategist only confirms Dean Obeidallah’s worst fear that Islamophobic bigotry has a place in the White House and that not enough media outlets are concerned about this part of the man’s troubling reality. Indeed, in a piece with her New York-based brother Paul Vale, Katherine Linzy of Louisville, Ky. says the anti-Muslim sentiments in places like her “solid red” town are exacerbated by some far-right voices in media. “Rural Kentuckians may go their entire lives without meeting a Muslim, but they’ve all been told radical Islam is coming to wipe them out,” she explains. “With media fear mongering as their only reference, prejudice is unsurprising, but it’s directed at nebulous groups not individuals; the same people who worry about radical Islam would be genuinely warm and welcoming if I brought a Muslim friend round for dinner.”

Michael Dobson acknowledges the gauntlet thrown down by President-elect Trump, who once said he will “cancel” the Paris climate accord. Calling for resistance, Dobson writes that this is, “a moment of moral reckoning for the American people, one as profound as that of the Vietnam War or the conquest of Europe by fascism.” Carl Pope, former head of the Sierra Club, says cities globally can take up much of the battle on climate change through building out climate-friendly infrastructure. But that, he says, will take “financial creativity” to execute and fund. 

A BuzzFeed News analysis of election coverage released this week came to an astonishing conclusion: “Top fake election news stories generated more total engagement on Facebook than top election stories from 19 major news outlets combined.” Sebastian Murdock reports on the baby steps Twitter and Google have taken to cull out fake information. Tucker Davey details how cybersecurity can get a boost from machine learning. Finally, our Singularity series this week looks at ominous new technology that makes media manipulation easy by enabling the rearrangement of words and phrases, or the invention of new phrases with the same voice pattern from something never actually spoken.

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