In 2021, the world had no lack of bad actors.
As Christmas approached, Russian President Vladimir Putin had amassed an estimated 100,000 troops, 1,300 tanks and 1,800 pieces of artillery on the Ukraine border, and was demanding the West bend to his terms.
Through the fall, even as it was dismembering the last of “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong, Beijing ramped up its rhetoric about bringing Taiwan under its control. China carried out ominous military operations, sending so many fighter jets and bombers in Taiwan’s direction in October and November that the country had to scramble its defence forces each time.
The sabre-rattling further disturbed a world already made uneasy by a pandemic, supply-chain problems, and inflation. As the year ended, the prospect of China or Russia redrawing the map, by force of arms, hung over the planet.
However, the likelihood of either country doing that remains low. An invasion of Taiwan or the Ukraine would prompt strong retaliatory measures, especially from the United States.
Most likely, the posturing by Mr. Putin and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, had two goals: to cement their leadership by appealing to their countries’ nationalism; and to test the resolve of the U.S. and its allies. Push, and see what happens.
Which is why the most dangerous force in the world going into 2022 might not be in Beijing or Moscow, but in the United States. Its name is Trumpism.
The past year offered something of a reprieve from Donald Trump. After his defeat in the 2020 election, and his retreat into private life after the Capitol Hill insurrection on Jan. 6, the world got a break from his constant presence. His late night tweetstorms ended after Twitter banned him. His appearances on Fox News were infrequent.
His lowered profile, and the return to a kind of adult normalcy in the form of President Joe Biden and his administration, has made a lot of people happily forget the degree to which Mr. Trump shattered norms and conventions, and sapped America’s alliances, during his four years in office.
He antagonized his NATO allies by threatening to pull out of the alliance, and seemed strangely intent on sheltering Mr. Putin from accusations that Moscow and its proxies interfered in the 2016 U.S. election. He was a naked self-dealer in office. He tried to turn the Department of Justice into his political servant. He forced the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement on baseless grounds and imposed unjustified tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum.
Throughout it all he lied, attacked the media as part of a plot against him, called people silly names and did his utmost to diminish the office he held.
But his most dangerous move has been maintaining throughout the past year that he won the 2020 election, and was only removed from office by fraud. He has taken aim at the entire U.S. constitutional order, rejecting its limits and its legitimacy. His attempts to overturn the election led to the Capitol Hill riot, and millions of Americans still believe his ludicrous claims.
He’s been so effective at spreading the big lie that three retired U.S. generals wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post in December warning that, if Mr. Trump or someone he supports loses the 2024 election, insurrectionist forces within the U.S. military could stage a coup.
At the same time, Mr. Trump’s Republican allies have been replacing election officials in key states with loyalists who may refuse to accept any 2024 election outcome not in Mr. Trump’s favour. And on top of the usual gerrymandering, Republicans have also been passing state and local laws aimed at suppressing the other side’s vote, wherever possible.
If the Republicans come out of the 2022 midterm election with control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives – the former is possible, the latter almost certain – the result will be two years of gridlock and voter dissatisfaction. That would set Mr. Trump up nicely for the 2024 election; if he wins, the world will return to a more intense version of the instability that marked his first term.
And if he loses and throws the U.S. into an extended period of unrest, the resulting disarray could open the door for China and Russia to be even more aggressive.
The U.S. is sleepwalking towards calamity, one that could take the rest of the world with it.
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