Trump’s potential to be a great president

Shawn Hagedorn says like Republican nominee's personality is annoying but he could make world safer and more prosperous

While neither Joe Biden nor Donald Trump would be an acceptable candidate to run a public company, Trump has much potential to be a transformational president - for better or worse. Let’s consider the upside.

It would seem that Biden is fully compos mentis for at least four or five hours a day. But a publicly scrutinised board would not appoint a CEO for four years that displays his declining capacity. Even if Trump’s legal tussles were deemed politically motivated, his taped remark about how to grab women would, by itself, preclude his running a public company.

Few Democrats are excited about reelecting Biden-Harris whereas most are decidedly anti-Trump. Prominent among the many reservations undecided voters have about Trump is his apparent contempt for institutions, particularly global institutions. 


However, public perceptions about Trump’s views on international issues are significantly influenced by what he says and how media forces interpret them. “Make America great again” is his line to tap into, and stoke, the large vein of nationalism which exists among US voters. His chanting “build the wall” was also central to his 2016 campaign as was his threatening to raise tariffs on Chinese imports as part of his negotiating better trade deals. 

We should calibrate our interpretations to adjust for both media spin and Trump's politically  motivated rhetoric. Also, Trump sees himself as a dealmaker and we should as well. His negotiating counterparties include the large swathe of American voters who are leery of, if not hostile toward, progressive initiatives. Trump mostly speaks to Trump’s base just like Biden mostly speaks to Biden’s base. 

The left in America, and elsewhere, are drawn toward news reporting framed in an oppressor/oppressed context. Their preferred media outlets reinforce their beliefs by routinely reporting negative events using a formula which holds the historically advantaged responsible. The addictive payoff is a judging experience which validates leftist biases. The ANC has been similarly successful through exploiting inequality and the legacy of apartheid. 

Much electoral success can be achieved by creating a sense of community around judging others as oppressors. This is not a new formula but it typically ends badly by blocking solutions-focused political discourse.

International order

The leaders of Russia, China, Iran and North Korea all seek to benefit from undermining the rules-based international order. Yet their prospects for success looked far more promising two years ago. 

Russia's economy is now destined to be far smaller a decade from now than it would have been had it not invaded Ukraine. Nor do Russians benefit from that country having become beholden to China. If capital markets sentiment is anything to go by, China's perceived prospects have also plunged. 

Biden has unequivocally followed Trump's lead regarding China whereas his reversing Trump's efforts to isolate Iran have not gone well. Trump is on far better terms than Biden with the leaders of Russia, Saudi Arabia, Israel and North Korea. And now would be a great time for America to elect a consummate dealmaker. Beijing and Moscow are not natural allies. 

A half century ago, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger exploited this to persuade China's communist leaders to snub Moscow to engage with the West. This was central to the rise of Asia, which massively expanded global prosperity. 

While that White House duo had similar success with Egypt, other Arab nations refused to recognise Israel. This finally began to change when Trump midwifed the Abraham Accords. This surprised many as it demonstrated that Trump could manage an administration with geopolitical vision and much negotiating nous. 

If Trump is reelected, he will be well positioned to negotiate an end to the war in Ukraine and sanctions against Russia. The terms would likely be disappointing for the Ukrainians but a lasting peace would justify unfortunate tradeoffs.  

Of course, those on the left who are conditioned to judge would revel in criticising the terms of such a peace settlement. But from the moment Russia invaded, there were never prospects for a resolution which could validate progressive ideals without risking a much wider war. Irrespective of Biden’s valid accusations, Vladimir Putin will not be tried as a war criminal.

From the outset of the invasion, the risks of meaningfully poking a wounded Russia have been too high. Given today's Middle East clashes, those risks have compounded.

It is very much in European and Russian interests that they integrate their economies. While the same is true of Arabs and Israelies, the impediments to the Abraham Accords were far more deeply entrenched. 


From the perspectives of anti-western leaders, it is almost as if they were intentionally lulled into a trap by the West’s disregard for deterrence as demonstrated by Barack Obama’s unwillingness to respond to redlines being crossed or Angela Merkel’s indulgence of change-through-trade policies. Putin was rational to think that the West would again tolerate his invading a neighbour. Nearly all commentators were surprised by the severity of the subsequent sanctions.

Similarly, Xi Jinping would have reasonably concluded that western democracies are spineless when confronted by his strategy of persistently nibbling away at accepted international norms. Trump triggered what has become a formidable response and Xi must worry that his lieutenants now consider his leadership to be unaffordably flawed.

The global economy is very different from when Nixon was in the White House. Prior to the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, few Americans had considered buying a pint-sized car imported from Japan. An unforeseeable consequence of the embargo was that it provided much impetus for value-added exports from Asia to the West.

In effect, Trump’s tariffs on Chinese imports, which Biden has expanded, are today’s equivalent to OPEC’s oil embargo. There has been a tremendous shift in power from the suppliers of raw materials to those countries with abundant discretionary purchasing power. Having built casino and property empires, Trump no doubt appreciates the commercial potency of abundant discretionary purchasing power. Conversely, Xi seems to underappreciate how inadequate purchasing power makes China’s manufacturing prowess vulnerable to western tariffs and sanctions. 

China has over invested in its impressive manufacturing capacity to become the world’s largest car exporter. This threatens western jobs, particularly Europe. The leaders of wealthy western nations will be under rising political pressure to raise tariffs on many Chinese imports.


European leaders see Trump as a threat because he could be far less inclined to aid Ukraine or support NATO. But Trump could benefit the Europeans greatly by working with Putin to end the war in Ukraine. And while neither Europeans nor the US are currently demonstrating much capacity to secure Middle East shipping lanes, Trump’s solid relationship with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia and Israel’s leaders should make peace less elusive. 

The core threat to global peace and prosperity is Xi’s favoured path to make China the global hegemon. Meanwhile, China is the largest beneficiary of the global system it seeks to undermine. Trump’s emergence as a presidential contender began with his recognising how vulnerable China is to persistent economic reprisals. 

The US’s two likely presidential contenders are far from ideal. Biden seems to be steadily fading - physically and politically. Trump’s personality is annoying but he could make the world safer and more prosperous though cutting much-needed deals with ruthless authoritarians.

Shawn Hagedorn