America is entering a new era of insularity. Ending an age of free trade and heralding one of protectionism. More than 60 years of military and development aid and diplomacy is to be turned on its head.
This is the era of President Donald J Trump – when America is going to withdraw from the world and throw an arm around its own. There are seldom occasions when a President would wish to be taken on his word entirely.
In politics it’s smart to stay flexible, nimble to the vagaries of domestic economics and international affairs. Not for President Trump and not on this, his inauguration day. The voice of Mr Trump echoed across Washington’s Capitol and along its mall, booming across the planet with a message intended to be unmistakable.
“We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city in every foreign capital and in every hall of power,” Mr Trump said. “From this day forward a new vision will govern our land. “From this day forward it’s going to be only America first – America first.
“Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit America workers and American families. “We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs.
“Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.” No one would have expected pleasantries and platitudes from President Trump. His tweets and election campaign have consistently been unequivocal.
He’s going to be in the business of tearing up or renegotiating the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. The latter is going to have to pay for a wall to separate itself from the US (according to the new US President).
He’s pledged to get out of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement too in the past. So his inauguration speech must be taken as an absolute affirmation that, from his perspective, the rest of the world has been bad for American business and bad for American workers.
“For many decades we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry,” Mr Trump said. “One by one the factories shuttered and left our shores with not even a thought about the millions and millions of American workers that were left behind.
“The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from our homes and then redistributed all across the world.” This might have been expected. After all, when Mr Trump won the election he pledged to repatriate jobs. His critics suggest that many jobs have been lost to automation rather than free trade.
For Mr Trump the cause of job losses is unmistakably in open trade. But Mr Trump went on to tear apart the structures that have underpinned international relations for Republican and Democrat presidencies for decades.
“We’ve subsidised the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military we’ve defended other nations’ borders while refusing to defend our own,” he told the world.
This signals an intent to spend more on US troops but much less on their allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and across Africa.
Clearly he sees little upside in terms of capability or political influence that military expenditure brings. He was equally dismissive (and somewhat cavalier with the facts) when it came to foreign aid.
“[We’ve]…spent trillions and trillions of dollars over seas while Americas infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay,” Mr Trump said. “We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth strength and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon”.
Previous administrations have seen development aid as a “soft power” means to bring stability through prosperity to regions that might otherwise collapse into violence – threatening America interests in access to raw materials, trade routes, and markets for American goods.
President Trump has a new slogan – Protection will lead to Prosperity and Strength. Many, in his own camp even, will disagree. Now, that he is President his first challenge will be to get the opportunity to even prove it. Old eras don’t go gently.