Let us suppose that it is July 2017. Let us suppose Donald Trump, nominated as the Republican candidate for the US presidency exactly a year ago, won the November election – quite narrowly, perhaps, but the polls are certainly suggesting that such a thing is possible.
So he was inaugurated six months ago, and has started to put his campaign promises into effect.
Trump’s three most disruptive campaign promises were also the three that had the most appeal to his core voters and he is implementing them fast: a 40% tariff on all foreign imports, an end to free trade deals, and tight curbs on immigration – especially the famous “wall” on the Mexican border. It won’t actually be a wall, of course. It will be the kind of hi-tech barrier that countries build when they are really serious about closing a frontier.
It will have a 3m-high razor-wire fence with a high-voltage current running through it, remote-controlled machine-guns and land-mines. Why is it so lethal? Because experience has shown the only way to close a border is to kill people who try to cross it.
The “wall” is not yet finished, of course. It will take years to complete, at a cost of $30-$50 billion. Already, however, there are daily deaths among the tens of thousands of Mexican protesters who gather at the construction sites. The Mexican government, faced with economic disaster as the millions of manufacturing jobs created in Mexico to export back to the US evaporate, has broken diplomatic relations with Washington, as have several other Latin American nations.
Negotiations for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the US and European Union have been broken off, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership will never be ratified by Congress.
The legislation for a 40% tariff on foreign imports is still making its way through Congress, as is the bill to end the North American Free Trade Agreement (causing panic in Canada, 73% of whose exports go to the US). The new laws will go through in the end, and the most important casualty will be US-China trade (as Trump fully intends it to be).
China is already in a thinly disguised recession, and the impact of the new trade measures will turn it into a political crisis that threatens the survival of the Communist regime. Beijing will respond by pushing forward with the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which would include 16 nations of the Asia-Pacific region, but exclude the US.
It may also manufacture a military confrontation with the US. The dispute over the South China Sea would do nicely.
Japan, which is starting a major military build-up after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe finally removed the anti-war article 9 from the constitution in March 2017, will be at America’s side in this confrontation, but its European allies may not.
Trump’s pro-Putin posture has not gone down well in the EU. In the US, the economy is still chugging along despite the stock market crash of November 2016. Trump’s big increase in the military budget, his huge expansion of infrastructure spending (with borrowed money) and the rise in the minimum wage have kept the machine turning. The effect of declaring a trade war on the rest of the world is not yet being felt at home – but it will be. And it’s only July 2017.
Trump still has another three and a half years in the White House.