The industrialised world is in ongoing flux, roiled of late by the US midterm elections and President Donald Trump’s nationalism and volatility, France’s call for a European army, China’s economic and political imperialism, the angst and remorse that has gripped the UK since the Brexit referendum, Russia’s military and political belligerence and the rise of protest parties amid a global rejection of insider politics.
Voters’ preferred, traditional check on governments is to give the balance of power to opposition legislators. So, in that sense, the US midterm elections herald a return to some normalcy after Donald Trump’s 2016 hat trick of snaring the White House and both houses of Congress. But the Republicans’ loss of control of the House of Representatives is not so much the resumption of business as usual in the swamp, as President Trump refers to Washington, but the latest juddering of a tectonic shift in domestic and international politics.
Mr Trump promised, repeatedly and to much grassroots enthusiasm, to drain the swamp. Instead, after failing to legislatively capitalise on his hegemony in the past two years, he has arguably replenished the swamp.
And it’s about to get a whole lot dirtier. Mr Trump couldn’t get his own party to back him legislatively; imagine the trouble he’s going to have when Democrats can simply block anything he puts to Congress.
They are likely to launch official probes into Mr Trump’s commercial and taxation affairs and those of his family, big spending by federal agencies and foreign governments at Trump-owned golf clubs and hotels and the use of unsecured phones and personal email by White House employees. The Democrats also have the option of seeking to impeach the president, but are not inclined to do so at this stage.
The increased political instability in the US comes as French President Emmanuel Macron calls for a European army to protect the union against Russia, China and even the US, which, for decades until Mr Trump’s ascendancy, was the key to keeping peace on a continent that experienced two massive wars within a quarter of a century, the first ending almost exactly 100 years ago.
Mr Macron’s move, in part precipitated by Mr Trump’s ending of a long-standing nuclear disarmament agreement, is significant, and reflects the decline of US hegemony and the suspicion with which China and Russia are viewed.
At the site of one of France’s bloodiest battles in that horrific First World War, where he will this weekend host Mr Trump and other world leaders, Mr Macron said: ‘‘We need a Europe which defends itself better alone, without just depending on the United States.’’