Chaos and contagion: How Trump accelerates democratic dysfunction

Chaos and contagion: How Trump accelerates democratic dysfunction
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The impeachment hearings last week demonstrated the rising risk of American polarization and democratic dysfunction. This political divide is undermining the integrity of the American experiment and its political, economic and values-based leadership of the global order. While dysfunction and chaos can be contagious, President Donald Trump is an accelerant.

Dr. Fiona Hill warned in her testimony last Thursday, “Some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country — and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did. This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.” And yet, the following day, President TrumpDonald TrumpStowaway found in landing gear of plane after flight from Guatemala to Miami Kushner looking to Middle East for investors in new firm: report GOP eyes booting Democrats from seats if House flips MORE championed this very discredited narrative by pinning election interference on Ukraine in a rambling interview on Fox & Friends. Trump’s continued embrace of conspiracy theories, his nativistic leadership style, and his ability to exploit rather than bridge divides is helping to fuel xenophobic nationalism not only in America but also amongst some of our closest allies abroad.

The sun set on the British empire long ago; now Brexit and its ensuing political chaos is what defines Britain. While the American people try to grapple with Trump’s tweets and the national embarrassment of the impeachment hearings, consider the challenges our cousins are facing across the Atlantic.


On Dec. 12, British voters will go to the polls to elect a new parliamentary government, which is the country's fourth national vote in five years. While only prime minister for four months, Prime Minister Boris JohnsonBoris JohnsonUK tightens COVID-19 restrictions following omicron variant infections Macron tells UK to 'get serious' on migrant crisis amid fresh tensions France and UK pledge action after over 20 migrants drown in English Channel MORE is gambling that he can break the country's crippling political deadlock over Brexit two weeks before Christmas. The controversial Prime Minister has adopted Trump’s playbook, he is purposefully divisive and has trouble telling the truth. Unbelievably, this vote comes in the aftermath of Johnson’s unlawful suspension of the British Parliament in September.

In a foreshadowing of the upcoming 2020 U.S. Democratic primaries, the British election next month presents a stark choice as well. Jeremy Corbyn, the most left-wing leader the Labour Party has seen in decades, has pledged to oversee a revolution of the British economy, complete with the nationalization of public services. Similar to the calls of Senator Bernie SandersBernie SandersFive ways Senate could change Biden's spending plan Poll: Harris, Michelle Obama lead for 2024 if Biden doesn't run Bernie Sanders' ex-spokesperson apprehensive over effectiveness of SALT deductions MORE, Corbyn’s platform constitutes “a fundamental redistribution of income, assets, ownership and power.” Come mid-December, there will be one certainty in London: The polity will be divided, the British will still be negotiating their divorce from Europe, and the United Kingdom will remain in a state of political dysfunction.

At nearly every step, President Trump has repeatedly advocated for a hard British turn away from Europe. In so doing, his administration is encouraging an ill-considered political outcome that inflicts enormous risk on the British people with the potential disruption of the United Kingdom itself.

Israel, too, is in a state of political sclerosis. Last week was tumultuous in a country that prides itself on weathering turmoil. The leader of the centrist Blue and White party, former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz informed Israeli President Rivilin on Wednesday that he had failed to form a governing coalition. A few weeks earlier, Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE also failed to assemble the required 61-member majority to form a Likud government. Israel is now in unprecedented political territory as its faces the likelihood of a third election in 12 months.

If those events were not enough, on Thursday, Israel’s attorney general formally charged Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust. In a nod to President Trump, Netanyahu claimed that Israelis were “witnessing an attempted government coup against the prime minister through blood libels and a biased investigation process.

Then, on Friday in the Washington Post, Israel’s former director of the Shin Bet security services, Ami Ayalon, acknowledged that the Palestinian occupation is tearing Israeli apart. Specifically, Ayalon argued that Israel was engaged in an unjust war of aggression because of its continual expansion of its border, its decision to build more settlements, and its refusal to allow the establishment of a Palestinian state. The former Shin Bet head, no peacenik, believes that the Trump administration's unqualified support for Netanyahu, total Israeli control over Jerusalem and the Golan Heights and continued West Bank settlement undermines the nation’s viability as a Jewish, democratic state.

The liberal West is witnessing a global shift away from the post-World War II order and toward great power competition marked by an ascending China and resurgent Russia.

Globalization, elite excess, and widespread middle- and lower-middle-class grievances have fueled nationalism in Britain and Israel, just as it has given rise to Trumpism in the United States. These trends are concerning.

The West is witnessing rising risks of conflict, a breakdown of alliances, growing anti-semitism, unsustainable wealth inequality, and rapid technological change. These historical shifts require the hope of America led by a president who embodies soaring American values and integrity — a leader who can chart a path of stability, predictability and vision.

Instead, the Trump administration stokes chaos and dysfunction at home and abroad.

R. David Harden is managing director of the Georgetown Strategy Group and former assistant administrator at USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance. He was a minister counselor in the Senior Foreign Service. In May of 2019, President Trump awarded Mr. Harden the Distinguished Service Award, the highest award in the Foreign Service, for “sustained extraordinary accomplishment in the conduct of the foreign policy.”