Wolf: Trump underlines split in west
The meeting of the G20 countries in Hamburg was preceded by a speech by Donald Trump in Warsaw which suggested the west is under attack. The FT's Martin Wolf and Martin Sandbu discuss Trump’s 'clash of civilisations' speech and why America was alone at the G20.
Filmed by Rod Fitzgerald. Produced by Daniel Garrahan
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Last weekend, the leaders of the G20-- the group of the world's 20 biggest economies-- met in Hamburg in Germany to talk about the challenges that face them. I'm here with Martin Wolf, our chief economics commentator to discuss what came out of the meeting and how it went. Martin, G20 at the top leader level, at the summit level, have been meeting for about 10 years. They started out in the previous global financial crisis, but this is the first summit after accession of a US president who says he will put America first. How did that go?
Well, as I point out in my column, the meeting the G20 was preceded by a very remarkable speech delivered by Donald Trump on the 6th, in fact, in Warsaw on the way. Very interestingly, he went to Warsaw, which, after all, Poland is currently run by a government, which is very much at odds with the centre of gravity of thinking in the EU on the rule of law and so forth. And there, he gave a speech, which I'd describe as, in its core, a clash of civilizations speech.
He was saying that the West is under attack by a strange list of things, radical this is Islamist terrorism, of course, but also by bureaucracy, which we had to risk. Our cultural values are under attack, and we must show the will-- really use this very pregnant word, "will"-- to resist the enemy. It was a call to arms against the enemy outside. And the strong sense one had is the European world is under attack.
And he knew, when he said this, this was a position that Western Europeans just don't accept at all. They underlined the split in the West. But he also underlined, in the process, we are in the clash of civilizations. What is the G20 for? The whole point of the G20 is that it's a meeting of countries with very different cultures, very different political systems, who do recognise one thing-- we share the planet. We have things we have to do in common to deal with global public goods like climate, and so forth, and the economy.
It presupposes a global community.
Yeah, it presupposes a global community, which, as again I have pointed, his administration-- not just him-- also very senior officials have explicitly rejected. So this is a very important moment, I think. The US-- still the single most important country-- the creator of the G20, remember. It started it. We're basically saying, we don't really like this stuff. And my own argument is, one, that's a very big mistake because we do have shared interests, and two, it has very big significance.
So your column triggers at least two thoughts, in my mind. One is just the observation that the Warsaw speech about the Western civilisation being under attack-- this is just the international version of Trump's inauguration speech--
--which has been labelled American carnage. That was how we described it.
That's exactly what it is.
America under threat, the West under attack, and one can quickly add you are either with us or against us, which a previous US president has said. The other thought is, how new is this? Because, as I just hinted, George W. Bush, of course, used this language. He used the language of an axis of evil standing against the West and, of course, this thought about the Western civilisation being in a clash with others has some pedigree in American thought. Samuel Huntington wrote a book called The Clash of Civilizations in the '90s. So what is new?
Well, I think there are two answers to that. First, it you rightly say this is a strand of thought. It's actually present in parts of Europe. It's sort of the extreme right position in Europe, and it's clearly in government in Hungary and Poland. And it's been in the US for some time. But most people felt that, after the catastrophe, really, of the George W. Bush approach on this topic, this sort of American exceptionalism, which is, in important ways, different from Mr. Trump-- George W. Bush said, I want to promote democracy, and Donald Trump doesn't seem to care about that at all. They're quite different in some important ways.
But that we had hoped had gone, but in fact, after a brief interlude, the US is back into actually a much stronger and, in some ways, I would say more reactionary view of what is unique about America. It's not about democracy anymore. That's not a shared civilizational value. It is something deeper, which is essentially cultural. It's taking the cultural war aspect of American politics into the global arena.
But paradoxically, the implication seems to be that Donald Trump likes to cosy up with the other strong men in the G20. I'm thinking of Erdogan of Turkey, Putin of Russia, rather than those who, in a sort of objective sense, constitute the West, whereas those, in turn, such as Europe, Japan, which is sort of economically and politically part of the West-- they actually just go ahead with globalisation-- the EU-Japan trade treaty that is now about to be finalised. So we shall see whether America first ends up being America alone or even America last if these other countries keep moving forward in civilisation. Martin, that's all we have time for. Thanks very much for discussing your column with us.
Thank you very much.