When I say we may have passed peak trumper, of course I know that it’s still early days for the Trump administration and he may get a second term. At the risk of being overpessimistic, it’s tough to beat incumbent presidents: maybe not as tough as beating incumbent congressmen, but still tough. Likewise the other big extreme right electoral win last year, Britain’s brexit, hasn’t even taken place yet (though the effects showing up so far are pretty much as the excoriated “experts” predicted).
So sure, in policy terms, the worst of the extreme right, alt-right, authoritarian right, nativist right or, to use the euphemism, “populist” right, is yet to happen. The corruption and vandalizing of our democratic institutions is just getting going. Yet, in electoral terms, it seems like the worst has passed. Trump won the GOP nomination and a big minority of the vote riding the same electoral wave that passed brexit, and before that put conservative conspiracy theorists in charge in Poland, and outright proto-fascists in charge of Hungary. Now it appears the fever broke even before it got to France, where a nativist FOP (Friend of Putin) ran a campaign indistinguishable from Trump except in the country she was going to make white, err, great, again.
April 6th marks the 100th anniversary of the United States entering World War I. If there’s one metaphor you’ve read in every history of World War I, it was probably “tinderbox”. That’s how the pre-war world is frequently described: “Europe was a tinderbox”, or “rival alliances were a tinderbox”. If someone had asked me about WWI before recently, I probably would have said “something something tinderbox” too. Not now, in a change Trump has already wrought. I occurred to me that it was in a way something worse: two bad actors started the war. There was nothing unavoidable about it. Two people could have stopped it. Yes, two, and how this relates to Trumpworld will likely be guessed by readers before I spell it out, but let’s spell it out anyway.
That’s not to dispute that the European empires weren’t a metaphorical tinderbox, but when weren’t they? Was a balance of power that could crash down in a major war an invention of the early 20th century? We’ve had balances of power between rival states going back to at least the invention of states, and I suspect it goes back to whenever groups of pre-historic humans noticed there were other groups of humans, and found themselves asking how strong everyone was and who were likely enemies or allies. Point being, it’s wrong to think there was something unique in the early 20th century and it had to result in a big war inevitably. Maybe it was inevitable, no way to know, but it didn’t have to happen right then, the way it did. So why did it? What caused such a massive breakdown of global order and the world’s biggest war (pending the next world war, of course)? What went wrong?
What went wrong was two bad actors: Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria and Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany.