Introduction - American Studies in Russia. Issue No.2
During the first two years of the Trump administration the American society came to understand that the Trump phenomenon is real and it is here to stay, at least for one presidential term. Meanwhile the policies of the new president’s team, aimed at economic and social sphere began to make an impact on the state of domestic affairs in the country, including not only well-being of its citizens and the economy in general, but the very political culture and identity of the American people.
To provide an analytical assessment of the situation one needs not only to be able to describe it in detail, but also to place various elements of the “Trump model” into historical context to trace the roots and the possible consequences of the current trends. This task was the focal point for the ISKRAN research monographs in 2018, although some of them dealt with purely historical matters.
The Institute’s monographs released in 2018 can be divided into two groups: those dealing with the US internal economic and social policy and those examining military policy trends.
The largest collective monograph of 2018 is devoted to analyzing the current trends of the U.S. economy, as well as its major challenges. The most speculated are the problems of growing national debt and federal budget deficit. The other issues analyzed include growing social differentiation and the rise of poverty, the issue of affordable healthcare and international migration. Several authors point out that mere existence of a high budget deficit and federal external debt is not a problem per se, if these factors are properly managed. One author points out that to reduce government debt the US needs to cut the major source of federal budget spending – social security benefits, while there are no coherent plans adopted to do so. One author, however, concludes that without a long- term strategy to reduce debt and budget deficits, the United States may face significant difficulties in the next decade, and the next major cyclical crisis is likely to trigger worldwide sale of American assets.
Income differentiation, especially evident among race, ethnic and age groups is one of the challenges of the social sphere. Others include weakening of the American middle class and the issues stemming from the influx of immigrants, particularly illegal. One of the authors pays special attention to the Obama administration’s efforts to lead the country’s economy out of the financial and economic crisis of 2008, which required around $1.5 trillion of budget spendings. In another chapter the author points out that Obama’s budgetary policy in 2016 was directly aimed at increasing the probability of the Democratic candidate’s winning the presidential elections, which turned out to be effective, but didn’t provide the required result mainly due to the specifics of H. Clinton’s personality. Some chapters deal specifically with financial issues in the US such as balance of payments and trade deficit with connection to financial environment in the world as well as in the US. According to the author, the US trade and balance of payment deficit are created primarily by international division of labor, movement of capital across American border and dollar exchange fluctuations.
Yet the U.S. still remains the leading economy in the world and some of the authors point out its strong sides, such as scientific and innovation prowess, good quality of human capital (including labor productivity and quality of higher education), highly developed agricultural and energy sector. One author points out the importance of universities in the R&D sphere in the US, as well as technologies’ transfer to the private sector and finding their commercial application. One author elaborates about government support of the R&D in the form of federally funded research and development centers.
It is noted, that the US agricultural sector is the world leader in terms of productivity and foreign trade. Using the country’s abundant natural resources, modern technologies and government support made the US agriculture a reliable source of food security as well as necessary raw materials. Government regulation of the sector, as one chapter points out has gone through evolution from abstention to excessive participation to a balanced model of the present day. One author believes certain American best practices can be successfully used in Russia.
In his economic policy Donald Trump tries to deliver on the promises he made during his campaign, the major effort being the adoption of a major tax reform. Along with the tax cut, the administration plans to curb social expenditures.
In the energy sector Trump’s policies are aimed at providing the country’s energy independence, engaging private businesses in this sphere and increasing fuel production. This course seemed to be incompatible with the provisions of the Paris climate accords, which the US was once part of, and which led to its withdrawal from the agreement in 2017.
Thematically related to the research work described above is a socioeconomical book by N.M. Travkina that deals with the changing trends of the U.S. domestic environment. The author singles out several trends, that serve as prerequisites to such a situation. They are inability of the United States to fulfill its global leadership role, alienation of the American elite from its society, growing income gap, erosion of the middle class, ineffective social lifts for the youth and ethnic minorities, dysfunctionality of public administration mechanisms, and so on. Donald Trump was the person, who raised those issues bluntly and straightforwardly and became the embodiment of the people’s protest against those developments, as well as the negative consequences of certain global trends, such as globalization, which has influenced the distribution of economic benefits among social groups. Moreover, it took away a great amount of jobs from the “blue collars” – American working class and aggravated problems connected to illegal immigration. Trump also appealed to the waning white majority of the country, promising them to return to true and sovereign American society.
The 2016 elections reflected the growing polarization in the American society, as well as in the US political establishment. Donald Trump has also brought about a number of precedents into the American political life, such as diminishing all the accomplishments of the previous administration, excessive use of social media by the President, institutionalization of impeachment as a normal political procedure.
Three other monographs released in 2018 were dedicated to historical matters. A monograph by A.A. Filippenko deals with the history of the US immigration policy. According to the author, attitudes towards immigration are at the core of the American society and statehood. The US being a country founded by immigrants had every major event of its history make an impact on the immigration policy. The author reveals the historical standoff between two camps of Americans divided upon this issue – restrictionists and anti-restrictionists. Then the book elaborates on the history of the issue from the 18-th century, through the 20th century and the Immigration Act of 1990, to the present day. The author argues, that the 1990 legislation has become outdated, and the country is in need of a comprehensive immigration reform, but it still hasn’t been implemented. Two ISKRAN monographs of 2018 are dedicated to the US military policy. The historical one by V.I. Batuik deals with the analysis of the Cold War developments between the U.S. and the Soviet Union – the two superpower that entered the world stage after WW2. In the beginning of the book the author explains, how ideological, political and economic contradictions forced the former allies to drift apart and become rivals, ideological component being a new phenomenon in world politics. Then the author describes how the conflict between the superpowers resulted in the split of Europe, where peace was nevertheless preserved, and in open hostilities in East Asia and in “third world” countries. A large portion of the monograph deals with the issue of the nuclear arms race from its start in the immediate aftermath of the WW2 to the détente and its ensuing failure. A sizable part of the book is also devoted to the final period of the Cold War: its rekindling under Ronald Raegan and its end influenced by the “new thinking” of Mikhail Gorbachev.
The author concludes by drawing parallels between the historical Cold War and the situation that exists now between Russia and the U.S. and recommends to put major efforts into reducing the ideological component of the conflict.
The last monograph we will review here is a collective work by the researchers of ISKRAN’s military-political department dedicated to low-intensity conflicts in the U.S. military-political strategy of the 21st century. The premise of the book is that in recent years the United States is finding itself in a unique military-political environment, where military and technical potential of its possible adversaries has grown too strong to ignore it and where the asymmetrical capabilities of non-state actors can play a decisive role in the battlefield, which increases the probability of low-intensity conflicts. According to one author, the main reason a low- intensity conflict may ignite is due to the attempts of a state to influence the decision-making of the U.S. by threating to strike the U.S. homeland, the territory of its allies or the American troops deployed anyplace in the world. Special mention is made of Russia’s asymmetrical potential demonstrated in Crimea and Donbass, as well as the tensions arising from Russia’s conventional superiority in Eastern Europe. The U.S. reacts to this environment by introducing new strategic and operational concepts, as well as weapons systems. The emphasis thus is placed on high-precision weapons, which require significant information-gathering infrastructure in place.
The book talks about the U.S. military policy in different regions of the world. In the Middle East its main goals include the defeat of ISIS and the Taliban. But broadly speaking due to continuing polarization of the region, according to the authors, Washington will try to promote peace in the regional hot spots on the conditions favorable to the U.S.
In the Pacific the U.S. finds itself under pressure of growing Chinese military potential, which puts in question America’s unrivaled military supremacy in the region. Potential threats emanating from North Korea and Russia are also considered by the U.S. military. In the Arctic the U.S. military presence has recently increased in no small part because of the continuing military competition with Russia.