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Trump was a “truly historic” president

Trump withdrawing the US from the TPP trade agreement. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty

“What makes a presidency truly historic?” asks Gideon Rachman in the FT. Essentially, it requires a “radical break with the past”, which is then “accepted and absorbed by your political opponents”. Franklin Roosevelt did it with the New Deal; Lyndon Johnson with the Civil Rights Act. Ronald Reagan did it with the deregulating, tax-cutting policies now known as “neoliberalism”. The presidents who followed Reagan all basically accepted his free-market philosophy: Bill Clinton pushed through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA); the Obama administration worked towards a bilateral investment treaty with China and agreed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

It wasn’t until Donald Trump that America had a president radical enough to repudiate the pro-globalisation consensus of the past 40 years. On his first day in office he pulled the US out of the TPP. His administration then tried to hobble the World Trade Organisation, while imposing a raft of tariffs on China and renegotiating NAFTA, all in the anti-globalist cause of “bringing industrial jobs back to the US”. And what has Joe Biden done with these policies? He has pretty much kept them all, “and even built on them”. His administration has also embraced the Trumpian geopolitics of “great-power rivalry with China”. Even “Bidenomics”, the president’s “ambitious and interventionist” economic strategy, is driven by a Trump-like desire to “reindustrialise America and rebuild the middle class”. Many in Washington find it “repulsive” to credit Trump with bringing about a “lasting revolution in US foreign and domestic policy”. But perhaps it takes a “taboo-breaking barbarian” to make history.