Recent fans of Spoiler Alerts are aware that earlier this year I published a series of super-cheerful essays that I like to call my “Season of Doom” series. A brief recap: Essay No. 1 argued that capital would always swipe right in a polarized era. Essay No. 2 argued that, intentionally or not, the Trump administration was successfully eviscerating the foreign policy bureaucracy. Essay No. 3 suggested that the current global political economy bears an awfully strong resemblance to how things looked just before the start of the First World War. And Essay no. 4 concluded, with just the mildest amount of hyperbole, that U.S. foreign policy would not recover from the Trump administration even after his departure from the White House. So take that, Picasso’s Blue period, I can be just as gloomy!!

With Memorial Day weekend behind us, however, summer has unofficially begun. Surely this should inspire some more optimistic thoughts, right?

Well, sort of. My latest scholarly article, “Counter-Hegemonic Strategies in the Global Economy,” just appeared in Security Studies. The first 50 of you who click on that link will gain access to the entire article; the rest of you non-academics are screwed. Compared to the Season of Doom series, it offers a somewhat optimistic take! I argue that concerns about Russian or Chinese challenges to the liberal economic order have been badly overplayed: “Possible challengers, such as China, have taken only modest revisionist actions; indeed, Beijing has acted more like a supporter than a spoiler. The threat to the existing system from the usual suspects — China and Russia — remain more nascent than is commonly understood.”

Why is this? Two reasons. The first is that many components of U.S. structural power — particularly in the arenas of finance and security — are still unmatched. The late, great Susan Strange articulated these structural pillars of U.S. power — in production, security, finance and information — in a 1987 essay for International Organization. The second is that the “rational revisionist” response to upturning a global economic order requires a series of sequential moves, and the data strongly suggest that neither Russia nor China is making those moves.

That’s the good news. The bad news also comes in twos, however. First, while U.S. financial power remains impressive, the Trump administration seemed to be doing its darnedest to erode it as quickly as possible. The Wall Street Journal’s Justin Scheck and Bradley Hope reported on this phenomena last week, as China, Russia, India and the European Union all try to find workarounds to avoid the long arm of U.S. financial sanctions: “The new arrangements won’t change the dollar’s dominance in global trade, but they will diminish the U.S.’s power to impose its policies, including sanctions, around the globe. They also could make it easier for criminals and terrorists, who have long tried to sidestep the dollar, to move money outside of U.S. oversight.”

The second problem is that while neither Russia nor China is successfully challenging the liberal economic order, the Trump administration is proving to be a better revisionist. From the paper’s concluding paragraphs:

Susan Strange’s conclusion to her 1987 essay was that American domestic politics was the far likelier cause of global volatility than waning US hegemony. This explanation is worth considering today, though in a slightly different form. Even the casual observer would acknowledge that the Trump administration is at best suspicious and at worst hostile to the existing liberal international order. The United States is at the epicenter of the hegemonic bloc, but powerful actors such as the EU and Japan are key defenders. Private-sector actors and civil society organizations within the United States are also defenders of the existing order. If the Trump administration is the actor that wants to subvert the existing order, it too must consider the reactions of other supporters. How does its current strategy map onto rational revisionism?....
It would appear that the Trump administration has been the most aggressive in pushing back on the ideas/information regime, followed by production. Despite the occasional hint at wanting to change existing regimes, the administration has been far more status-quo oriented on the security and financial pillars. This is the precise sequencing that a rational revisionist would pursue....
Ironically, one must conclude that the most rational revisionists of the current moment do not reside in any hegemonic challenger to the United States. They reside in Washington, D.C.

The good news remains that, for the moment, the United States is the only country capable of subverting the liberal international order that it began to create more than seventy years ago. The bad news is that the Trump administration is displaying an undeniable talent for destroying that order.