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Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty

Historians say President Trump is a symptom of the anti-establishment turn in global politics, not its cause. Therefore, the populism that has erupted across the U.S. and Europe will go on or die — independent of what happens to him.

But what about the global trade war, which seems to be wholly Trump-driven? Experts tell Axios that it only appears that way: Protectionism, they say, is now part of the populist zeitgeist — and will outlast Trump.

Driving the news: In statements today, Beijing said it will immediately retaliate if Trump proceeds with a vow yesterday to impose tariffs on another $200 billion in Chinese imports, bringing the total to $250 billion. The Chinese have said that, if Trump proceeds next week as threatened, it will retaliate with tariffs on some 5,200 types of U.S. imports worth another $60 billion, for a total of $110 billion.

We previously reported that the trade war with China could last a year or longer. Now experts say the war will be larger and endure for an unknown period of time.

  • "My view is that Trump has accelerated and amplified latent anti-trade and anti-globalization populist forces. And I think this represents a systemic break with the past 75 years," says Gary Hufbauer of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. 
  • "Trump’s successor is unlikely to go back to the postwar model of American leadership of the world economic system along liberal free trade and investment lines," says Hufbauer.
  • Edward Alden of the Council on Foreign Relations agrees: "It’s clear we are never going back to the status quo pre-Trump. Congress and the administration are going to need to fundamentally rewrite their relationship on trade, not try to revive the old rules. And the WTO will either need to be refashioned or it will die."

If there’s any chance for a return to the pre-Trump system, it’s this: "[T]he polls suggest that younger American voters are generally quite pro-free trade and see the benefits of globalization," says Alden. "So I think the protectionist moment we are seeing will be shorter rather than longer. But a lot of damage could be done in that short time."

Go deeper

6 hours ago - World

Top general: U.S. losing time to deter China

Stanley McChrystal. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Stanley McChrystal, a top retired general and Biden adviser, tells Axios that "China's military capacity has risen much faster than people appreciate," and the U.S. is running out of time to counterbalance that in Asia and prevent a scenario such as it seizing Taiwan.

Why it matters: McChrystal, the former commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, recently briefed the president-elect as part of his cabinet of diplomatic and national security advisers. President-elect Joe Biden is considering which Trump- or Obama-era approaches to keep or discard, and what new strategies to pursue.

Progressives shift focus from Biden's Cabinet to his policy agenda

Joe Biden giving remarks in Wilmington, Del., last month. Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images

Some progressives tell Axios they believe the window for influencing President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet selections has closed, and they’re shifting focus to policy — hoping to shape Biden's agenda even before he’s sworn in.

Why it matters: The left wing of the party often draws attention for its protests, petitions and tweets, but this deliberate move reflects a determination to move beyond some fights they won't win to engage with Biden strategically, and over the long term.

Dave Lawler, author of World
8 hours ago - World

Venezuela's predictable elections herald an uncertain future

The watchful eyes of Hugo Chávez on an election poster in Caracas. Photo: Cristian Hernandez/AFP via Getty

Venezuelans will go to the polls on Sunday, Nicolás Maduro will complete his takeover of the last opposition-held body, and much of the world will refuse to recognize the results.

The big picture: The U.S. and dozens of other countries have backed an opposition boycott of the National Assembly elections on the grounds that — given Maduro's tactics (like tying jobs and welfare benefits to voting), track record, and control of the National Electoral Council — they will be neither free nor fair.