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Opinion | As a Disorienting Decade Closes, a Perilous One Begins

Institutions upholding the law fought back in 2019 against leaders who believed that they were above it. President Trump is facing impeachment in the House of Representatives on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. He has responded to the whole process with cries of “lynching” and called the Democrats “crazy.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was indicted on corruption charges. He dismissed the accusations as a “coup.”

In Mr. Trump’s view it was irreproachable behavior to reduce Ukraine to a source of dirt on a political opponent in the 2020 election. Mr. Trump’s attitude toward Ukraine is the same as that of his friend Vladimir Putin: It is a nothing country that might as well be part of Greater Russia. Mr. Trump has no notion of, or interest in, Western efforts to consolidate Ukrainian independence through closer integration with Western Europe. His foreign policy is laughably erratic.

President Trump will almost certainly escape conviction in the Senate and remain in office to fight in the November 2020 election. Mr. Netanyahu may yet wriggle out of his legal corner. For both men, clinging to power has become something more than a political struggle. It is a desperate attempt to stay out of jail.

I worry about what Mr. Trump may do if he loses the 2020 election narrowly. He, too, may cry coup. As a would-be autocrat he has empowered autocrats around the world, in Saudi Arabia, in China, in Russia, in the Philippines. The United States backed plenty of autocrats during the Cold War for strategic reasons but has never before had a president who was so obviously envious of such leaders. I have no hesitation in calling Mr. Trump hateful; whether he is actually evil is another matter. To be evil you have to be focused and purposeful. Much of Mr. Trump’s behavior is inconsistent and inconsequential. Still, it is damaging.

Mr. Trump is a symptom, not a cause. As Paul Polman, the former chief executive of Unilever has said, “business cannot succeed in societies that fail.” Western democracies have failed. A decade ago, the world was mired in the global financial crisis. Those responsible walked away. Insurrection today is the child of impunity and inequity.

Economies must be made to work for more people. Justice, equal opportunity, education and sustainability should be guiding values. Too many people for far too long have felt invisible, disposable and worthless. That is why nationalist messages have resonated. They assuage every grievance with empty promises of restored glory. They have carried charlatans to high office in Washington and London.

“The future does not belong to globalists,” President Trump told the United Nations in September. If it belongs to Mr. Trump and “America First” for another five years, the consequences will be grave for everything from the climate to international stability, not to mention plain old decency. A Trump victory in 2020 is possible, particularly since the Democratic Party’s candidates look weak at the moment. But the message of 2019 is that free, open, uncorrupt, rule-of-law societies have brave backing from Tehran to Santiago.

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