Trends 2024: United States

United States political trends lie within three key dimensions: leadership type, stability of the election process and stance towards competitors and threats.

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United States political trends lie within three key dimensions: leadership type, stability of the election process and stance towards competitors and threats.





  • The rhetoric of President Biden, such as “rule-based order” and “America is back”, provided insight that the USA will continue being a leader of the free democratic world. Furthermore, leadership by example is what the United States is eager to sustain. Such an approach implies broad cooperation with allies worldwide and, more importantly for American citizens, higher expenses for maintaining unquestionable leadership. That’s one of the reasons for the possible shift in the US geopolitical position: from leadership by example to leadership from the backbench. This concept allows the US to pay less. However, the gains will also decrease, meaning the hard security burden should be redistributed between US allies. It also raises the issue of European strategic autonomy: as the USA will decrease its involvement, and the EU should be prepared to face security threats with less help from the outside. A denial of leadership is much more concerning than backbench leadership: such a situation is possible under, for instance, Donald Trump’s presidency, when the USA may adopt unilateralism and mostly leaves geopolitical competition.
  • The election process in the United States this year has, in fact, more impact on the future of the international system than any other electoral event in 2024. While controlled competition is the most adequate scenario, Trump dropping out from a ballot seems like a utopia. As Donald Trump and his electoral campaign remain factors of instability, they may shift the 2024 elections towards a democracy quagmire: a situation in which Trump is legally allowed to participate, but numerous lawsuits and state-level prohibitions heavily damage his image and ratings. Correspondingly, a crisis scenario is possible in case civil unrest is caused by lawsuits and seemingly “out-of-politics” methods of electoral battle. This scenario has an opportunity to emerge as it implies a repetition of the 6th January Capitol Hill incident, the aptitude of participating in which Trump has already proven.
  • In dealing with international security challenges, the US balances interventionism and isolationism. The exact state of this balance moves forward and backwards not only after the new president is elected but also during the incumbent’s term in office. It is hard to predict the exact proportion, but it is quite safe to say that until Trump enters office (if he enters), there should be no hard shift towards isolation. Apart from direct intervention or quiet isolation, the third option lies – an opportunity to use trade as a weapon – an increasingly prominent trend in American strategy: sanctions can be an example. This approach allows goals to be achieved with fewer political risks and expenses. Still, its effectiveness may remain insufficient in 2024, especially against Russia.




Leadership by example. Incumbent President Biden’s policies fit neatly into the “grand strategy” of the US foreign policy that has spread within the American establishment for most of the time since 1991. The cross-cutting themes of this approach are “leadership by the principle”, the active participation of the USA in the settlement of international conflicts and the levelling of the consequences of the crisis, the support of allies and partnership formats of cooperation, and the wide use of foreign diplomacy to fight the global crisis.

Under a stable system scenario, the continuation of a steady trend in support of such a course of American geopolitics will be observed. Without an obvious European direction, this scenario envisages the continued expansion of regional and transregional cooperation formats within the Indo-Pacific region (such as AUKUS, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and bilateral alliances with the region’s states), which will become a tool for relaying American influence and serve as a deterrent against China’s strengthening.

However, wider cooperation of the US with European allies in the field of security, expansion of partnerships in the Asian region, and readiness to implement more joint projects are expected.

Election-2024: controlled competition. The US presidential and congressional elections are already the most anticipated political events in 2024. They will become decisive for the entire democratic world, and, in this context, can be considered a stability factor for a wider thematic circle. Within the United States, the main destabilising factor remains Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, which, due to legal problems and the generally scandalous environment surrounding this politician.

Under a stable system development scenario, two alternative indicators are considered within the limits of this factor. The first is that the trials against Donald Trump (primarily the trial regarding his participation in the riots on January 6, 2021) may end in a guilty verdict, which, under the third part of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, prohibits him from holding elected office in the United States. The corresponding decision will also require approval at the level of the Supreme Court because an appeal and reconciliation with the legal framework in the case of a similar precedent is inevitable. The second alternative indicator implies that Trump will be banned at the level of individual states – either by the Supreme Courts of individual states or at the level of state secretaries of states – to participate in the elections. In a situation where a sufficient number of states make a similar decision, the scenario of the Republican Party rejecting Trump’s candidacy is likely. An impossibility of being represented in a particular state leads to the automatic loss of the votes of that state’s voters. Thus, a situation is created in which candidate Trump will receive a technical defeat and inevitably lead the party to a loss in the presidential elections, even if de jure he will be able to participate in them. In the case of both or either alternative occurring, the destabilising factor of the Trump campaign will be nullified.

A balance between interventionism and isolationism. The 2016 presidential election showed a return to isolationist trends and the formation of public demand for “America First.” As a result of the crises of the 2010s, this request was embodied in the narrative principles of Donald Trump’s policy. It involved abandoning the United States from proactive leadership and the role of a “world policeman”, a reorientation to surplus as a key category of international relations, and reduced multilateral cooperation at the expense of bilateral relations and personal contacts development at the highest level. This strategy starkly contrasts classical American interventionism, which ruled over its foreign policy decisions for over three decades.

However, the period of 2016-2020 showed that the US political system could find a balance between interventionism and isolationism – weighing and re-evaluating its external responsibilities and leadership but not rejecting them completely. Under a stable system development scenario, such a balance will be preserved. By balancing the position of the executive power (represented primarily by the Department of Defence, the State Department, and the Department of Commerce) and the legislative power (which in recent years has shown a tendency to isolationism more than other parts of the establishment), it will allow conducting a stable foreign policy. That does not necessarily mean that the US will remain stable on its own as a political system, but rather, the level of predictability will allow for a medium-range prognosis to be conducted if need be.

Taiwan status-quo. Provocations by both the People’s Republic of China and the United States regarding Taiwan have been one of the major factors in relations between the two countries in recent decades. China’s preparations for the so-called “solution of the Taiwan issue”, which began after the last major meeting of the Chinese Communist Party and became one of Xi Jinping’s foreign policy narratives, set the course for confrontation with the United States, who are still willing to support their ally within their doctrine of “strategic uncertainty”.

Within the framework of the scenario of the stable operation of the system, the Taiwan issue will be considered by both sides within the background of the final communique of the meeting between Joseph Biden and Xi Jinping (November 15, 2023). The communique declared support for the status quo, refrain from serious provocations, respect the national interests and positions of both states, and strive for a non-military solution to the Taiwan issue. Thus, the struggle for Taiwan will continue in the format of a low-intensity political conflict with short-term exacerbations in the form of mutual military provocations. Under such a scenario, the issue of armed resolution of the Taiwan question, which was previously predicted for the period of 2025-2027, is postponed to a longer historical perspective (2030-2035).

Semiconductors’ semi-independence. The dependence of US markets and technology development on supply significantly affects the economic relations of the two states. Nearly 36% of the US semiconductors came from China, reflecting the mutual dependence of Chinese manufacturers and US buyers on this cooperation. It is also obvious that such dependence can become a manipulation tool and be used as an element of political bargaining in relations between Beijing and Washington.

However, under the conditions of stable system development, the trends launched during the high- and highest-level contacts in 2022-2023 will be observed. They primarily aimed at strengthening the dialogue with maximum avoidance of mutual provocations. Thus, the issue of semiconductors, as well as rare earth metals and broader economic cooperation, which are decisive for the economic development of both countries, will remain the same element of stability that will keep the relations of both states at the predicted level.

Atlanticism as a cornerstone of security architecture. In light of the full-scale Russian aggression against Ukraine and the beginning of the largest war on the continent since World War II, the issue of European security has again become relevant for the United States. After rather tense years of Trump’s presidency, the Biden administration has shown an inclination to cooperate with European partners to form a more inclusive and adaptive security system.

In this scenario, Washington’s course of strengthening its own involvement in European security will be observed, particularly due to an increased number of defence orders, a strengthening of the personnel training system in Europe, and more proactive participation in political initiatives. Primarily, such activity will be related to fulfilling the goals and objectives set in the memorandums of the NATO Madrid and Vilnius summits. It is worth noting that this scenario also assumes the continued support of European strategic autonomy, which will involve strengthening its security capabilities and, thus, reducing the costs of the United States for the defence of Europe.

Middle Eastern continence. The Hamas’s terrorist attack on Israel on October 7, 2023, disrupted the delicate stability in the Middle East region that the United States had been building over the previous year. Negotiations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, which were supposed to be a polite factor of stability in the region, fell apart after the aggression of Hamas. Jordan was the only state in the Arab world that relatively quickly supported US measures for stability and settlement in the region. At the same time, Egypt, which relied on similar hopes due to previous negotiations regarding the normalisation of relations with Israel and a series of security agreements with the United States, remained mostly neutral.

Within the stable system scenario, Israel’s military operation will bring the expected results, and further US activity in the region will be reduced to necessary military presence and diplomatic measures to bring Israel and the Arab countries closer together.



Leadership from the backbench. While the United States is already generally committed to a more passive type of leadership, an orbital stability scenario will see an even greater shift away from active leadership. Thus, it should be expected that the geopolitical confrontation with China will primarily involve compromise approaches and attempts to contain mutual provocations. In matters of containing the Russian threat, the United States will increasingly rely on the support of other allies (primarily European) regarding support for Ukraine. However, this does not mean at all that the US will be forced to give up its ambitions in the global arena – this type of leadership is rather a more balanced and chosen distribution of resources that will mean less inclination to initiative within its own sphere of influence. It does not mean giving up certain leadership positions. It is also worth emphasising that such leadership will be reactive and, therefore, capable of activation in the event of a direct external threat to Washington’s leadership positions.

Election-2024: democracy quagmire. In the conditions of an orbitally stable scenario, court decisions that could have stopped Donald Trump’s candidacy would not bring the result. Given the conservative majority in the Supreme Court and the reluctance of some states to take on the obligation of non-admission, Donald Trump gets the de jure opportunity to participate in the election as a candidate. However, a series of court decisions and/or decisions at the executive level (State Secretaries of State) block him from participating in elections in specific states. Under such a scenario, the chances of Trump winning, as well as the potential instability caused by them, are minimal. Though, it is also worth noting that in these conditions, the American establishment and the political system will not be able to respond promptly to external and internal stimuli. Accordingly, the adaptability and resistance of the system will significantly decrease due to unstable elections.

Trade as a weapon. In the conditions of intensified political and security confrontation, it should be expected that the issue of semiconductors, rare earth metals and, in general, the significant economic and trade interdependence of Washington and Beijing will once again be weaponized for geopolitical rivalry. The most likely is a return to the active use of tariff diplomacy as an element of chatter and political bargaining. Given the level and activity of political contacts, a new full-scale trade war is unlikely, but a conglomerate of accompanying destabilising factors will affect economic cooperation and push both sides to the weaponization of trade relations.

An additional marker of this confrontation and the realization of such a scenario can be considered the expansion of the primary and secondary sanctions regime in relation to Chinese companies that are involved in the sanctions circumvention system (both for Russia and for other dictatorial countries that are China’s economic partners).

European strategic autonomy. As domestic political confrontations and narrative battles worsen as the November elections approach, US allies will also find themselves in a situation of political and security uncertainty. Although, in general terms, these relations will not undergo significant changes, and the US will remain committed to the idea of alliance and mutual support within the framework of NATO, European allies will increasingly insist on an embodied course regarding European strategic autonomy. Thus, under an orbitally stable scenario, US foreign policy concerning European allies will require a change in approach and a redistribution of resources in view of Europe’s capabilities strengthening. This is where the element of controlled instability inherent in this scenario will grow.



Denial of leadership. By analogy with 2016, the prevailing theme in the foreign policy discourse of the US establishment is unilateralism – a doctrine aimed at maximizing one’s advantages and assets in the field of international relations while simultaneously minimising obligations and the sphere of responsibility. In this vein, the United States, as much as possible, is reducing its own expenses for supporting allies, involvement in multilateral political and security formats, and its contingents abroad, in addition to their involvement in security maintenance operations.

Under the unstable scenario of the system’s development, we should expect the departure of the USA from leadership positions both within the Western bloc and in the field of wider foreign contacts. That does not necessarily mean a complete withdrawal from cooperation or apocalyptic scenarios, such as the proposed withdrawal of the US from NATO. Still, the uncertainty regarding the US’s future role and the lack of consensus among the US elites will make the process of medium and long-term forecasting almost impossible.

Election-2024: crisis scenario. Attempts to stop Donald Trump’s candidacy through lawsuits at the federal and state levels could cause significant social unrest and eventually lead to protests. Given the age, social and ideological structure of Donald Trump’s power pool, such protests risk quickly turning into direct confrontation with law enforcement and political opponents.

Isolation prevails. The rejection of the “world policeman” status, announced by Donald Trump during the 2016 election campaign and confirmed in a series of his foreign policy statements in 2017, found its support among part of the US population and the political establishment in the wake of the return of the ideological narrative of isolationism. First of all, Trump’s policy was oriented towards creating a system of economic autarky, which would be based on strengthening economic independence and creating its industrial capacities at the expense of revising the tariff policy and withdrawing foreign investments.

Within the unstable version of the system’s development, regardless of the specific Republican candidate for the position of the US president, the dominant position of the isolationists in the meads of Congress and the gradual drifting of the party elite in the direction of this doctrine will be observed. Thus, the main party funds will gradually be switched to the side of the isolationists, which will inevitably provoke a significant strengthening of the Trumpist wing of the party.



The views expressed in this publication are not necessarily those of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung or of the organization for which the author works.