New Delhi: In the list of the Great Powers of the nineteenth century, the United States began regularly featuring after the exit of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the short reign of Japan. In the determinant parameters, it commenced upsetting the records set by Germany with comparative ease. Far away from the contestations of Europe in the Western hemisphere, the United States grew quietly and fast, its people of immigrant stock largely imbued with the Protestant ethic.

To be sure, the United States was not the only power marked for greatness in the nineteenth century. Russia was the colossus by far, but Russia was a known entity, and its rise, except under legendary tsars such as Peter the Great, was always uncertain and erratic. Whilst possessing land territories even larger than the United States on the opposite side of the globe, the tsardom was not well-managed. Conquests occurred often on the whims of force commanders of which Moscow gained intimation after the event. The tsars never had a complete picture of the expansions occurring without a plan or strategy, and the European and Asian portions of Russia demonstrated marked unevenness in administrative quality. The European side was better but still not comparable to the order to be found in Britain and Germany.

The United States was another matter. In the twentieth century and in the twenty-first, it would become the leading example of an optimum liberal democratic Great Power. It would exemplify the unequalled capacity of a liberal democracy to become the world’s leading power. It would outshine communist Russia and China. That dream run still continues for the most part. China is snapping at the heels but the trade war Donald Trump has unleashed on Beijing should break China’s back sooner or later. Now a law exclusive to Tibet has won bipartisan congressional support. Chinese officials denying free access to Tibet to Americans of all persuasions face a travel ban to America. The liberal democratic noose against China further tightens. Meanwhile, Vietnam and Taiwan are being further primed to resist Chinese bullying. This is liberal democracy at work. In contrast the alleged inherent strength of totalitarian states appears increasingly mythical.

In the nineteenth century and in the early twentieth, the promise of the United States was hardly a secret, but Washington preferred growth in isolation. In both the world wars that followed, the United States was a late entrant. The sinking of the Lusitania and the Pearl Harbour attack brought the United States into the two conflicts but long calculations and great reservations preceded them. For one, the United States had distaste for British-style balance-of-power strategies. It desired no foreign entanglements. This changed decisively after Britain lost the means and the will to keep the empire. This was also one of the reasons the United States preferred standoff imperialism without the burdens of empire.

The commentariat was quick to write off the United States at the close of the last century. The twentieth century belonged to the United States, it was readily conceded, but the twenty-first was up for grabs. Nobody really foresaw China’s rapid rise on Deng Xiaoping’s politico-economic strategies, but the United States was widely expected to weary of running the world and slip into a phase of terminal decline. But under Donald Trump, as History will later attest, the United States has reinvented itself. It is employing the vast levers provided by its political economy to arrest the decline and regain unrivalled pre-eminence. Before Trump, no other recent president thought this possible. On the other hand, Vladimir Putin’s autocratic Russia totters under the weight of US and West European sanctions, while Xi Jinping’s authoritarian China has been flummoxed by the trade war. If Xi cannot rescue the Chinese economy, his days are numbered.

The great durability of liberal-democratic United States should give heart to India squeezed between military-dominated Pakistan and totalitarian China. China’s staggering economic success and India’s slow start have prompted critics to suggest an authoritarian model for India. India has wisely ignored such misconceived advice. While India does not have the luxury of the United States’ isolationism of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, it still possesses the United States liberal and democratic advantages. Democracy, the rule of law and elected governments at regular intervals offer stability. It has a market economy which is superior to other politico-economic models for wealth creation and poverty alleviation. It has considerable land territories although not as vast as possessed by Russia or America. It is not expansionistic and not given to unprovoked aggression. India will not be the United States for another one hundred years. Too much has gone wrong: from enervating corruption to the destruction of the creative spirit. But it is not a hopeless situation because democracies reinvent themselves all the time. Who could have known before Donald Trump that China would be brought to the knees? The enduring success of the United States should encourage India to think that the best is yet to come and work towards it.