Anne-Marie Slaughter on Trump's US

The president of the New America think-tank talks to Alan Philps about the role of women in Trump’s Washington and how to achieve a golden mean between globalization and nationalism

You worked as director of policy planning under Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State. In Trump’s cabinet the number of women seems likely to go back to the level of George HW Bush in the early 90s – about four women against 20 men. Can a US president turn the clock back on women’s rights?
This is an absolute scandal, and the press has not called him out nearly enough. He is erasing the gains that women – and people of colour – have made in terms of representative government. This is one thing where, sure, he can turn the clock back. We will not know whether he does it successfully until the next election when those who feel erased can use their political power accordingly. He received the votes of 53 per cent of white women.

Do you feel erased?
Yes. I look at the newspaper every day and I look at pictures of a group of all white men and I think that, although I respect the results of the election, that group of people does not represent me.

You have written there is a ‘dirty little secret’ that women leaders don’t talk about − that they need a primary caregiver spouse. How has this gone down with women − and, indeed, men?
Women in extremely demanding jobs are often unwilling to admit that they need the same support systems at home that men in extremely demanding jobs do. We need to be fully honest about that: that no white male CEO I have ever seen who had a family did not have a primary caregiver spouse. So, to expect women to be in those same positions without a primary caregiver spouse − and an army of other help − is to me not realistic. But there is tremendous resistance to acknowledging that, from women and men alike. I think it challenges a core idea of masculinity. I think my husband [Andrew Moravcsik, professor of politics at Princeton University] is supremely confident and a mould-breaker because he’s willing to play a different role so that I can have the career that we both want, and he has a career too. I think there is still a deeply rooted conception that it is somehow shaming for a man to support a woman in her career the way a woman has traditionally supported a man. At least for top jobs, she needs a primary caregiver partner. It could be another woman or a man, just the way a man does. That’s what equality is. This is the next wave of the gender revolution.

When do you think the US workplace will catch up with this?
Definitely a generation. Although in my sons’ generation you see many more younger men who see things differently in terms of their own equality, who say, ‘Why is it that a mother gets six weeks or three months of child leave and I don’t? It’s my child too. Obviously she bears the child, but why don’t I get that? Why can’t I have that relationship with my children?’ I think it is changing, but these things take a generation or more.

Timothy Snyder, the Yale historian and expert on the 1930s, said recently that Americans have, at most, a year to defend the Republic. Do you share this apocalyptic view of the Trump presidency?
I think that is hyperbolic, but we cannot assume that the institutions of our democracy will hold. We cannot assume that rhetoric will not turn into reality, so we must be vigilant. I’m in Harry Potter mode: eternal vigilance. Where I would agree with him is that to write things off as rhetoric, like a president calling the press the enemies of the people, that is to court disaster.

Wasn’t the constitution drafted to constrain a president with autocratic tendencies?
Yes, the constitution was drafted to guarantee we would never be subject to tyranny. It gives me great pleasure to watch the courts stand up. An independent judiciary and a free press are key parts of that system, particularly when the executive and the legislature are held by the same party, although not by people who believe in the same things. And it is wonderful to watch citizens pouring money into public interest groups who litigate. Those citizens are saying, ‘We’re now putting our faith in the courts, and in the press, and in the investigative abilities of the press,’ – and in our democracy, in the sense that people are once again going to town halls, paying attention to what their legislators do. That is the workings of the system that the framers of the constitution put in  place.

Trump is proposing to slash the State Department budget to pay for a bigger navy, with a 12th aircraft carrier. Is this an indication of intent to contain China?
Donald Trump is a negotiator and he is staking out a radical position as his starting bid. There are ways in which we do need to build our military budgets but a twelfth aircraft carrier is not, in my view, one. I think it is crazy to slash the State Department in ways that hurt soft power: the ability to exercise influence through our diplomats and development experts rather than through our military.

Do you think it is going to happen?
No, but I will say the State Department needs pretty radical change. The State Department is one of the most hierarchical organizations I’ve ever been in. I spent six months being told I couldn’t meet with people above or below me, just because they weren’t at the right level. I would not have a frontal attack on the State Department, but if the budget negotiations could be used to bring about major reform, I would say it’s worth noting that Secretary Clinton did quite a number of things to change the way we did diplomacy. She would have loved to flatten some of that hierarchy, too, although she would never say that we shouldn’t fund the State Department. She might say, ‘It would be a good idea to use our funding to make some pretty deep reforms.’ The last time we changed the Foreign Service was 1924.

In your new book you set out why global security is more likely to be found in the interplay of networks than on the chessboard of rivalry between nation states. How does that work?
I would say it is to be found in both, because I don’t want to be understood as saying that the chessboard doesn’t matter. That’s manifestly untrue if we look at European-Russian relations, or US-Russian relations, or US-Chinese relations, or Iran. The chessboard is alive and well. North Korea is the best example. Many of the threats and challenges we face come from networks of non-state actors – web actors. When it comes to countering networks or building positive ones of our own, we don’t have the tools to do so.

The most obvious example where a network would be useful is terrorism, because terrorism clearly is both chessboard and web. There is state-sponsored terrorism, and there you have to push back against the state itself. That’s a chessboard issue, but a great deal of terrorism from Al-Qaeda or Islamic State is not state sponsored. Indeed, states oppose it, but state tools are not going to address it. You must address the long-term issues of development in which individuals feel that there is no place for them or they are not heard or seen. You have to address the religious dimensions of the issue; you have to address gender dimensions of the issue. All of that is going to require networks – networks of people within Islam who can develop a different way forward, networks of resilience to terrorist attacks, networks of development that provide opportunities for people who, very often, are turning to violent extremism in lieu of more positive alternatives.

Donald Trump has been able to exploit digital networks. So they are not all good – they can be echo chambers for nationalism.
Networks are not just connected people. They are different architectures of nodes and links. Donald Trump was very good at connecting to a Twitter audience directly, but that’s a broadcast model: one to many. But neither he nor, frankly, Barack Obama, who was propelled to victory in 2008 by the ‘My Obama’ groups that spontaneously formed, could turn their campaign connections into effective networks to help him govern. My point is it’s not just about being connected. It’s about strategically designing networks for specific purposes. Donald Trump was elected on what I would call a star network: one big centre and a whole lot of people you connect to. But a star network is almost useless if you actually want to get something done in terms of harnessing the energy of all those who you have reached.

What sort of network would be more useful?
What you really need is what I would call a pod network. Think of an airline map, where you see multiple hubs. Each one of those hubs has its own centre and its own energy. It’s all connected to the whole, but, instead of being directed from the centre, you are then tapping into local energy and local innovation.

In the book, you also make a strong case for an open international order. Yet some closed countries such as China are clear beneficiaries of the open international system. Isn’t Donald Trump right that this is untenable?
Where he is right is that there are participants in that order that are, ironically, openly closed. They close off the internet, they insist on a degree of control over their engagement with the international order that often violates international law. The question is what are you going to do about that? Are we going to follow suit – if they’re closed, we’ll be closed? I assure you they’ll be better at being closed than we are. Or do we push back? In that case we have to recognize that openness must be embedded in a domestic economy and society that serves its citizens. If you go back to 1945, there was the recognition of what used to be called embedded liberalism, which meant liberalism and open trade, but embedded in a domestic economy that protected people’s jobs and lives to an extent. Complete openness is a non-starter, any more than you can just throw open your borders. Nobody can do that.

So, you mean there has been too much openness in terms of freedom of action for big corporations?
In some ways, yes. In some ways we have not adequately addressed the cost of throwing open our economy to offshoring. Obviously technology has played a huge role, but in some ways, yes; in some ways we have been too open, too fast.

Your book concludes on an optimistic note. You write, ‘The United States and other governments will gradually find the golden mean of network power: not too concentrated and not too distributed.’ Following Brexit and Trump, isn’t that out of touch with the times?
In many ways you can understand Brexit and Donald Trump and all populist nationalist parties as reacting to a world in which you have global elites who are hyper-connected, and a great many other people who are disconnected. Some of us are hyper-connected and can push a button and sell our products around the world. For people like me, our capacity is greatly increased. There are many others who are radically disconnected from that world. You have seen a period of hyper-connection at the elite level; now you’re seeing a massive period of pushback. Over time, I think we will find a better balance between globalization and nationalism. We have experienced these massive waves and tides before. What is really different in the world is that billions of people are directly connected to one another across the globe. My book offers a new set of tools to manage and design those connections.

The Chessboard and the Web: Strategies of Connection in a Networked World’ is published by Yale University Press