The Americans are not the only ones holding their collective breath over the outcome of the presidential election. Their traditional allies in Europe are also standing on the fringes of their seats, waiting to see if President Donald Trump can torture them for another four years, make a fool of them, and generally tick them off.
Instead of hoping for the good opinion of Europeans, voters should see the prospect of disappointing their friends as a reason to support Trump. Despite claims in publications such as the New York Times, the Washington Post and Politico that Trump destabilized the consensus after World War II and single-handedly endangered world peace, the president has in reality strengthened Western interests in the face of European bribery and short-sightedness that have made the world less secure. A return to “normality” from the pre-Trump era under former Vice President Joe Biden would weaken NATO and undermine the progress Trump has made in the Middle East and Eastern Europe and promote the interests of rogue states such as Iran and even Russia.
The Washington establishment and the liberal Americans are not the only ones who, over the past four years, have tried to undo the bad dream of 2016. Surveys among Western Europeans, as well as unofficial and unofficial comments by most of their leaders, show that they hold the United States in low esteem and that their contempt for Trump is the main reason for this.
Many Americans point to this contempt as a reason to long for Trump’s departure from the White House. They express nostalgia for a time before Trump, when the United States was not considered a laughing stock of international forums and the European elite. But this golden age – supposedly destroyed by Trump’s bombastic self-esteem, crude discourse, politically incorrect opinions and open contempt for the ruling and educated classes of Europe and America – is a myth.
There has never really been a sustained period in which the clever people in London, Paris and at the European Union headquarters in Brussels did not look down on the Americans they characterize as arrogant, vulgar, uncultured and materialistic fools – i.e. exactly how they think about Trump. As the confession of the British traitor who is at the center of John Le Carre’s great Cold War spy novel “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” made clear, even those cultured Europeans who did not serve or sympathize with the Soviet Union instinctively share the character’s motivation when he says that he “hated America very deeply.
Apart from brief moments of pro-American euphoria – for example, when the Americans liberated Western Europe from Nazi Germany, the moon landing in 1969, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, or the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks – there was very little that united enlightened European opinion as much as the revulsion against America and everything it represents. The United States was hated more for its enormous successes as the most prosperous, free and great force, albeit an imperfect one, for the good in the world than for its failures.
The Old World did not need Trump to express its contempt for the emerging nation that spent the last hundred years coming to Europe’s aid and becoming the most senior and indispensable partner in a Western alliance that would otherwise have collapsed. Liberal intellectuals in the United States who show their contempt for their fellow citizens in the “high flyer” country long for the good opinion of those on the other side of the big pond who will never return their affection.
Trump’s embrace of the slogan “America First” with its unfortunate associations with pre-World War II isolationism and the appeasement of Nazi Germany was disturbing. Equally disturbing was his talk about the wider purpose of NATO and his apparent soft spot for Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin.
But Trump’s often rash, thoughtless remarks and tweets should not be confused with government policy. Far from being an isolationist, Trump pursued a sensible American self-interest in strengthening alliances that were good for American security, avoided unnecessary conflict, and opposed real threats that Europeans were unwilling to face.
As for NATO, Trump refused to engage in the kind of rhetoric that Europeans like to hear, praising its virtues and its importance to the Alliance. But instead of destroying NATO, Trump has strengthened NATO by insisting on it,