Could Europe Learn to Stop Worrying and Love Trump?
Some small consolations for the angst-ridden of the Old Continent
Had Europeans been allowed to vote in the American presidential election on November 8, they would have handed Hillary Clinton a landslide victory, according to Gallup International, with margins as high as 50 points in Britain and 70 points in Germany and Scandinavia. (Trump would have won only in Russia.) Now, the angst-ridden of the Old Continent seem to think they will have a WASP Mussolini on their hands, a menace to America and the world.
After the election, the German news magazine Der Spiegel put on its cover a meteor with Trump’s face on it, hurtling down on little old Earth. The headline read: “The End of the World (As We Know It).” Yet, notwithstanding the agitation of the headline writers, there are several reasons America seems to have gotten a leader whom Europe should actually cheer.
1. Down With Free Trade: Before the election, the European Union had all but dispatched the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a massive free-trade deal between the E.U. and the U.S., to the shredder. So it stands to reason that the EU should take comfort from a president-elect who will bury the Asian free-trade system the Obama administration was attempting to construct via the TPP, or Trans-Pacific Partnership. Trump has pledged to “withdraw from the [TPP], a potential disaster for our country.”
A much more ambitious venture in the works since 2013, TTIP should go to Mr. Trump’s chopping block next. Europe’s leaders have been tepid in pushing the deal, intimidated by those hundreds of thousands who have thronged European cities to protest what they apparently see as a vast capitalist conspiracy to impoverish workers, poison unwary consumers, and despoil the environment. In Germany, where the agitation has run highest, the favorite target is American-made “chlorine chickens” that are given a quick disinfectant bath and rinse after slaughter. Actually, you imbibe more chlorine in an inadvertent gulp from a public swimming pool than you would from gobbling an entire American fowl.
Another fear has been for European culture with a capital C. TTIP, so some protesters claim, would do away with publicly financed arts, movies, and TV, plus fixed prices for books. It doesn’t matter that these traditional privileges are off-limits for the negotiators; the enemies of TTIP contend that these will be steamrolled by America. The “elites” are cowed, and the German economics minister has declared TTIP “dead.”
Without the deal, Audi, Fiat, and their workers will have to go on producing two separate lines for the U.S. and EU markets to satisfy differing national safety standards—like tail lights with subtly different lens colors. Hence higher production costs, which translate into higher prices, less demand, and fewer jobs. On the upside, French farmers won’t be able to infect American gourmands with non-pasteurized cheese.
So the Europeans should ready their thank-you notes for an incoming president who has vowed to give first priority to “the jobs, incomes, and security of the American worker.” If Trump axes TTIP along with TPP, the notes should read: “Thank you for burying TTIP for good and taking the onus of sabotage off our shoulders.”
2. Cozying up to Vladimir Putin’s Russia: France, Germany, and Italy chafe under the sanctions imposed on Russia over the Crimean grab and the de facto partition of Ukraine with the help of local surrogates. The trio have paid a high cost in lost trade with the country. Enter The Donald.
As campaigner, he had spoken lovingly of Mr. Putin (and vice versa). He seems to envision a grand bargain with Russia. So perhaps the sanctions would go—a nice gift to the Europeans who didn’t want to rile the Bear to begin with. Russia is so near, and the U.S. so far. And hasn’t Trump declared NATO “obsolete”? So why not race Trump to Moscow to make their own deal? That way, Putin could dictate the terms of the relationship to both Europe and America.
In this case, only the “Easties” would refuse to sign the thank-you note—some of the new democracies that shed the Soviet yoke 20 years ago. The Baltics, once part of the Soviet Union, would sink into despair if Mr. Trump struck one of his famous deals with the Kremlin, as would Poland with its a long history of victimization by Russia. Yet even within the former Soviet bloc there are countries like Bulgaria and Hungary, who are dependent on Russian energy, should be delighted to follow the 45th president on the road to accommodation.
Europe’s Big Three—Berlin, Paris, and Rome—would be able to get back to business and respect strategic reality. Crimea, they could point out, had after all been a Russian possession before—when Catherine the Great stole the Crimean Khanate from the Ottomans in 1783. But why dredge up history when they have Trump to bless their acquiescence?
3. Fortress America: Trump has vowed to make the U.S. turn in its badge as the world’s sheriff. No more “foolishness and arrogance,” no more “foreign policy disasters,” he promised last April. No more “rebuilding other countries while weakening our own.” Goodbye to the “Obama-Clinton interventions” that have reaped “weakness, confusion, and disarray.” Invoking the classic isolationist creed of John Quincy Adams, he thundered: “We do not go abroad in search of enemies.” Nor will Americans “surrender to the false song of globalism.”
The Europeans hated George W. Bush for throwing his country’s weight around during the Iraq War. Resenting his naked display of American power, Berlin and Paris ganged up with Moscow—and they resented W. even more when proving too weak to stop him from going after Saddam Hussein in 2003.
So Mr. Trump’s proposal for American self-containment and his categorical “no” to transforming the world with American power should hearten the Europeans, especially those who once were great powers themselves but have retired into the “Empire of Peace” that is the European Union.
Is this triple-take—Trump as friendly TTIP killer, Putin pal, and isolationist—serious? Well, no. But satire always revolves around a core of truth, and good satire always comes with a tinge of despair.
If Trumpism prevails, both America and Europe will lose. Vladimir Putin is a strategic opportunist, not an imperialist à la Joseph Stalin. But a deal that ratifies Putin’s European conquests will sharpen, not satiate his ambitions. And why not? With the U.S. in withdrawal mode, as Trump seems to foreshadow, Russian expansionism spells low risk and ample gain. Pushed to its logical limits, Trumpism will make Stalin’s dream come true, delivering a Europe denuded of American power and forced to seek accommodation with Moscow.
Nor will the U.S. thrive. Yes, the Europeans are freeloaders of sorts. As a share of GDP, the U.S. spends three times more on defense than any of its NATO partners. But given their far-flung interests, the strong always pay more for their militaries. This is fate, not freeloading.
America’s lasting investment in European security has come with fabulous profits. Together, the U.S. and the EU add up to the world’s largest trade and investment relationship; so ever-freer trade would be a boon for both. Is NATO “obsolete” as Trump has suggested? As every U.S. president since Harry S. Truman understood, Europe’s eastern borders are America’s first line of defense. Woe to the “indispensable nation” that would turn its back on these simple facts of economic and strategic life.
And then what? “Fortress America” will be bristling with missiles and ready to send out the cavalry to take down the bad guy du jour, now ISIS. But cavalries rout and retreat; they do not safeguard order. Police forces do, and it is always better and cheaper to be in place and guard the line than having to ride back in.
The ultimate joke would not be on Europe, but on a president-to-be who wants to “make America great again.” The man set to move into the White House presages not “America first,” but Obama-plus: more retraction and retrenchment than under the 44th president. The irony is hard to beat.
Let’s consider a different denouement. As Obama put it after his first meeting with Trump, “this office has a way of waking you up.” He added: Those of “his ... predispositions that don’t match up with reality, he will find shaken up pretty quick because reality has a way of asserting itself.”
These are heartening words from a president who needed six years to learn Strategy 101 and to put troops back into Iraq and Europe. If Mr. Trump does not “wake up” a lot faster—and if he makes good on his campaign fantasies—he will make America not great, but small again. That joke couldn’t be topped.