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What Trump Means: A European Perspective

By: Karl-Friedrich Israel

Members of the European political and media establishment seemed to be sure that the 45th president of the United States would be Hillary Clinton, or at least they were desperately hoping so. The days after the election one could hear clamor of indignation from top journalists and politicians alike. It almost felt as if the European project had lost shoulder to shoulder with Clinton, now that America, Europe’s most powerful ally, would be ruled by an “inhuman right-wing populist,” an outspoken critic of the European Union, and a sympathizer of the UK Independence Party. And after all he says “America first.” For the European establishment, this is an outrageous position to hold for an American president.

General secretary of the ruling Socialist Party in France, Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, has compared Trump to the Front National’s top candidate Marine Le Pen and noted that the French Left knew full well about the challenges ahead. French prime minister Manuel Valls emphasized that Europe needs to close its ranks, take responsibility and respond to the events on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, adding that he does not believe in “the triumph of simplicity and demagoguery.”

German minister of foreign affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeier who called Trump a “preacher of hate” during the election campaign stated shortly after the outcome was certain that “American foreign policy will now become less predictable,” but that Germany “should not sit mesmerized like the rabbits before the snake.” Germany “should remain self-confident and needs to preserve its culture of public and political discourse.” But who knows to what kind of cultivated discourse he was actually referring?

Indeed, Donald Trump was compared to Adolf Hitler in German television news at one point in his campaign when he had already far exceeded the expectations of most pundits. But, hardly anyone could imagine him becoming the next US president. On the very evening of November 9 when the unthinkable was taking shape, the consortium of public broadcasters in Germany (ARD) presented a survey according to which only 4 percent of the German electorate would have voted for Trump. One wonders whether this representative survey was conducted exclusively among the employees of
the consortium.

When the Austrian presidential candidate and populist Norbert Hofer lost to Alexander Van der Bellen in early December, the EU establishment had its first moment of relief since the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom last June. “Hofer has hoped for the Trump effect in vain” ARD’s news anchor declared somewhat triumphantly at the evening of the election.

However, at the same time the Italian people voted against President Matteo Renzi’s proposal to change the Italian constitution, which led to his resignation and potentially a chance for the Eurosceptic Five Star Movement around comedian Beppe Grillo to form the new national government after early elections. This means that the three largest countries of the Eurozone and the EU (UK excluded), Germany, France and Italy, will hold national elections within the next year. The Italian daily La Stampa wrote that the referendum “tells the same story as Brexit and Trump.”

Hence, it is pretty obvious that almost all political events and ongoing developments in Europe are now interpreted in light of Trump’s victory. There is no question that Trump already has had an impact on European politics regarding strategy and rhetoric.

Looming Economic Realities in Europe

The most important issues, after the currency and debt crisis has mysteriously vanished from the scene for a time, is immigration, the stabilization of the Middle East, and how to react to millions of people coming into Europe.

Trump has such a significance for the political regime of the EU, among other things, because he was elected while openly advocating positions not expected to be capable of winning a majority, either in the US, and most certainly not in Europe. It runs completely against the position that the US government under Bush and Obama has taken, that Clinton sought to continue, and that the political leadership of the EU still wholeheartedly advocates and that is embedded in a broader political program. It is a program that mainstream media is vigorously promoting by emphasizing the benefits of open borders, diversity and multiculturalism, the importance of humanitarian assistance, as well as an official responsibility of the West to improve living conditions in the developing nations of Africa and Asia. That the latter so regularly turns into the very opposite in the form of aggressive military interventions is deliberately hushed up. Trump’s anti-interventionist positions in foreign policy have, against all odds, successfully challenged the globalist line of approach.

After an initial period in which Trump and his supporters were arrogantly ridiculed, a good dose of European superiority complex, vis-à-vis the US, was breaking through, and the general tenor has changed. In an act of self-defense, European political and media elites have desperately tried to make a bogeyman out of Trump and the movement behind him as they saw the broader implications it might have.

Trump was admittedly courting some of the slogans used against him, but most of them are just hysterical exaggerations or allegations. And, while the European establishment claims a position on the moral high-ground, even the most promising aspect of Trump’s advocated isolationism from a humanitarian viewpoint — withdrawal from foreign military interventions — is turned against him. It is argued that Trump will abandon Europe and that European countries will have to substantially increase their own military budgets in the future.

The fact that the aggressive foreign policy of the West under the leadership of the US over the past decades has triggered the destabilization of the Middle East and Northern Africa in the first place, and hence reinforced the immigration crisis that Europe is facing right now, is not critically highlighted at all.

Trump Will Be an Excuse for More Centralization

The EU establishment has obviously itself contributed to the problems it now tries to exploit in order to further centralize the political power structure of Europe. Trump will serve as a scapegoat that left Europe alone in the midst of an international conflict and humanitarian crisis. This narrative was spread before Trump had been in office for a single day, and it will be used as a justification for more intrusive EU policies if the peoples of Europe let it happen. However, chances are that the national governments all over Europe will face ever stronger opposition in the near future, if they are not directly replaced. Unfortunately, these opposition movements are not pushing in the right direction in every respect. But, all our problems will not be solved with next round of national elections anyway. They are much more fundamental and ideological. They are of a long-term nature.

Karl-Friedrich Israel is a lecturer at the University of Angers; a PhD candidate studying with Jörg Guido Hülsmann at the University of Angers; and a 2016 Mises Fellow.

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