In the aftermath of a disaster, it is often easy to think the event was somehow inevitable. Even for seasoned politicos and spectators alike, the election of Donald J. Trump to the White House has surpassed Brexit as a seismic global game changer.
Why does it matter for Britons in Europe?
Simply, America’s economic weight, military predilection and accidental imperial designs make it a sleeping elephant: Europe always feels its breath on the back of the neck, and it is impossible to avoid it when it’s in the room.
What happens to Trump’s relationship with Europe beyond his inauguration is contingent on how restrained he is by existing treaties, the realities of international politics and his political capital. He is anti-NATO and against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) for starters. He has stated his desire to abandon the NATO mutual defence agreement, recognise Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and wants to renege on the Paris climate deal. Brexit will be foremost in Trump’s mind, if only as a cumbersome reminder that America’s most historical European ally has lost the influence to pacify European partners and advance an American agenda.
Trump has been labelled a “joke” and a “buffoon” in unprecedented displays of criticism from European leaders, but now finds himself in the remarkable situation of being placated with congratulations by the very same people. For the sake of America’s security and trading interests with the EU, Trump could not rationally launch a crusade of doing and saying as he pleases without ostracising European partners.
While foreign affairs are the historic purview of a U.S president, it is not a carte blanche policy spree. Financing foreign activities, repealing treaties, withdrawing from alliances or declaring war are all in the scope of a now Republican Congress. This is key – if Democrats can’t wholly oppose him in Congress, it’s unlikely the notoriously unforgiving Trump could forgive the prolific number in his party that denounced his candidacy and campaign.
As the months unfold, the world holds its breath to one simple question: Was Trump prepared to say anything to get elected, or will history recoil at the sight and sound of America’s new commander-in-chief?
During the campaign, President-elect Trump’s rhetoric was outlandish to the point of misogynistic and racist obscenity and is completely post-politics in a post-truth world. America has had no experience of the rank and file nationalism that swept through and destroyed Europe in the 20th century. That the U.S has had a late puberty with the unabashed demagoguery of Trump and electorally rebelled against ‘political elites’ and ‘invested interests’ is equivalent to screaming ‘I’m moving out!’ to one’s parents.
In any case, the Founding Fathers of the United States had the wisdom to separate the powers of state when they looked to Europe and lamented the history of absolute monarchy. This has never been a more prudent or praiseworthy decision.