Only now are Europeans paying attention to the American electoral show and by the looks of their comments they are not entertained. In particular, they are watching with increased dismay the antics of the leading Republican candidate for the nomination, Donald Trump, and the exchange of insults that is now a feature of the acrimonious Republican contest.
Do they have a reason to worry?
Consider just a few statements made by the Donald on the present and future of Europe. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the recipient of Time’s Person of the Year award for her initial stance on the migrant crisis, is dismissed with this gratuitous put down: “They picked the person who is ruining Germany.” As for the migrants who are desperately trying to enter Europe, they are nothing but “a great Trojan horse for terrorists.” Not to worry about the war in Ukraine because “it is really a problem that affects Europe a lot more than it affects us.”
The possibility that a man who harbors such an incredibly twisted vision of America’s role in the world could become commander in chief of U.S. forces sends a shudder down the spine of Europeans, particularly if one considers that Europe has depended on American strategic protection since the end of World War II.
No less reassuring is the brotherhood that Trump seems to enjoy with Russian President Putin when Trump says: “I think that I would probably get along with him very well.”
The last straw is Trump’s unabashed pessimism about the future of Europe. “If they don’t handle the migrant situation competently and firmly – he stated – it’s the end of Europe.” Such cataclysmic pronouncements cannot be regarded as simple-minded manifestations of the isolationism that from time to time raises its ugly head in America and that presently reveals a symbiotic relationship with the raging populism. To be sure, Europeans could be philosophical about the phenomenon because they too are dealing with a populist wave that sucks the oxygen out of the efforts to protect European ideals and its institutions.
When Trump and the Republican candidates delve into security and military matters, they start with the argument that President Obama has made the military and the nation’s security weaker, zeroing in Iran, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. On top of that, they push for intervention in the region to defeat the Islamic militants.
For his part, Trump suggests letting Syria and the Islamic state “fight each other and then pick up the remains.” Not to worry about Trump’s negotiating skills because Russia, China and Iran “will respect America more” with him as commander in chief.
Europe is an afterthought. One could only surmise that Trump is not concerned with European respect for America or for that matter with momentous events underway in Europe where the threat of a British exit from the Union would inevitably unleash a disastrous process of fragmentation. This would not be good news for the United States that has consistently worked to make Europe a strong and reliable partner in the world order envisaged by American leaders.
The very core of the American-European relationship would be seriously compromised. It has been said that Trump and other Republican candidates are obsessed with the U.S. getting the Europeans to carry more of the burden of the common defense and in local conflicts such as the one flaring in Ukraine. This would be the negation of the present administration’s substantial efforts to shore up the NATO presence in Eastern Europe under the threat of Russian aggression. In spite of that, Trump wants Americans to believe that he would defuse the situation by amicably talking with Putin.
It would be one thing if the Europeans thought that the problem with Trump is that he does not share the same values with Europeans. The much bigger problem is that in their eyes Trump would diminish rather than enhance the American role in the world and Europe would have to fend for itself. There would be other consequences as well if the American leadership failed to convince the British to stay in the European Union.
Brexit, that is the divorce of Britain from the EU, would result in the end, or at the very least in the irrelevancy of its “special relationship” with the United States, given the strong possibility that Scotland would take advantage of Brexit to break from Britain and stay in the European Union. As already mentioned, this would kick off an ominous process of fragmentation in Europe.
Leaving aside the dark scenarios for American-European relations, the not-so-secret hope of Europeans is that level-headed voices will prevail in the American elections – that is to say that Donald Trump will not become the U.S. president. Sad to say, this is the only hope.