Donald Trump’s election as the 45th president of the United States came like a bolt out of the blue and at the worst time for Europe, which still has not recovered from the previous shock of Brexit, Britain’s surprising withdrawal from the European Union.
In a repeat of Brexit, in the week before Trump’s victory, the politicians, journalists, academics, and especially all the pollsters did not believe such a thing would really happen. Trump was thoroughly inexperienced and did not stand a chance. He only appeared to them in nightmares.
In both cases, up to a few hours before the results were announced, an overwhelming majority was convinced that Britain would not leave and that Hillary Clinton would indeed become the first woman president in the White House.
Europe’s Shock Derives from its Basic Characteristics
- Since the end of the Second World War, Europe has harbored fears of violent clashes, revolutions, instability, and drastic changes. Europe is very conservative by nature and despises populism, demagoguery, and isolationist or anarchist movements.
- The Europeans are frustrated by their lack of any political influence in resolving the world’s conflicts.
- Divisions between the countries persist and there is still no unified policy. The economic situation is deteriorating, unemployment is growing, and the single currency is at a nadir.
- The presence of millions of Muslim immigrants among the Christian population greatly concerns the European leaders, and Trump’s derisive remarks during the campaign intensified the concerns.
- The fear of terror attacks and of their exploitation by far-right parties to inflame the situation and win public sympathy has increased the anxiety that the existing stable systems will collapse.
- The European Union is actually controlled by bureaucrats in Brussels and not by politicians. There is no congruence between the cumbersome and apathetic bureaucracy and the populations’ desire for a change.
- The written and electronic media strongly influences political decision-making because Europe, in the era of the Internet and the social networks, still lags behind the United States and even Israel. Most of the media support the existing officialdom, the EU, and the classic politics.
Why Trump’s Victory Sparked Negative Reactions in Europe
- Trump’s win has shattered all assumptions and undermined the accepted European conservative values, especially political correctness.
- The U.S. president-elect’s provocative and vulgar statements have prompted revulsion at the individual and contempt for his credentials as leader of the free world.
- Most European leaders came of age amid the classic politics and studied in the prestigious schools and universities. They uphold protocol and political decorum. Despite the blatant hypocrisy, they will continue to practice courtesy and good manners.
- The Europeans regard Donald Trump as a clown, a strange bird, and untrustworthy. He is a veteran businessman who went bankrupt several times, and he is unpredictable.
- Unlike European leaders, Trump does not have an orderly and consistent worldview or a political platform, and he shoots from the hip.
- Trump’s victory will intensify the resentment and hatred toward immigrants and minorities. It will provide a tailwind for leaders of far-right parties who want to abolish the EU and restore the national borders and currency. Far-left leaders will also try to make hay in rebuffing the establishment and the existing conventions. With elections imminent in several countries, these leaders on both extremes are likely to win increased sympathy and mandates. It is already happening in Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Hungary and in Poland.
- Interestingly, the only European state that has expressed sympathy for Trump’s election is Britain. London has no further commitment to the EU. Prime Minister May seeks to renew the alliance that was once forged between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.
- Two serious apprehensions about the future of Europe’s relations with the United States concern security and the economy. Currently, European-U.S. trade stands at $2 billion per day, and Donald Trump’s opposition to globalization could cause a deep recession and an unprecedented economic crisis.
- Many questions are asked about isolationism and U.S. non-involvement in local conflicts, including those in the Middle East. What will be the fate of NATO? And what will be the ramifications of increasing the U.S. defense budget?
- There is a fear that Donald Trump will take Ronald Reagan’s path and prefer direct cooperation with Putin’s Russia to enhancing relations with the West European countries.
- France is very concerned that its initiative to resolve the Palestinian issue in the UN Security Council and to convene an international conference in Paris will be totally scuttled. France believed that Hillary Clinton would continue the hands-on approach that Barack Obama pursued over the past eight years. It is feared that the Palestinian Authority will collapse and that the Oslo agreements and the peace process will be terminated.
- Europe is worried that the pro-Israeli positions of the U.S. president-elect will lead to increased construction in the settlements and perpetuate the Israeli occupation, which is nearing its 50th anniversary since the time of the Six Day War.
- If the U.S. embassy is transferred to Jerusalem, other countries will be encouraged to do the same.
- Europe also fears that toughening of the terms of the nuclear deal with Iran will create difficulties for companies trading with Tehran since the sanctions were lifted. Modification or final cancellation of the agreement could lead to harsh reactions by Tehran and deterioration throughout the Middle East, or even war.
In light of these various fears and concerns, it is still early to predict how Europe’s relations with Washington will develop. Trump will pursue separate cooperation with each country. He certainly will not play along with the caprices of the senior Brussels bureaucracy. In the short run, the fears and frustrations can be expected to continue. Eventually, however, Europe will adjust to the new situation, recover, and overcome its misgivings. The United States shares the same universal values that Europe espouses, and Europe is obligated to cooperate, reach understandings, and accept the decision of the American voter, as is practiced in every democracy in the world.
Donald Trump will also be invited to visit European capitals and the Vatican, and he will be received with all the honor that is bestowed on the president of the world’s leading power.