Beyond the notion that 'the elite' (the mainstream media, the 1%, intellectuals, academics, established politicians, whoever) had not grasped the craving for deglobalisation by 'the people', seemingly all assembled in the boundless expanse from the Rust Belt to the Rockies, three main points appear to be weaving through the European reporting of Trump’s presidential victory.
The most pressing is populist contagion. If Brexit and now a Trump victory are possible, perhaps anything is? That authoritarian populists from the political fringes are on the march to power in parts of Europe is beyond doubt – in the case of Victor Orban’s Hungary and Poland’s Jaroslaw Kaczynski, they have already succeeded. Italy’s shrieking court jester and leader of the Five Star Movement party Beppo Grillo, a worthy successor to Berlusconi, might be politically ante portas if Prime Minister Matteo Renzi loses an imminent referendum he foolishly (or should that be Cameroonishly) tied to his political future.
However, for now at least, the dams against the political extremes in Europe’s heavyweight nations are holding firm. In Germany, momentum is swinging back to the eminently centrist Angela Merkel. In France, the equally centrist Alain Juppé is a heavy favorite to overcome Marine Le Pen’s 'Volksfront'. In Spain, the old fox Mariano Rajoy has outlasted the younger firebrands. Northern EU members will continue to make right-wing nationalists run into coalition rubber walls, condemning them either to rail ineffectively from the outside or lose political edge while on the inside.
More serious are potential consequences of a Trump foreign policy, as well as those of the internationally relevant part of his domestic policy, if his campaign promises can be believed at all. That goes from security and climate to trade to human rights. NATO, the Paris Climate Deal, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and efforts to rein in Putin are in acute peril, if not dead in the water.
Nothing appears clear, least of all the composition of Trump’s foreign policy team. The rollout of the obscure Lebanese-American former militia ideologue Walid Phares, billed as major foreign policy advisor of the Great Donald, on French public TV (by far the most important source of information for the country) was anything but impressive.
Market specialists point out that an about-face from monetary to fiscal stimulus by the US, inevitable for the proposed infrastructure program promised by Trump, would make Greece and Italy look like fiscal conservatives. This begs the questions as to whether the US will continue to serve as locomotive for the global economy and whether Beijing will continue to finance this wild ride on US treasury bonds.
The one upside of Trump and his isolationist tendencies could be that at long last Europe will be prompted to do more for the continent’s security, both internally and in the immediate region. That much was unanimously stated by leading centirst politicians in both Germany and France.
But the biggest and most significant challenge for Europe, as well as the rest of the democratic world will be what Edward Luce in the Financial Times phrased as Trump’s popular 'mandate to walk away from the global postwar order established by the US'. Since Roosevelt it has been gospel that a free and liberal world order not only corresponds to core principles of the US, but also provides the greatest benefits, thus justifying international engagement, military and otherwise.
If that pillar trembles, anything appears possible, including a reversal of the great 1990 revolution in Eastern Europe. It strikes the continental observer as a poignant irony that Brexit and Trump, the two potentially gravest steps in the wrong direction, were taken by the two Anglosphere nations that have served historically as the only efficient bulwark against strongman rule, authoritarian aberration and excessive nationalism elsewhere.
Photo: Getty Images/Carsten Koall