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Europeans Like Trump Shakeup, But Fear American Withdrawal

Europeans Like Trump Shakeup, But Fear American Withdrawal

President Donald Trump on February 2, 2017, in Washington, D.C. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

By Thursday, 02 February 2017 02:11 PM Current | Bio | Archive

In France, what can be termed the pro-Trump opinion is interesting because as America’s oldest ally, France is an especially astute observer and has never been loath to speak frankly.

Among France's political center-right factions who instinctively liked his candidacy, some express a pro-Trump attitude uncritically because America to them is a mythic fairytale land where experimentation and change happen frequently without serious side effects (unless the financial markets are affected).

Beyond impulsive like or dislike, the serious pro-Trump opinion makers view him as representing a political upheaval in America.

America in the not too distant past was envied throughout the world as the uncontested success story and the model for human rights. Many opinion makers say America let the world down, however, with the Iraq invasion, Libya, and the Syrian magical red line that disappeared when push came to shove. The world needed the U.S. as a showcase, as the example. It was the country that could be safely criticized for its faults, while continuing to be a model success story, extending its security umbrella, and bearing the brunt of the cost of NATO.

The swings from Carter to Reagan, from Bush Senior to Clinton, from Bush Junior to Obama left the world, however, with a United States where life and liberty were alive and well but the pursuit of happiness for the greatest numbers slid down a slippery slope. The dream, upward mobility for middle-most America, spurted and then spun into a decline (even if the United States economy is absolutely not failing, as the Trump campaign tried to maintain). Uncertainty brought about by globalization and mechanization has led to fear that the American dream of continuously upward mobility has been seriously jeopardized.

In a certain sense a part of the French electorate is fascinated with the U.S. and the Trump phenomenon because he allows them to displace their frustration and dissatisfaction with their own systems by cheering him on. Nationalist candidates in France do not attract mainstream center-right voters, but the refusal to address concerns on immigration and border security domestically has made the U.S. discussion vicariously satisfying. The French see our nationalism — even populism — as not presenting the same risk in the U.S. as in Europe because it was "over there" in Europe that nationalism led to 60 to 70 million deaths in the 20th century.

With Trump, America has again proved its unique flexibility, having gotten away with a revolution without blood being spilt.

In short, Trump was understood as the spearhead of a uniquely American way of staging a revolution against the established order. They saw his candidacy as the most effective way to beat Hillary Clinton, considered not primarily as a "crook," but as representative of an out-of-touch American elite that had ignored the problems and concerns of blue-collar workers and did not bring prosperity to middle America.

And then! And then!

The initial infatuation with Trump began to cede place to a new and different reaction amidst his provocative populist moves when he was president-elect and during his first days as president. The compelling characteristic of our country, constantly reaffirmed by traditional Republican conservatives, is a unique constitutional and historical framework to limit potential for the abuse of power. It began to look as if what the French admired most about the American sense of open debate — confrontation without violence, separation of powers, checks and balances, strong institutions, escape valves to insure that the dialogue is reasoned and calm — was at risk.

This is why there is reason to worry about Trump condensing his campaign promises into "America First," reinforced by his tendency to preach withdrawal from American internationalism, alliances, multilateral organizations as well as trade agreements, without any allusion to our European allies. Leaving Europe alone effectively enhances the risk of nationalism at home, with extremist candidates having gained ground post-Brexit and the election of Trump. What is most alarming are the words being flung around about shutting up the press, referring to it as "the opposition." In the United States, free speech is not only constitutionally protected, but self-evident as part of the founding philosophy of the country. In Europe, however, "shutting up" the press has a much more immediate and visceral emotional impact. The rise to power of Hitler and Stalin depended on muzzling the free press. The shadow of the 70 million dead in the 20th century wars still hangs over all countries in the European Union.

These European Trump supporters believe that tough love dictates that a watchful eye plays a vital role. They are outside the political and media dog fight going on in the U.S. but have a stake in a Trump success. They want to fix what’s wrong without destroying what’s right. They fear the failure of the Trump presidency if he does not succeed in reigning in what had become a stagnant political class that contributed to the stagnation of the middle classes.

The upshot of this is that these Trump supporters see the need for conservative political factions in the U.S. and in Europe to exert an influence to keep Trump’s revolution from back firing — which would risk breaking down or weakening alliances that have kept the world safe for the 70 years since WWII but also risk diminishing America as the role model for capitalism and its concomitant blessings.

But what’s missing is the connection to their counterparts in the U.S.! Which of their conservative politicians, journalists, intellectuals, aside from Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham and a handful of others, share their concerns and are willing to clearly express both their support for Trump but also their reservations and objections when he does something or says something that calls into question their values? Will the others come out of the closet? In the face of a constant barrage of new legislation and new executive orders, realizing that there are going to be quite a few potential areas of conflict, many perhaps are waiting to see which battles are worth fighting.

Mark L. Cohen has his own legal practice, and was counsel at White & Case starting in 2001, after serving as international lawyer and senior legal consultant for the French aluminum producer Pechiney. Cohen was a senior consultant at a Ford Foundation Commission, an advisor to the PBS television program "The Advocates," and Assistant Attorney General in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He teaches U.S. history at the business school in Lille l’EDHEC. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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In France, what can be termed the pro-Trump opinion is interesting because as America’s oldest ally, France is an especially astute observer and has never been loath to speak frankly.
france, europe, trump, isolationism, multilateralism
Thursday, 02 February 2017 02:11 PM
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