Preserving Democracy

Your Turn, Europe

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    If the western liberal order is going to survive, it will be up to Europe to keep it in place., the author argues.

  • Facts


    • Donald Trump on Friday was set to be inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States.
    • Europe, facing elections in France, Germany and the Netherlands this year, will be watching America’s experiment closely.
    • Already before entering office, Mr. Trump has targeted companies with manufacturing hubs outside of the United States.
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Trump holds a campaign rally in Grand Junction, Colorado
Gird your loins, Europe. This is happening. Photo: Reuters

Mesmerized and confounded, the world is looking to Washington, where an American president unlike any before him will be taking the oath of office Friday. If the 2.5 months since his election have shown anything, it is that Mr. Trump wears no mask.

Trump is Trump: extremely emotional, unbelievably narcissistic and thin-skinned. He’s actually proud of the fact that his incendiary tweets are always “breaking news.” He considers it a hallmark of quality that he makes decisions at the same speed it takes to fire off his 140-character tweets, and not, as is customary with the political establishment, only after exhaustively studying files and long discussions with experts. No one is safe from his temper tantrums. It is quite possible the president will introduce a tax penalty for professional performing artists because star musicians refused to boost his inauguration by singing there.

The question on everybody’s minds is whether there is a strategy behind all his escapades or whether Mr. Trump is simply acting arbitrarily. No one really knows, which would be worse.

Only one thing is certain: Mr. Trump will change the world.

Deals are no substitute for a rigorous and compelling economic policy.

The new president questions every value that America itself formulated after the Second World War; every political architecture that is characterized by multilateralism, the important role of international institutions, and free trade.

He deems NATO – the defense alliance that has brought security to the West for decades – to be “obsolete.” The only relevant thing is what serves American security interests. He claims the European Union’s days are numbered. The president-elect even apparently wishes to see a weakening of traditional allies, because he expects economic advantages will arise for America with the disintegration of Europe. He says that emerging China, which the West has been trying to cautiously integrate into the world economy for decades, is the enemy because the country has robbed America of jobs with its mercenary policies.

Mr. Trump spares only Russia, which, like himself, is questioning the world order. He even sees an ally in the country’s autocratic president.“It’s an asset if Putin likes me,” he said.

Without doubt, Mr. Trump is a geopolitical and economic threat. And anyone who believes he will at least give the U.S. economy a proper boost with his policies is likely to be disappointed. His tax cuts and investment plans will only drive up the already astronomical national debt.

But even more dangerous is his irrepressible urge to flout rules and micromanage. A president who uses his power to bully companies like GM, Toyota, Siemens and Bayer to create U.S. jobs, as he already has, may have scored a short-term boost for his country as a business location. But in the long term, this behavior will be fatal. Presidential micromanagement creates uncertainty, and some domestic employers are already questioning whether, in the face of this despotism, they should create jobs that were already planned.

It is questionable whether a president who sees foreign investments by domestic companies as treason is serving the long-term economic interests of his country. Managers should be asking themselves whether they want their investment decisions to hinge on such whims. The Trumpian deal-economy is the kind of thing that is common in developing economies. It’s no concept for the world’s largest economy. Deals are no substitute for a rigorous and compelling economic policy.

Mr. Trump’s criticism of free trade, which flies in the face of every Republican orthodoxy, as well as his approach to foreign policy, are both radical, interest-based, “America-first” policies in place of those based on values. There has long been a U.S. movement toward casting off the burden of moral leadership, relinquishing the role of the world’s policeman. But the question is whether the liberal Western world order can be upheld when its most powerful  proponent gives up.

Those who always thought that America was only pursuing its own interests all along, despite its “we are the force for good” rhetoric, are in for a surprise when Mr. Trump shifts into action. Even before that happens, populists on the left and right worldwide can hardly believe their good fortune. In Mr. Trump they have found the most powerful ally imaginable.

Ironically, it is now up to a weakened Europe to prove that America is not an “indispensable nation,” at least as long as Mr. Trump is in power. The Continent must finally find the strength to prove that it is very possible indeed to defend an open society, and to reform the liberal order, the market economy, and democracy as a whole in such a way that it once again appeals to the angry masses who feel left behind.

The liberal West, or what is left of it without the U.S., must redefine itself. It will be difficult, but not impossible.


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