From his first speech as president, Donald Trump has parted ways with his predecessors. In scornful tones, and with clenched fist, he announced that a ‘new vision will govern our land’ — ‘America first’. The international system established by the US more than 70 years ago will now serve only the United States, or it will fade away. This declaration is unsettling other nations, especially those of Europe, which have pretended to believe in a democratic Atlantic community governed by mutually beneficial arrangements. With Trump’s arrival, the mask has fallen: America will ‘win like never before’ at what he views as a zero-sum game, in market share, diplomacy or the environment. Too bad for the losers — the rest of the world.
And goodbye to multilateral agreements, especially on trade. Influenced by his childhood memories of the 1950s, Trump has for decades been brooding over the myth that the US has always been a Good Samaritan and has, since 1945, ‘made other countries rich’. According to him, they have been ‘making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs’ (1). A few big US fortunes have survived the ‘carnage’ he described, including his own, with assets on four continents. But such quibbles count for little compared with the emerging ideological reversal: Trump is betting that protectionism will ‘lead to great prosperity and strength’, while the leader of China’s Communist Party has told the World Economic Forum in Davos that China is prepared to take over the leadership of capitalist globalisation from the US.
How has the European Union reacted? Already on the path to disruption before the US’s sudden change, it now stands helpless on the sidelines, enduring Trump’s snubs. The American president, who rightly suspects that the EU is dominated by Germany’s economic choices, is glad the UK has decided to leave, and scorns the anti-Russian obsessions of Poland and the Baltic states. Europe’s leaders, who long ago gave up any idea of going against the wishes of their lord and master, may now find themselves denied access to the US embassy where they have so often gone to express their loyalty (2). There is nothing to suggest that Trump’s unilateralism will force them to learn to live without Atlanticism, abandon free trade and stand independently. But this imperative should be on the agenda of the upcoming elections in France and Germany.
Translated by Charles Goulden
(1) On 2 September 1987 Trump took out full-page ads in three major US East Coast dailies to publish ‘An open letter from Donald J Trump on why America should stop paying to defend countries that can afford to defend themselves’.
(2) As established by thousands of diplomatic cables leaked by WikiLeaks in December 2010. Among the visitors have been François Hollande and Pierre Moscovici.
This article appears in the excellent Le Monde Diplomatique, whose English language edition can be found at mondediplo.com. This full text appears by agreement with Le Monde Diplomatique. CounterPunch features two or three articles from LMD every month.