Trump isn’t go­ing away. It’s time for Europe First

The Guardian - Journal - - Front page - Martin Ket­tle

Few things about Bri­tish po­lit­i­cal cul­ture are as char­ac­ter­is­tic and as de­mean­ing as the col­lec­tive cringe be­fore the United States. The cringe takes many forms. It ranges from the in­flated pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with the “spe­cial” re­la­tion­ship at the very sum­mit of Bri­tish govern­ment to the ris­i­ble lack of self-aware­ness that leads many West­min­ster spear-car­ri­ers to cul­ti­vate Mas­ter­mind lev­els of knowl­edge about TV se­ries such as The West Wing and House of Cards.

Th­ese im­pulses do not merely ac­knowl­edge the US’s im­por­tance. They bend the knee to it. Deep down, they seem to ex­press a post-im­pe­rial Bri­tish crav­ing for some of the US’s re­flected great­ness. You might even say that, men­tally at least, Bri­tain al­ready is a vas­sal state, only not of the Euro­pean Union but of the US.

This week’s midterm elec­tions have been a re­minder of the many ways in which this cul­tural cringe af­fects jour­nal­ists and broad­cast­ers. As Tues­day turned into Wed­nes­day, we all seemed to be ei­ther tak­ing part in the midterm cover­age or glued to it. Nat­u­ral enough, in one sense. But there is some­thing dys­func­tional about a Bri­tish po­lit­i­cal cul­ture whose par­tic­i­pants ob­sess about the Texas Se­nate race or the Kansas gov­er­nor­ship at the same time as most of them would strug­gle to name the prime min­is­ter of France.

This is not to ar­gue that the 2018 midterms are unim­por­tant. Nor is it to be in de­nial about my own in­ner anorak – yes, I like Amer­i­can elec­tions too. But the Bri­tish po­lit­i­cal class’s wide-eyed ap­petite for Amer­i­cana should be chal­lenged. If it de­voted even a small amount of that kind of at­ten­tion to pol­i­tics in coun­tries nearer to home that di­rectly af­fect Bri­tain’s fu­ture in ways that Kansas never will, it would be a lot more per­sua­sive.

Bri­tain’s fan­club ap­proach to US pol­i­tics gets in the way of ef­forts to re­flect on the wider mean­ing of th­ese midterms. It is im­por­tant for Amer­i­cans that the Democrats have re­gained con­trol of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives this week. Their vic­tory brings some of the checks and bal­ances of the US con­sti­tu­tion back into play against Don­ald Trump. The Democrats now get a more de­ci­sive say on the fed­eral bud­get. They will use Congress’s sub­poena and scru­tiny pow­ers to make the pres­i­dent’s life tougher. If and when the spe­cial coun­sel, Robert Mueller, is al­lowed to pub­lish his re­port, they will not brush his find­ings un­der the car­pet.

Th­ese are sig­nif­i­cant events. But they do not di­rectly af­fect us or our in­ter­ests.

For Eu­ro­peans, what should mat­ter about

Tues­day’s elec­tions is that none of the big things about the role of Trump’s Amer­ica in the world is likely to change. In fact, th­ese re­sults sug­gest strongly that the Trump for­eign pol­icy revo­lu­tion will deepen and be­come in­creas­ingly en­trenched, and even per­ma­nent. Trump was not routed this week. He is more likely than ever to win a sec­ond term, es­pe­cially if the Democrats are di­vided.

Th­ese midterms there­fore tell the rest of the world some­thing very im­por­tant. They tell us that Amer­ica First is not go­ing away, that it is on course to be the new nor­mal, that it is not some un­for­tu­nate aber­ra­tion that can be re­set to the sta­tus quo ante of 2016. The midterms strongly sug­gest that the next two, and quite prob­a­bly six, years of Amer­i­can in­ter­na­tional pol­icy will be a con­tin­u­a­tion, per­haps more force­fully, of the last two. More­over, there is no guar­an­tee that any new ad­min­is­tra­tion com­ing into of­fice in 2024 will be in a po­si­tion to sig­nif­i­cantly re­build the de­struc­tion left by the Trumpian in­ter­na­tional le­gacy.

For Eu­ro­peans this means fac­ing up to a his­toric read­just­ment. The world and the Europe that were ini­ti­ated by the ar­mistice of Novem­ber 1918 is com­ing to an end. From that date on­wards, the power, in­ter­ests and sym­pa­thies of the US could be re­lied upon to come to Europe’s mil­i­tary and fi­nan­cial res­cue in hard times and, later, to guar­an­tee its peace and pros­per­ity through mul­ti­lat­eral po­lit­i­cal, trad­ing and fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions. No longer. Per­haps never again. To­day, Trump’s pol­icy of Amer­ica First means that those shared val­ues and in­sti­tu­tions have run their course. The US’s re­la­tions with the rest of the world are to be trans­ac­tional. Take it or leave it.

It fol­lows that the very no­tion of a transat­lantic world­view – ded­i­cated to main­tain­ing the peace, the na­tions, cul­tures, peo­ples and val­ues of Europe – is end­ing too. It means that Europe and its na­tion states could one day find them­selves with no nat­u­ral al­lies, and that the de­fence and pro­jec­tion of Euro­pean in­ter­ests is now a mat­ter for which, with the rise of China, in the face of Rus­sian provocations and un­der pres­sure from mi­gra­tion and in­sta­bil­ity from the south, Eu­ro­peans alone must take re­spon­si­bil­ity. Amer­ica First is mak­ing “Europe First” in­evitable.

The midterms ought to pro­vide a re­al­ity check of a sim­i­lar or­der for the UK. The US’s fail­ure to re­pu­di­ate Trump­ism this week could hardly come at a more se­ri­ous mo­ment for this coun­try. It leaves Brexit Bri­tain in dan­ger of be­com­ing the vas­sal not just of an idea, but of a global dis­rup­tor. There is very lit­tle time left to grasp that it will not be in our in­ter­est in any way to col­lude in a tec­tonic change to the in­ter­na­tional or­der that is be­ing driven by Amer­i­can do­mes­tic pol­i­tics.

We de­lude our­selves if we think we are es­sen­tial to this new Amer­i­can uni­lat­er­al­ism. It is a fan­tasy to sup­pose we can mod­er­ate Amer­ica First by the old for­eign of­fice tac­tic of hug­ging the Amer­i­can es­tab­lish­ment close. Wash­ing­ton does not work like that any more. Bri­tain must look else­where for its al­lies now. The place to find them is ob­vi­ous. Whether we like it or not, we are al­ways go­ing to be what ge­og­ra­phy and his­tory have made us – a sig­nif­i­cant part of Europe. Brexit was al­ways a dan­ger­ous folly on any terms. To per­sist with it now may soon seem al­most sui­ci­dal.

A cen­tury ago the guns fi­nally fell silent in France. For the past seven decades we have lived in a bet­ter and safer world that had learned some of the hard lessons about mass war­fare and im­mis­er­a­tion. To­day we are once again not safe, though in a new way. Trump is not merely nei­ther our friend or ally. He is work­ing to re­store a global or­der of com­pet­ing sov­er­eign pow­ers. He has no in­ter­est in our shared se­cu­rity. Nei­ther Euro­pean pros­per­ity nor peace – in­clud­ing peace in Ire­land – have mean­ing for him. He has a pos­i­tive in­ter­est in im­pos­ing an un­equal trade deal on any Bri­tish govern­ment that comes ask­ing for one. He is al­ready our ri­val and po­ten­tially some­thing worse.

Now he may be there for the long term. In the US this week, noth­ing much changed. In

Europe, as a re­sult, ev­ery­thing has.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION: BEN JEN­NINGS

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