Despite, or rather because of the abrasive tone and sometimes poorly calibrated measures of US president Donald Trump, history might find him to be a blessing in disguise for Europe, but detrimental to long-term US interests.
The latter point is obvious. American soft power has evaporated over the past four years. Nations that once viewed the US as a role model and looked to it for leadership are beginning to change their views. But how should the man who is arguably Europe’s single biggest economic threat — who is weaponising the US dollar and declaring sanctions nearly indiscriminately on friend and foe — be a blessing for Europe?
Even the most starry-eyed members of the European political and economic elite can’t maintain the narrative of equal partnership any longer. Isolationism and exceptionalism always sat uneasy with a European worldview. Until recently, however, European politicians managed to convince themselves that this somehow did not matter. It might turn out that the most lasting effect of Mr Trump’s presidency will be a growing sense of realism in European capitals. It is time to recognise, that while Trumpian policies are often excessive, our indignant outrage is mostly born out of our own lack of realpolitik.
The job description of US presidents has always been to look out for American interests. Barack Obama, who was always perceived very positively in Europe, had largely pursued similar objectives. ‘America first’ is not an invention of Mr Trump’s: he merely is the first to talk about it in this way. The pivot to Asia was nothing other than a turning of the US’s back to Europe. But while the aims of US trade-policy have hardly changed, the tone certainly has.
Mr Trump unnecessarily alienating US trade-partners is like a magnifying glass on policy. Beyond personal deportment and the paths taken towards the rigorous pursuit of American interests, there are more aspects that unite Mr Obama and Mr Trump than separate them.
A united Europe represents a market of 500 million consumers. We need to wake up to the fact that to be truly sovereign we need to be able to defend ourselves. Over-dependence on American goodwill does not serve Europe’s interests. We are an economic superpower. We should, therefore, be less exasperated by Mr Trump’s invective and avoid becoming fixated on who will win the White House.
Instead, we should define our own objectives and pursue our own interests, rather than obsessing about others’.
Martin Kaspar is head of business development at a German mittelstand company in the automotive industry.