Year LXII, 2020, Single Issue, Page 103

 

 

ANTI-EUROPEANISM IN AMERICAN POLITICS
IS HERE TO STAY.
EUROPE MUST ACKNOWLEDGE THE FACT AND REACT

 

 

In recent years, the Republican Party has increasingly become the “Trump Party”. The vigorous defence of the president in the House of Representatives and the Senate, both in the Biden-Ukraine case and in the Russiagate affair (even by party representatives who prior to the 2016 primaries were considered “Never Trumpers”), reveals a Republican Party unprecedentedly submissive to the POTUS. The behaviour of the Republican policymakers and Trump’s popularity among Republican voters (shown by approval ratings of more than 80 per cent) are both signs that Trumpism, having started out as a peripheral phenomenon in 2016, has grown to the point of becoming the main current within the Grand Old Party. It will now take years, if not decades, for the party to return to more moderate positions, if indeed it ever does.

Today, a good three years after his surprise victory in the Republican primaries and equally unexpected election as US president, Donald Trump is merely the spearhead of a strong and vociferous faction of the party — a faction that, until four years ago, had seemed destined to remain a minority voice, unlikely ever to get close to any positions of power and responsibility. Instead, as an effect of the deep polarisation of US politics, and the failure of moderate candidates like Rubio and Kasich to counter not just Trump’s candidacy, but also the narrative he puts out, this faction has come to form the mainstream of the party once proudly led by the likes of Lincoln and Eisenhower. In 2016, Trump was the only Republican and only presidential candidate to openly support Brexit and, through declarations and tweets, to make no secret of his hostility towards the EU (and NATO). Today, an increasingly large part of the Republican base turns to Fox News or far-right conspiracy platforms such as Infowars and Breitbart for its information; moreover, extremist student organisations, such as Turning Point USA and the American Conservative Union, and political events like the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC, at which Nigel Farage has been a fixture in recent years, as a guest and speaker), have started to play  an important role within the Republican Party. And as things stand, they look set to become even more important, especially if Trumpism proves to be more than a passing phenomenon.

From the pro-European and Atlanticist standpoint, the increasingly anti-European stance of the GOP, its voters and its élite is terrible news. Not only has the CPAC, as mentioned, embraced arch Brexiteers such as Nigel Farage, but the EU has also found itself repeatedly verbally attacked and derided by Trump and the individuals close to him, such as Mike Pompeo (who had no scruples about attacking EU diplomats and officials head-on during a visit to Europe). And all this has been accompanied by episodes like the (temporary) downgrading of the diplomatic status of the EU representative in Washington. In short, whereas outbursts like John Kerry’s “Fuck the EU”, muttered off stage and attributable to moments of frustration, once seemed to be isolated incidents, they now appear to be frequent occurrences.

NATO continues to be an important pillar of the Western order and, together with European unification, has been crucial in sustaining Europe’s post-war peace, but it is important to realise that the anti-Europeanism of today’s GOP constitutes a very real threat to the future of the Alliance. This is because this anti-Europeanism, more than just opposition to the European project tout court, extends to a range of sectors. First of all, it extends to, and rejects, the very concepts of welfare and a more balanced relationship between the state and the business world. The anti-Europeanism espoused by the American right is the expression of an ideology based on opposition to the very idea of any form of social contract, however this manifests itself, be it in the form of public intervention in the economy (more or less acceptable depending on the conditions), a liberal order complete with an antitrust authority and structure, personal data protection, the idea of progressive taxation, or the fight for the environment. Europe and the EU, to those on the American right, meaning the conservative right in all its forms, paleo-libertarian or neo-authoritarian, is one and the same thing, and, in their view, represents everything that can be considered an enemy and an impediment to the realisation of their ideological project. The European Union is just an obstacle needing to be removed. Brexit, like support for anti-EU forces, is functional to the realisation of this plutocratic project, which combines the crudest, most selfish and most predatory expressions of the business world with a superficial, one-dimensional reading of liberal political and economic theory.

The fact that these views are so strongly held in one of the two parties making up the United States’ two-party system is a very serious risk for the EU, greater than Putin’s Russian revanchism — Russias modest economic performance actually severely limits the success of its action —, and greater than the rise of China. In fact, whereas both China and Russia were, in different ways and to different degrees, competitors, and indeed still are, the United States has traditionally been the guarantor of order and of European stability. In the current setting, to allow the United States to continue to play a hegemonic role in the Atlantic system would be a very risky choice for Europe to make.

It is therefore opportune to seek other choices. Just as American and Australian tycoons and billionaires no longer have any qualms about financing forces inclined to fragment Europe and frustrate its efforts to tackle the climate emergency, Europe should have no qualms about reacting, and thus about pitting not so much “power against power” as “altar against altar”, to quote the nineteenth-century Austrian Chancellor, Klemens von Metternich. The clash between the anti-environmentalist, anti-liberal, nationalist American right and a European Union that is still focused on multilateralism, the energy transition and zero emissions policies is, above all, an ideological conflict. The EU must, without hesitation, work to reach that section of US civil society and the US elite, both Democratic and Republican, that still believes in the importance of proximity to and loyal collaboration between Europe and the United States. But it also needs to strive to reconnect with Americans of all backgrounds and situations, particularly those who were most susceptible to Trump’s message in 2016. At the same time, Europe must finally become more independent of the United States, establishing a new relationship in which it is neither its adversary nor its subordinate, and in so doing must diversify its friendships and international relations. It must have, in its own right, a single and cohesive security and defence policy, for which it is accountable before the European Parliament. It must develop its own industrial policy, especially in relation to defence, so as to be able to break free from the United States. And the European budget must support these initiatives. In short, the European institutions will have to make a constitutional leap forwards, in order to have a European government capable of dealing with the aggressiveness of Republican politics. Although, from a political, historical and perhaps even emotional perspective, all this may seem undesirable, it will be the best strategy of defence against America’s increasingly anti-European political discourse.

For a European opposed to unification, it would be all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the aggressive approach of the American right is the beginning of the end of the EU, and opens up new horizons of freedom for the countries of Europe. But this is an illusion; moreover, for an anti-European to hope for such a scenario would be counterproductive. After all, the ideological warfare being waged by the American right is aimed above all at reaffirming an American supremacy in all power relations — a supremacy in which everything is based on an all-or-nothing vision of international relations, wherein an advantage for one (the USA) must inevitably mean a disadvantage for another. The future trade negotiations between the UK and the United States, especially if Trump is re-elected, will be a first opportunity to observe this new power dynamic in practice. To all this, it must be added that, ideologically, the goal of the new, Trumpian GOP is to dismantle everything that is considered an obstacle to the realisation of the ultra-free-market and plutocratic social model championed in American conservative circles. Accordingly, it would do away with safety and environmental standards, get rid of any state involvement in the provision of public services such as health and education, and guarantee no protection of personal data (seen purely as a commodity); furthermore, as shown by the environmental and Covid-19 emergencies, it would display total contempt for science, instead promoting irrational and anti-scientific ideas. European unity as a future prospect may not interest Europe’s self-proclaimed sovereignists. But for all the aforementioned reasons, they should be even less interested in a future of total subjection, and less willing to accept a model of economic management and public administration entirely extraneous to European political and economic culture.

May 2020.

Francesco Violi

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