Trump’s European Admirers Are Deluding Themselves

European nationalists see a kindred spirit in the American president-elect, but they shouldn’t expect any favors from him.

United Kingdom Independence Party leader Nigel Farage speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 26, 2015
United Kingdom Independence Party leader Nigel Farage speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 26, 2015 (Gage Skidmore)

Donald Trump’s unexpected presidential election in the United States has delighted his ideological counterparts in Europe. Brexiteers in the United Kingdom think he will give them a better deal than Hillary Clinton. Populists in France and the Netherlands responded to Trump’s victory with glee. So did ultraconservatives in Central Europe.

They should think again. Trump may be a kindred spirit and his triumph is a setback for the liberal consensus that nationalists across Europe and North America agitate against. But he is no friend of European nations.

Misguided Brexiteers

The British right has one good reason to welcome Trump’s victory: Unlike the outgoing president, Barack Obama, the New York businessman sympathizes with the British cause to exit the European Union and has promised to swiftly put a bilateral trade pact in place.

Obama infamously warned that the United Kingdom would find itself “at the back of the queue” if it left the EU.

That said, there is no guarantee Trump will sign a trade agreement that’s in the British interest.

Indeed, as Alex Massie has argued in The Spectator, the opposite is more likely. There is nothing in Trump’s career to suggest he believes in the concept of a win-win bargain:

If you like a deal, he concludes he must be being screwed. His entire record is based upon the urgent necessity of screwing you. That’s his style; that’s how he judges success.

Even if Trump makes an exception this time, there is little else for Britons to get excited about. Those who imagine he will breathe new life into the English-speaking alliance are deluding themselves. Trump has made clear he intends to put America, not the Anglosphere, first.

If America withdraws from the world, Britain could no longer leverage its vaunted “special relationship” with the superpower to promote its own interests.

That’s why most British diplomats and spies are worried. They understand that if Trump makes good on his promises, he will weaken the Atlantic alliance as a whole and thus make the world less safe.

Le Pen and Wilders

Nationalists in Western Europe ought to worry for the same reason.

France’s Marine Le Pen and the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders were both elated when the Republican prevailed earlier this month. If he could upend expectations and vanquish the liberal establishment, surely they might stand a chance in their respective elections next year?

But how do they imagine that a Trump Administration will advance their national interests?

He has shown little appreciation of NATO, no interest in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and only derision for the EU.

Granted, Le Pen and Wilders share some of his self-destructive protectionism. But even they must understand the value of the transatlantic security partnership.

If Trump scales back America’s presence in the Persian Gulf, do they believe that would enhance European energy security?

If Trump withdraws from West Africa, do they think that would make the job of Dutch and French peacekeepers there easier? Do they not expect it would have an effect on human trafficking across the Mediterranean?

If Trump goes behind Europe’s back and does a deal with Russia, do they think Vladimir Putin will be satisfied with what he has. Do they not think he might press on and see if he can not only break NATO but the EU as well?

Central Europe

Nowhere is that last question more pertinent than in Central Europe, where people haven’t forgotten half a century of Russian domination.

Or have they?

In the Czech Republic, President Miloš Zeman and Finance Minister Andrej Babiš — a billionaire-turned-politician like Trump who may attempt to get the prime minister’s job in 2017 — have both praised Vladimir Putin’s favorite American for his hardline views on immigration.

Hungarian strongman Viktor Orbán lauded similar praise on the president-elect, saying, “We are living in the days where what we call liberal non-democracy — in which we lived for the past twenty years — ends, and we can return to real democracy.”

In Poland, leaders of the ruling Law and Justice party agree. They hope that a President Trump will be less critical than his predecessor of their attempts to muzzle the free press and undermine the independence of the judiciary. Trump, after all, has fantasized about doing the same in the United States (“open up” libel laws to shut down critical journalists and use the courts to persecute his political opponents).

The fact that Trump sees NATO as a mafia-style protection racket and mistakes Putin’s authoritarianism for strength does not perturb these self-declared protectors of popular sovereignty.

Which suggests that, like the liberal internationalists they are prone to deriding, they have put ideology over national self-interest.

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