Over In Europe, Trump’s Antics Are Tarnishing America’s Respect
Global Weekly Briefing: European Outlook Edition
Yours truly is currently on a much needed (if not deserved) vacation in Europe. In true European fashion, Global Weekly Briefing has therefore been on an August hiatus. I even made it a point to disconnect from the news cycle for a while (in places like the northwestern Bulgarian countryside, where even phone reception was bad, I had little choice anyway).
Needless to say, catching up on the current turmoil in the US has been far from enjoyable. The temptation to leave the nonsense there behind and open a café somewhere on the beach is growing bigger by the day.
Even so, I couldn’t completely escape from Trump’s antics an ocean away. Trump was among the first things I was asked about by most everyone I met while traveling. Happenings in the US were also a common topic of discussion, over meze and rakia, with family and friends back home. Though I didn’t conduct scientific polls on the subject, it was still insightful to hear people’s view of Trump and the US, removed as they were from the everyday chaos of it all.
Unsurprisingly, most people I came across don’t think of him positively. Trump has support from his far-right nationalist counterparts in Europe, but they are mostly an extreme minority and not people I readily interact with. A common response among people I have talked to about Trump has been a general bewilderment as to how Americans can elect someone like him to office (the absurdity of the electoral college is not lost on many Europeans; generally, they are more knowledgeable of the US than the other way around).
Even people who may have thought of him purely as a businessman, unaware of the fascist side of Trumpism to which Americans are now accustomed, struggle to comprehend what is happening in the US more than 200 days into his presidency.
The notion that Trump might be colluding with Russia is troubling for some Europeans, more directly affected as they are by Putin’s aggression. Tensions in North Korea are also worrying.
By extension, opinion of the US seems to be a bit more negative. People are usually curious to hear about life in the USA, often inquiring about the fast-paced life, culture, sights, and celebrities (US reality shows and sitcoms do a number when it comes to idealizing American life.) This time around, most people I spoke with didn’t have the same level of interest in American life.
“Is it true, how they mistreat black people there?” is one of the first questions I received from a German-Turkish man I shared a train ride with in Munich, upon hearing I lived there. (I told him that it was.)
It must be said, few in Europe think of the US the way Americans think others think of them: “the leaders of the free world,” “beacons of democracy,” etc. Generally, the US is seen as the biggest kid on the block, an economic and military leader to be sure. However, many Western Europeans, some currently on their third straight week of vacationing, scoff at the notion that the American system is superior to theirs, much less an example to follow.
Even so, someone like Barack Obama was generally held in very high esteem, a true democratic leader, and global citizen, the envy of many in Europe who saw their own leaders as hopelessly bureaucratic and uninspiring. Even if they didn’t agree with some of his policies, Obama was given the benefit of the doubt as someone striving to do good in the world.
Juxtapose the crowds Obama received in Berlin in 2008 (and even in 2017) and the protests against Trump in Hamburg, and it is easy to see that the goodwill Obama had fostered for the US over the past eight years seems to be fading quickly. Indeed, Trump seems to be reinforcing all of the negative stereotypes Europeans imagined of the US: that it is a country of obnoxious, ignorant belligerents, fueled by consumerist excess and predatory capitalism, hell-bent on spreading war throughout the world. Situated between the Trump and Bush administrations, the Obama years thus increasingly seem more the exception rather than the rule when it comes to dealings with the Wild West across the Atlantic.
Nevertheless, it cannot be said that Trump is triggering full-on anti-American hatred in Europe. Rather, the most common tone vis-à-vis the US seems to be one of general indifference. This may seem surprising to Americans inundated with a Trump fueled 24/7 news cycle. But in Europe, even people most concerned with Trump see him as the evil from afar. Perhaps buoyed by the timid but continuing economic recovery or the recent electoral triumphs of clear headed politicians in Western Europe, there seems to be a cautiously optimistic temperament in the Old Continent, one which Trump, for all his rantings and ravings from across the Atlantic, seems unlikely to dampen.
Again, the vacation season may be a factor: it is hard to be concerned with Trump’s rantings laying on the beach in Greece or enjoying the sun setting over the Balkans (trust me.) However, there is also the general fact that events in the US aren’t as important to the daily lives of others as Americans might think. Coverage of the white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville was relegated to the back of papers and the local news, snippets in the foreign news section just before the weather forecast. Greater concern is, justifiably, awarded to the most pressing issues locally: forest fires, the latest corruption scandal, changes to the tax code etc.
So, if anyone was worried they will be ostracized when traveling to Europe because of Trump, they shouldn’t be. You can still enjoy European sights, food, and hospitality, (and your dollars are still just as green as they were before.) The biggest fear, as far as the US is concerned, isn’t that Trump is breeding some burning anti-American hatred among Europeans.
Rather it is that, via his jingoistic temerity and a stupendous lack of coherence, he is making America less relevant to the world by the day.