Europe Shruggles with Trump

Europe shruggles at Trump Macron

Our European correspondent explores Trump Fatigue.

Alex Dunn

Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be. Can you remember when many left-leaning observers considered that George W. Bush was the worst president in living memory? Every couple of months, the “misunderestimated” President would assault the English language and we would all chuckle?

The War on Terror (or as Sasha Baron Cohen, aka Borat, put it – War OF Terror) tainted the Bush and Blair legacies.  It did not take a significant period of time for the world to gain perspective on how ill-advised those military adventures were.  I am not here to look at the Bush presidency, but I wonder how many Democrats today find themselves thinking that, for a Republican, they really miss GWB?

This European observer still finds himself struggling to reconcile the fact that Trump pulled off the trick of becoming President. It is like the very worst reality TV show idea was pitched to God and he said “Ok, let’s run with it”.  No matter what happens now, it seems certain that Trump’s tenure will be reflected upon as a seismic shift in the relationship between the presidency, voters and media.

It is ironic that the media (particularly the struggling print media), are being vilified by a president who appears to believe that they need to bend to his will, whilst at the same time they are being fed staggering headlines at an unprecedented rate.  The goose may peck like hell but he sure lays those golden eggs.

But I am not even here to offer an analysis of PussyGate, Russian collusion, porn star pay-offs or the appeasement of Little Rocket Man.  Rather I am interested in literally everyone else apart from Trump.  In particular, I am puzzled by the reaction to Trump.

As a European, I was a little startled to learn that Europe was now America’s “foe.”  I hope that Americans can understand that this comes as a surprise to us and we are going to need a period of adjustment.

It cannot have escaped your attention that Europe is having a tough time at the moment.  Brexit and squabbles over migrants is more than enough to have to deal with.

Also the UK needs some clarification.  As they will be leaving the European Union soon, does that mean that they will no longer be a foe or is this a geographic location thing?

While we wait to see how this new hostility will develop, I imagine that Americans would be interested in understanding their new enemy a little better.  Until Trump decided that the long and fruitful friendship that has traversed the Atlantic was no longer worthwhile, Europe has been a nice place to go on holiday and a good source of whiskey, cheese, and sports cars (oh and don’t forget the golf courses).

Well for you gentle reader, I have penetrated deep into Europe’s blackened heart to seek out and know the minds of thine enemy. For if Europe is the foe, what greater manifestation of that evil than the European Union institutions; the Parliament and Commission, and the apparatchiks that grease the wheels of this terrible engine of oppression and despair.

I spoke to several members of those institutions over a couple of balmy night’s in Luxembourg, which if not the blackened heart of Europe, perhaps counts more as an infected kidney or swollen prostate.

The general consensus was that Trump is not, repeat not, stupid. All agreed that he was a successful business man (even taking into account his inherited fortune) and was a deal maker.  This recognition was tempered with the strong view that such skills are of no use in politics, particularly when it comes to dealing with the riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a Putin.  Whether or not the Russians had a hand in manipulating the election, they must have been delighted at the result.

The Eurocrats all remarked that Trump seems disinterested in building international relations. Even the positive overtures that Trump has made towards individual countries and leaders are valueless when they are rebutted by some ham-fisted insult days later.  France’s Macron in particular has had his fingers burned trying to cosy up to Trump.

With regards to Europe being “a foe”, there was a lot of eye rolling, but no real concern. One of the Eurocrats told me that the last time she had been truly shocked was when Trump pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Accord.  Most recently during a holiday break back home in Slovenia (Melania Trump’s home country), everyone was talking about Trump.  Despite this intense interest, she found herself disconnected and just let the discussion wash over her.  A fatigue had set in where previously there had been outrage.

This was the most clearly articulated instance of the main conclusion that I took away from our discussions.  We are living a New Normal, where Trump watchers have started to feel punch drunk, never having an opportunity to fully digest the implications of the latest shocker before the next one comes along.

The other observation is that not enough people are seeing a clear Trump cause and effect.  Bombs are not raining down on Washington, public transport still runs, Netflix is up and one can still get an Uber.

Why is this important?  The insidious corrosion of truth, growth of the far right, marginalisation of the vulnerable and march towards isolationism is not leading to the sort of backlash that might be expected.

That this apparent disinterest exists at a time when individuals can communicate ideas to a global audience with the technology they carry in their pockets is puzzling.  In the 60’s & 70’s, student activism did not have the Internet to help organise the mass protests that occurred.

How did the students at Kent State in 1970, who were killed by the National Guard for protesting against the US invasion of Cambodia, get informed?  They will have relied on television, radio and print media together with perhaps some first hand accounts from soldiers returning from the battlefield.

Gathering information required considerably more effort and the opportunity to voice opinion was even more challenging as there were no blogs or Twitter.  Campus newspapers probably offered one of the few channels that were available to students to be heard, albeit by a very limited audience.

The young students of today who are starting to protest against the lack of gun control in the US will undoubtedly be using social media to the full, but so far their efforts have had no tangible effect.

The student and worker protests in France in the 60’s brought the country to a halt, leading De Gaulle to flee France.  (OK, I know that fleeing France was a favourite pastime of De Gaulle, but I presume that you get my point).

It has never been easier to be politically active. The links between political parties, individual politicians, peer groups and information sources are easily and inexpensively accessed.  So who is exploiting the opportunities offered by this environment?

Ideally, We The People should be striving to inform ourselves by using reliable sources of information and either supporting or challenging our political leaders by leveraging the technological tools at our disposal.

Instead, we are seeing foreign powers employ vast armies to masquerade as target-nation citizens on social media, spreading lies and manipulating public opinion.

Far right and Alt-right blogs and commentators are also spreading lies, but in plain sight.

Both of these nefarious actors are producing a toxic output which is being hungrily gobbled up by millions who do not question the authenticity of the authors or their message.

It is perhaps too early to say whether social media technology will be used more successfully for evil than good (is the jury still out on the Gutenberg press?).

Earlier this year, Tim Berners Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web Tweeted “My message to all web users today is this: I may have invented the web, but you make it what it is. And it’s up to all of us to build a web that reflects our hopes & fulfils our dreams more than it magnifies our fears & deepens our divisions. “

I believe that technological evolution of communication is happening far faster than societies can adapt.

Trump’s approval ratings are pretty poor and there are almost daily indications that the long arm of the law is going to be reaching out to him at some point.

The environment appears to be ripe for Americans to be responding, but it does not seem to be happening.  Like my friend at the European institutions indicated, Trump-Fatigue seems to be overwhelming.

I feel a great deal of sympathy for this response (or lack of response).  As I write this and look around me in this comfortable, air conditioned cafe, people stream in and settle at tables around me, with lattes and quinoa salads. So is the world burning? What can I do about it anyway? I might as well get another espresso and then step out into the sunlight outside. It is a beautiful day after all, isn’t it?

Is that how another generation capitulates?

The long-haired protesters of a generation ago believed in their struggle.  Are we now entering the age where we cannot be bothered to object but prefer to shrug and let it all wash over us?

The struggle has melted into a shruggle.

10 thoughts on “Europe Shruggles with Trump

  1. Dear Alex,

    It is true that “technological evolution of communication is happening far faster than societies can adapt,” but the problem of generational apathy and acquiescence in America goes much deeper than that. It is a very complex and multifaceted social phenomenon decades in the making which I have been extensively covering on my blog for many years. I couldn’t possibly detail it all here in a comment, but I’ll try to give you a concise summation.

    First, a pivotal moment in American history occurred with the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan. Since then, middle class prosperity has eroded as the wealth gap has widened. The socioeconomic power of workers and consumers have been stripped away through sustained attacks on collective bargaining and through systematic deregulation of industry. The expansion of corporatist practices (i.e. the capture and corruption of government by business interests) has undermined democracy. Secular public education has been assaulted through administrative seizure and privatization schemes which have gradually decreased the social awareness and civic engagement of the populace. The Democratic Party, once the effective resistance to these forces, essentially capitulated in the 1990s in the name of political pragmatism.

    Second, all this (and more) has transpired as the world has become more complex, more congested, more contested, and more threatened by various existential crises. Apprehension, disillusion, distrust, and then fear gripped the public. Young liberals, in particular, disengaged from conventional society. Voter turnout declined. The stage had been set for the far right, and they took advantage of the opportunity. Trump could never have been elected had not Hillary Clinton been such a flawed, pro-establishment candidate.

    Trump is no Machiavellian mastermind like Putin. Trump is instead an unsophisticated megalomaniac with a mob boss mentality who got in way over his head. But, he will be the instrument of his own demise. People are waking up and they are now mobilizing. Like Winston Churchill said, “You can always depend on the Americans to do the right thing, after they have tried everything else.”

    Be assured, our friends in Europe and elsewhere. We are determined to stop this madness.

  2. As a life-long US citizen with eyes wide open, allow me to explain a few things about the USA. We have this archaic, peculiar institution called the Electoral College. We don’t actually get to vote directly for candidates for the Presidency, but rather for “Electors” who will decide the ultimate outcome. Built into this system is a supposed check on “the coastal elites,” empowering yahoos in places like Idaho, Montana and Wyoming to override the overall national vote. Thus, Trump lost the popular vote by about three million yet acceded to the White House. Mr. Trump campaigned on an openly racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic platform. I’m sure “our European correspondent” is aware of this, yes? This rhetoric of hate did not fall on deaf ears. If there was no market for this garbage, social media would not be crawling with extreme rightwing rhetoric and outright disinformation. I suspect the amount of mis- and dis-information online today outweighs the factual. So who constitutes the market for all this? I’m glad you asked! These are overwhelmingly white male working class cowards. Why do I call them cowards? Because they cannot look themselves in the mirror and admit that they failed to fight their own bosses when the latter were hollowing out the industrial base of this once powerful nation and shipping the jobs overseas. It remains a remarkable fact that parts could be shipped overseas, assembled, and shipped back here to yield a greater profit for bosses than if all the work was done here. Our homegrown cowards would rather blame Chinese workers for “stealing our jobs,” along with those evil, impoverished, desperate undocumented migrants coming across the southern border. If Trump should succeed in rounding up and deporting all those here without the requisite legal documents, it would be most fascinating to see how many “native born Americans” would step forward to volunteer to do all the underpaid, filthy, backbreaking tasks these folks have been doing for so many years.

    So that is how we came to be saddled with a president whose ego can’t be contained by the known Universe. There is a legal means to remove this self-appointed Emperor (but they’re always self-appointed, eh?). There are extra-legal means, of course, and if the US Ruling Class–already embarrassed by the Trump presidency–became sufficiently disgruntled, they could be employed. By the way, I hope “our European correspondent” isn’t shocked by my assertion that the USA has a Ruling Class. As a European, rather than a benighted American, he or she should be able to acknowledge this. At any rate, back to the mechanism of impeachment. The arithmetic, with Republicans holding control of the Congress, says impeachment can’t happen. The Democrats hope to regain control after November’s elections to that (allegedly) august legislative body. That totally is up in the air, only time will tell. At the present time, the Democrats appear to be paralyzed by fear of further stirring up Trump’s base of torch-carrying, pitchfork-wielding supporters to the point where they don’t even want to utter the word “impeachment.” It is a judgment of history, in my opinion, that the failure, because of partisanship, of the United States Congress to act to remove from office so obviously, blatantly unqualified a president as this shows that this system of governance has become corrupted far, far beyond the point where it can be reformed.

    Having honestly endeavored to shed some light on contemporary America for “our European correspondent,” I won’t address topics like “Russia-Gate” or “appeasement” of a certain leader on the Korean Peninsula. I close by saying I’m considering setting up a crowd-funding appeal to raise funds to permit me to become an American ex-patriate. Okay, that was written in jest. But only because I doubt the effort would succeed!

  3. As a European, and a Canadian, I felt Trump Fatigue very early on. He is, after all, not our President, n’est-ce pas? Once the bad joke turned out to be sad reality, and the clown had offended just about everyone in every way possible, it felt like nothing he could say or do was worth reacting to. On the contrary, lending our attention to it would seem to be playing right into his hands. Yet it seems that this buffoon still manages to garner attention the world over. I wish some clever programmer would invent an app to filter Trump out of our newsfeeds. Now that would be worthy of a crowdfunding effort!

    • In the most dandy bit of irony imaginable, Trump actually “complained” a few weeks ago that everyone’s always focusing attention on him! Whereas his own colossal narcissism absolutely compels him to be “the center of attention.” I can only speak for myself, and I will never surrender my right to be outraged by the outrageous. I cannot hit the Snooze Button while the President of the United States intentionally endeavors to make the world a decidedly worse place, especially in the realm of environmental degradation/destruction. The Preamble to the US Constitution declares that government is instituted to “promote the general welfare.” When a president does exactly the opposite of that, intentionally, as far as I’m concerned that is a rock solid basis for impeachment.

  4. If Trump had lost the election and Killary ordained as President would the world be any safer or less militaristic. My opinion is that would not be,Trump maybe a clown but he upset the status qou and put spanner in the neocons plan for world domination.America since ww2 has inherited European arrogance and continued to bring mayhem to many defenceless countries,politics is a corrupt and a career only for charlatans and spokespeople for bankers and vulture capitalists.
    The American people have short changed by every president since Eisenhower,he as many know warned of industrial military complex and his warning has been ignored ,vast sums spent on machines of death in the so called richest country in the world where million do not have the means for the basics for a normal life,Trump is just a product of failed system.

    • Peter–I absolutely agree with you that Mrs. Clinton, representing the Old School Cold-Warrior Establishment, would not have been a Bringer of World Peace. And had she made a sincere effort to grapple with climate chaos, she would have been neutralized by the GOP-controlled Congress. However, I must point out that just because Trump is constantly busy making an ass of himself (and by extension, the USA) and then doubling down on his idiocy, only to double down on it again, etc. doesn’t mean he can’t do great harm in the world. He seems to be driven to do exactly that. This presidency is genuinely unprecedented in any number of respects. It remains to be seen if the self-appointed (even if in the guise of “Anonymous”) “adults” in the White House can actually thwart the Commander-in-Chief’s most insane and dangerous impulses. I stand by my prediction that Mr. Trump will not complete this first term in office. “God” help us if he does!!

    • Peter.. Thanks for your comment. It is a bit confusing though. I am sure you will hear from others who are equally confused about the contradiction between your first two sentences and the remainder of the comment.
      At 94 I had the glorious opportunity to observe the Italian dictator Il Duce, Mouselllini in the movie theaters . He was also a “clown” like Trump but took his nation into an alliance with Hitler that left Il Duce hanging upside down with his Mistress . Trump is a 2018 version of the grandiose Il Duce who was a self centered megalomaniac like Trump. He did not end up well and Italy seems not to have learned how disastrous following clowns can be. Berlesconni and now a sharp turn to the right in their government.
      PS I am in total agreement with the last part of your comment.

  5. Mr Traven I respect your age and great experience but capitalism rules the World until people understand that they have the means to change societies for their benefit oppression will continue unabated.America has developed mass propogander down to a fine art and as you well know controls half the world,i just hope one day a new Eugine Debbs will be forthcoming to generate a proper opposition to the insane political class.

  6. Peter.. In my opinion neither capitalism nor socialism can guarantee a just society. We have seen what was left of our democracy shredded in 12 months by a n overly ambitious con man and around the world in Turkey,, Poland,Hungary, etc. fragile democracys falling to despots. On the other hand we have yet to see a socialist country that has not also devolved into a repressive government.
    It appears to me that only education that involves SKEPTICISM of those in power in any kind of economic system can help to insure justice for all in the long run..

    • traven–The pen may still be mightier than the sword, but it’s got a hell of a lot of work to do if oppression is to be overcome by mere education. The oppressor’s sword will only be overcome if enough swords, inspired by the pen, rise in revolt. Is that not how the United States of America was brought into existence? We have a long, long way to go before the Ruling Elite even starts to lean toward trembling at such a thought. At present, I am finally reading “The Federalist Papers,” a slim paperback I bought on the Bargain Table many years ago for 44 cents (believe it or not). The “Founding Fathers” had some very interesting ideas. I’m contemplating contributing an article to this website enumerating some of the ways the USA has drifted dreadfully far from those ideals.

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