I will never vote for Donald Trump. In line with the classic modern American demagogic tradition – from Huey Long to George Wallace – the present Republican nominee often plays fast and loose with the truth. He either outright lies, as when he said large crowds of Muslims were cheering in New Jersey when 9/11 happened, or he misrepresents, as if the President of Mexico could ever be prevailed upon to build a gigantic wall to keep his countrymen out of the United States.
These are not benign mistakes. Looking for truths in politics to make the world better is our job; more importantly, it is our calling. Demagogues who purposely obscure the truth should be the enemies of all free thinking people, whatever their politics. For this reason alone, I could never vote for Trump.
Trump is also bad for America because he, like most demagogues, doesn’t care about the Constitution of the United States. As Tom Hanks’s character makes plain in the first rate thriller Bridge of Spies, the Constitution amounts to the rule book, the glue that cements Americans to each other.
Threatening it in any way, as Trump so obviously does through his disregard of due process and the rule of law, makes the man my personal enemy. Trump is challenging the Constitution, the civic religion of the United States, the crucial thing that makes it exceptional. For this reason as well, he must be stopped.
However, let’s conduct a simple thought experiment, looked at from the perspective of basic European foreign policy interests. Generic American presidential candidate A has openly denounced the neoconservative movement, the most poisonous in recent American foreign policy history. A has just about side-lined them, not wishing America to serve as the global policeman anymore.
A is also against most global free trade deals on offer, being a long-time and vociferous critic of both the US-Asia deal (TPP) and the US-European deal (TTIP). A has said plainly that Iraq was a foreign policy disaster and that George W Bush lied about the pretext for the war. A vows to get tough with the Saudis, and wants to play a strikingly neutral role in any Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. A believes he can improve relations with Putin’s Russia, making that a major foreign policy priority. A sees Nato as largely obsolete, feeling it should now – particularly if a rapprochement with the Kremlin is possible – focus on migration issues and counter-terror, turning its gaze southwards rather than eastwards.
In their big foreign policy speech in April 2016, A pledges that America would only fight wars as a last resort, and that they will hold summits with great powers China and Russia as soon as they are elected to calm global tensions. As A put it, “unlike other candidates for the presidency, war and aggression will not be my first instinct. A superpower understands that caution and restraint are really true signs of strength.”
After reviewing this sampling of A’s views, if you close your eyes, you have just described in detail a garden variety member of Europe’s foreign policy elite.
In contrast, candidate B supported the Iraq war, and spearheaded the disastrous Libyan intervention. B is only belatedly against the major global free trade deals, cynically turning on the TPP package that B helped negotiate in the first place.
An interventionist to their core, B has called for closer American ties with Israel, greater western involvement in the Syrian quagmire, and greater western engagement in Ukraine, through both a programme of far more substantially arming Kiev, as well as vowing to be tougher towards Vladimir Putin. Turning their back on President Obama’s closet realism, in all these present day cases, B urges Europe to also do more and follow America in terms of implementing this classically Wilsonian, interventionist foreign policy.
Startlingly, A’s policies suit Europe’s elites ever so much better than do B’s. Of course, A is the hated Trump and B is the well-respected Hillary Clinton. This shocking outcome gives anyone with eyes to see an idea of how far conventional European thinking over international relations has drifted away from the US foreign policy establishment over the past 20 years.
The European elite is right to fear Trump. But in doing so, it is not seeing that the true foreign policy danger, and the coming transatlantic crisis, stems not from him but from secretary Clinton’s futile efforts to jump-start American primacy in an era where it is objectively on the wane. Europeans should be careful what they wish for, for they shall surely get it.