We must take Donald Trump seriously

Donald Trump is officially President of the United States. This event is even more exceptional given the background and personality of the new « Potus », the unprecedented tone of his campaign, the composition of his entourage and his team, his direct – let’s say unique – style of communication. Yet faced with any new American head of state, we must always keep a sense of history. The United States is our ally, our partner and our friend – and as we have so many common interests and responsibilities, it must always be so. We also need to keep our sangfroid: there is a difference, sometimes a world of difference, between a candidate, a President-elect and a President, inserted into a complex and balanced institutional system – we just have to think of Ronald Reagan to be reminded of that. So let’s avoid a trial of intentions. Let’s judge him on the facts. Let’s be ready to work in good faith and in the best spirit with the new administration. For my part, I am ready.

We need to take Donald Trump seriously, without necessarily taking everything literally.

Nonetheless, naivety is not an option here. This election was not a matter of chance. It has its roots and its logic, it is the outcome of a set of ideas and beliefs. It has its own coherence; it will have its own continuity. In short, we need to take Donald Trump seriously, without necessarily taking everything literally. And we must ask ourselves what the consequences will be for Europe of this new presidency which will obviously be comparable to no other.

What if Donald Trump was right? What if his observations on Europe from the top of Trump Tower had the same prophetic value as those of St. Augustine on Rome in 410 before its sack by the Visigoths? The European Union, threatened with implosion by Brexit, divided by the migration crisis, paralysed by the rise of populism, hampered by a still too timid economic recovery – are these crises the omens of the fall of Europe’s power?

A terrifying parable, but a simplistic one. Europe in 2017 is not the Roman Empire of the fifth century, Brussels is not Rome, and the United Kingdom is not the resistance to imperial dictatorship. His remarks are obviously a form of provocation, to which we must not yield.

Too busy being outraged at his blunt, brutal statements, especially on Europe, our attention was distracted from what really matters.

The over-the-top nature of his communication style actually acts as a smokescreen, preventing us from thinking about the true content of the messages. Throughout the presidential campaign, we discussed ad nauseam the attacks and insults, excesses and anathemas, first and foremost against Hillary Clinton and the « system » – but perhaps too little on the announcements which today are becoming, before our very eyes, the US President’s programme of government. Too busy being outraged at his blunt, brutal statements, especially on Europe, our attention was distracted from what really matters: his statements on US policy, especially in the economic field. So let’s accept as a fact this new communications style – and concentrate instead on the substance. It’s high time, because make no mistake: President Trump intends to do politics.

This « new » communication style hides the ideological inspiration of the announcements. Among the well-known ingredients are the economic, social and diplomatic neo-conservatism that Donald Trump shares with a part of the Republicans and the Tea Party, and the business-in-power that he embodies and accepts, like George Bush Sr. or Ronald Reagan in their time. From these tested recipes, we can draw some worrying conclusions.

What seems clear is an orientation towards short-term gains – perhaps with immediate positive results – obtained in a logic of successive win-win deals.

The first conclusion is that Trump’s America will first deal with its own short-term interests, with less consideration for the world around it than was the case in the past. We cannot yet know exactly what his economic policy will be. But what seems clear is an orientation towards short-term gains – perhaps with immediate positive results – obtained in a logic of successive win-win deals. Opinions diverge on the real talents of businessman Trump, but one thing is certain: he made his fortune in a sector – real estate – which is one that produces non-exportable assets and is not particularly innovative. I’m not certain this experience, however brilliant it may be, can be easily transferred to the scale of the world’s largest economy. And even less so to a world diplomacy based for decades on Pax Americana.

The upcoming European debates on fiscal prudence and our common rules will probably take place against a backdrop of a spendthrift and dynamic America.

The second conclusion is that the days of fiscal prudence are numbered. A more or less massive fiscal stimulus now appears beyond doubt. In the short term, it is likely that the effects of such a policy, leaving aside sustainability requirements, will have a positive effect on growth and employment. It’s the elementary philosophy behind expansionary economic policies: in the short term, they have to work. The upcoming European debates on fiscal prudence and our common rules will probably take place against a backdrop of a spendthrift and dynamic America. We need to balance what could inspire us – investing in infrastructure – with what we should concern us and what will inevitably undermine such a policy in the medium term, namely its impact on debt. In the meantime, let us prepare for inflation and a rise in interest rates in the United States, with potentially substantial effects on emerging economies.

The third conclusion is that trade policy will become more protectionist, or in any case more nationalistic. Again, we will have to be ready to respond. The proposal – withdrawn then reaffirmed – to introduce a revolutionary corporate tax reform aimed at taxing imports and subsidising exports could have major effects on exchange rates and on the trade and financial flows of which America is a global hub. If such a policy were to be implemented, Europe simply could not stay silent. But we are not there yet. Let’s wait and see.

Europe will have to preserve that which makes it unique and which we must cherish: our model of homogeneous societies based on their strong middle class.

The fourth conclusion, which for me as a real concern, is that on the social and taxation front, the announced policies will serve the « top 10% » – maybe the top 1% – of the richest. Not the « bottom 10% » of the least well-off, majorities of whom – especially when it comes to whites – voted for Trump. Inequality, already high, will be destined to increase within American society. Europe will have to preserve that which makes it unique and which we must cherish: our model of homogeneous societies based on their strong middle class. For this to happen, we need to fight tooth and nail against inequality, because when entire sections of society are unable to move forward, then populist forces thrive.

The world order – or disorder – will change radically with President Trump. Let’s act, and let’s act quickly. Our destiny is in our hands.

Finally, there is something that we Europeans can be absolutely certain of: the wind will change and we must be ready. We do not know yet in which direction or how strongly it will blow, but it is clear that the long summer of speaking the same language on world affairs with an elegant and erudite, eloquent and prudent President, is over. Europe may not always have been Barack Obama’s number one priority, but he was always ready to listen to the world, espousing the same humanist values that so many Europeans share.

What’s urgent now is to get Europe prepared to make resolute progress on the big issues, in economic and budgetary terms, in social terms, in democratic and political terms, in terms of defence. In my view, this is the fundamental issue for the White Paper on the future of the Union, which will be presented by the Commission in March, for the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.

So let’s stop asking whether Donald Trump is a false prophet or a real villain, whether he is a protectionist lamb or an ultra-liberal wolf, whether he is against Europe or for a strong Russia. Let’s just recognise something obvious, that there is a new reality: the world order – or disorder – will change radically with President Trump. Let’s act, and let’s act quickly. Our destiny is in our hands.