The center held in France yesterday. Centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron soundly defeated far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. Most of Europe and many in the United States breathed a sigh of relief. Donald Trump and his nationalist friends were notably silent.
Three European countries, France, Holland and Austria, have all rejected nationalist candidates who wanted to destroy the European Union. All were supported by Russia and Trump indicated he preferred Le Pen. Brexit is the only anti-European Union vote to succeed so far and the Brits have always been reluctant economic partners anyway.
The take-away here is that Donald Trump and the United States are no longer leading the Free World. That honor has shifted to the western European countries, especially France and Germany, that remember the ravages of World War II and tensions of the Cold War. They don’t trust Russia or authoritarians, unlike Trump who is embracing brutal dictators around the world. We are now seen as a cautionary tale.
So what’s the difference between what happened here and in Europe? In France and other countries, the center-right rejected the nationalist populism. Here, the Republican Party embraced Donald Trump, if reluctantly so. They believed that they could contain him while still getting the tax cuts and deregulation they want so badly. The prospect of controlling all aspects of government was more powerful than the threat to our international reputation, the office of the presidency and our individual freedoms.
So far, Trump has embarrassed us as a country and done little to help the people he promised to help. The coal industry isn’t coming back. Manufacturing jobs aren’t returning. His Obamacare repeal will hurt more people than it will help. Mexico isn’t going to pay for his wall and, right now, it’s doubtful that Congress will. His immigration orders have scared immigrants and are causing job shortages that will likely show up as cost increases soon.
In addition, he’s plundering. He’s sending his family out to exploit his position as president to make Trump, Inc. an even more successful brand. He makes offering the Lincoln Bedroom for campaign contributions seem quaint.
However, Trump’s executive orders have rolled back regulations and his cabinet picks will reverse efforts to prevent climate change. Most of the GOP will take those wins over the damage to the reputation of our nation and the office presidency. The people who used to routinely bash Obama as a liar for his claim “If you like your plan, you can keep it” ignore the almost daily lies coming out of Oval Office. Accountability is a thing of the past.
Europe chose to protect its reputation and commitment to the ideals of liberal democracy. The center-left and center-right came together to reject nationalist populism. In the United States, the center-right decided it would take a chance with a would-be authoritarianism because winning is more important than liberal democracy and our international reputation. Good luck with that.