America, Europe and Standpoint

"The president-elect deserves the benefit of the doubt"

Daniel Johnson

The news of Donald Trump’s victory came for me during a visit to Jerusalem — one of the few places where the result was welcomed. The president-elect has not only promised a new era in US-Israeli relations, but shows every sign that he means it. He may even recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

My first reaction was to clear my head: I headed for the Old City and spent a few hours visiting the most sacred places of the three major monotheisms. The Holy Sepulchre and the Western Wall were open to visitors of all faiths and none. The Haram al Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), as Muslims call the Temple Mount, was much more difficult of access. At the Dome of the Rock, one of the oldest Islamic monuments, a doorkeeper politely explained that only Muslims could be admitted — “for political reasons”. Is it conceivable that any other world religion would exclude visitors from other faiths?

Such a division of humanity into Muslims and the rest is not the doing of Donald Trump, but a choice made by the Islamic authorities. Since at least the 8th century, Islamic jurists have divided the world into the Dar al-Islam (“House of Islam”) and the Dar al-Harb (“House of War”), where infidels dwell. That division may now be reciprocated. Mr Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the United States caused offence even during a campaign that was fought on both sides by unfair means and foul ones. That ban would have to be carefully defined to accord with the US constitution, including the First Amendment’s prohibition on religious tests. But under the “plenary power doctrine” laid down by the Supreme Court Congress has absolute discretion in relation to immigration laws. It is clear, in any case, that by electing Mr Trump, Americans have rejected large-scale immigration, especially from Muslim countries.

In Brussels, the reaction to the prospect of a Trump presidency has played into the hands of American isolationists. Jean-Claude Juncker, the Commission President, declared his support for “the goal of setting up a European army”, because “the Americans . . . will not ensure the security of the Europeans in the long term”. The EU High Representative Federica Mogherini called for Europe to become “a superpower that believes in multilateralism and co-operation”. Without the support of elected national leaders, such rhetoric is empty. But Angela Merkel, the most powerful of them, shares the distaste of the Brussels bureaucrats for Mr Trump. Her response to his election was an admonition to obey the rule of law and eschew discrimination. German leaders would be wise to avoid lecturing the Americans and British about principles that the Germans themselves, within living memory, trampled into human ashes. By contrast, Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban described the US election as “a historic event in which Western civilisation appears to break free from the confines of an ideology”. The maverick Mr Orban, however, is the exception that proves the rule: nothing has united the European elites as much as their resistance to Brexit and Trump, which they see as two sides of the same forged coin.

The politics of America and Europe, then, are fast diverging, with Britain drifting westwards, away from the Continent and eager to capitalise on Brexit. In such circumstances, being an Atlanticist becomes a badge of honour. Not since the era of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher have the prospects for Anglo-American amity been so bright: trade deals beckon, so does co-operation on security and defence, with luck also a transatlantic intellectual confluence, based on a renaissance of the nation state and Judaeo-Christian values. As for the Euro-utopians: they should be careful what they wish for. To see what Europe would now be like without the benign influence of Atlanticism, one need only contemplate the likely fate of the Continent in the Cold War had successive US presidents not extended their protection to their allies. This was most in evidence during the early 1980s. With astonishing speed, the West recovered from a political and economic sclerosis that could easily have been terminal thanks to the leadership of Ronald Reagan (ably assisted by Margaret Thatcher). His breezy optimism (it was he, not Trump, who coined the slogan “Make America Great Again”) banished the transatlantic crisis of confidence.

Can Mr Trump pull off the same feat? The West’s present predicament is different from that which unexpectedly catapulted Reagan the outsider into the White House in 1979, but there are analogies. Mr Trump’s greatest weakness — his unstable, even volatile character — could become a strength if it discourages our foes from taking risks. Just as Iran surrendered its American hostages within days of Reagan’s inauguration, so we may expect some rogue states to back off for fear of the notorious Trump temper.

This magazine has been highly critical of Mr Trump and his campaign. Now the president-elect deserves the benefit of the doubt. Several American contributors to Standpoint, such as the former UN ambassador John Bolton and the climate sceptic Myron Ebell, are close to or even part of the new administration; others in the conservative camp strongly opposed him. At the dawn of the Trump era, we have assembled a varied range of writers to discern the emerging shapes in the twilight of our civilisation. For nearly a decade, Standpoint has been one of the few havens of genuinely new thinking on either side of the Atlantic. Despite our charitable status and educational role, Standpoint’s survival is threatened by lack of funds. It would indeed be a pity if 2017, which promises to be no less dramatic than 2016, were to be our last. Donors should contact Michael Mosbacher at our editorial email address given below. Please give generously.

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