This, the second weekend since Joe Biden got to the White House, is a good moment to understand the depths of Europe’s dismay over his predecessor’s destructive and dangerous four-year presidency.
Long story short, it’s basically a mixture of trepidation and hope that America, Europe and the world turns the page on Trumpism’s gleeful and unrepentant promotion of rage and hatred.
I know that a study by the European Council on Foreign Relations the day before Mr Biden took office showed European scepticism about an American renewal post-Trump but that is as nothing compared to how they saw the past four years.
We owe it to Anne Applebaum, author of ‘Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism’, that we get some sense of Europe’s view of the previous administration.
In the week before Mr Biden’s inauguration as America’s 46th president, Ms Applebaum, a staff writer at ‘The Atlantic’, conducted a brief interview with Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg’s long-serving foreign minister. It was about the sudden decision by Mike Pompeo, Donald Trump’s secretary of state, to not travel to Luxembourg and Belgium in the dying days of the administration. The planned trip would have been Mr Pompeo’s last official one to Europe, presumably complete with his recommended “swagger“. At the time, US media was reporting that Mr Pompeo cancelled the trip because of pique (on his own behalf) and loyalty (to Mr Trump).
Pique because Mr Pompeo was set to be accorded only private meetings with the Belgian foreign minister and NATO secretary general, sans press conferences or public statements. (The January 6 Capitol Hill siege incited by Mr Trump had triggered revulsion among European governments.)
And loyalty because Mr Trump had been described as follows by Mr Asselborn, the Luxembourg foreign minister, after the then US president incited an insurrection on the Capitol: “Trump is a criminal…A political pyromaniac who should be sent to criminal court. He’s a person who was elected democratically but who isn’t interested in democracy in the slightest.”
Mr Asselborn also said: “The 6th of January 2021 was a 9/11 attack on democracy itself, and Trump was the one who egged it on. The people who are truly responsible are Trump and members of the GOP. People like Ted Cruz and other elected Republicans are responsible because they acted like Trump’s poodles.”
In response to Ms Applebaum’s questions about the trip that Mr Pompeo never took, Mr Asselborn made some instructive comments. The highlights are below but the main point is that Mr Trump was leading 21st century America into something that might have been akin to the darkness and horror of 1930s Germany. Read on:
“I did call Trump Brandstifter, pyromane—I think it means “pyromaniac” in English. From my side, this is correct…”
“I heard Trump twice at the UN General Assembly, both times speaking about this wrong idea of patriotism. It was—ugh—awful. In the 1930s, in Europe, we learned where this wrong patriotism can go. We never understood it. A big majority in the EU never understood it. But Pompeo was always repeating this too.”
“I don’t know of one positive thing on foreign policy that has come out of EU-US cooperation during the past four years. I don’t see one single positive thing. It would be healthy to have again a president and a secretary of state who understand the past, the history of the European Union, who know that before World War II we had exactly this wrong sort of patriotism, nationalism, racism. The EU was created to help us to overcome this wrong patriotism.”