Europe Braces for Trump’s Return

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For people around the world, the outcome of the U.S. presidential race is an existential question. When my colleague McKay Coppins visited four allied countries in Europe and spoke with European diplomats, government workers, and politicians, he observed “a sense of alarm bordering on panic at the prospect of Donald Trump’s reelection.” I spoke with McKay about the heightened anxiety among allied countries who view Trump as a looming threat to the stability of the global order.

First, here are three new stories from The Atlantic:

Divide and Distract

Stephanie Bai: In your article, you quote European diplomats and politicians who are very alarmed about the U.S. election and a potential Trump win. Yet you note that Americans largely “aren’t thinking about Europe much at all.” Why is there such a mismatch in each party’s concern about the other?

McKay Coppins: That was one of the things that most struck me while reporting: the imbalance in attention that America and Europe pay to each other’s domestic politics. In Europe, I would meet officials who could cite granular polling from Iowa or Michigan. If you asked the average American about European politics, I think you would probably get a blank stare. It’s understandable on some level that Americans are focused on our own domestic problems, such as inflation, the economy, and immigration. European countries rely on America, but most Americans don’t think we rely on Europe to a similar degree.

What I was hoping this story would do, first of all, is to show Americans just how high the stakes of this election are for people’s day-to-day lives in Europe. And then, also, to help them understand that America won’t be isolated from the consequences of a collapse of the established global order. Those effects would find their way back to the average American.

Stephanie: What could some of those consequences look like?

McKay: At some point in almost every conversation, the European officials I spoke with would point to how America benefits from trade agreements with Europe and how instability on their continent would find a way back to American pocketbooks. All that is true. But I was almost depressed that the Europeans had apparently decided that the only way they could get through to their American allies was to convince us that it was good for our bottom line to prevent Russia from attacking them. The alliance between Europe and America is supposed to be rooted in something more idealistic and meaningful than economic interests. That’s a part of it, but it’s also about shared commitment to democratic values.

Stephanie: It does strike me as a luxury for Americans to mostly focus on our domestic ailments when some of these Eastern European countries are looking down the barrel of a potential Russian invasion.

McKay: Part of being an American is enjoying all kinds of security and protection and luxuries that much of the world doesn’t take for granted. That was driven home for me most potently when I visited Estonia, a tiny country that borders Russia. I went to the city of Narva, which is separated from Russia by one bridge and a river, and I spent some time with this guy who works at the border checkpoint. His day-to-day life is shaped by the reality that a belligerent nuclear power exists right on the other side of this river. And if not for NATO, if not for America’s commitment to its European allies, Russia could roll a tank across that border and start to conquer Estonia. I think it’s hard for the average American to grasp that. I grasped it intellectually before I went there, but there was something really affecting about seeing just how precarious life feels when you’re right there on the border.

Stephanie: “To understand why European governments are so worried about Trump’s return,” you wrote, “you could look at the exceedingly irregular tenure of Trump’s ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell.” The strong-arm approach of Trump and Grenell sometimes produced successful policy outcomes, such as getting more NATO countries to increase their military spending—but how effective is their brand of diplomacy in the long run?

McKay: Trump’s “America First” diplomacy got short-term results in some cases. For example, Richard Grenell was able to extract some policy concessions from the Germans because he was so belligerent and willing to burn bridges. But there are trade-offs to that style of diplomacy. The trade-offs are more long-term, but they’re a lot more serious.

I spoke to a lot of Germans who said that Grenell’s tenure left them wrestling with really difficult questions about their relationship with the United States. They had always kind of believed, even when they had disagreed with previous administrations, that they could count on America to support NATO and to stand up to autocrats. Now a lot of German officials are wondering if America is just another ruthlessly transactional superpower, not all that different from China or Russia. I suppose readers have to answer this question for themselves: Is it worth trading America’s reputation for some short-term policy concessions?

Stephanie: Victoria Nuland, the recently departed undersecretary for political affairs at the State Department, told you: “If you are an adversary of the United States … it would be a perfect opportunity to exploit the fact that we’re distracted.” Have other countries already exploited our domestic turmoil?

McKay: Everyone around the world has taken note of the fact that America’s domestic political scene is more chaotic and divided than it’s been in many decades. We’ve seen reports, for example, that Russia, China, and Iran are undertaking pretty extensive propaganda and disinformation campaigns that draw on our domestic divisions to further divide and distract us. I think that we will see a lot more of that going forward.

This is one of the unknowns of a second Trump term: How much more distracted and chaotic can America get? If we take him at his word, his reelection would bring a lot more upheaval to domestic American politics. And the result would be a lot more upheaval around the world.


Today’s News

  1. Wisconsin’s attorney general filed felony charges against three people who worked for Donald Trump and helped submit paperwork that falsely claimed Trump had won the state in 2020.
  2. Attorney General Merrick Garland testified before the House Judiciary Committee. Some Republican representatives have threatened to hold him in contempt because he refused to hand over the audio tapes from Special Counsel Robert K. Hur’s investigation into President Joe Biden.
  3. Prime Minister Narendra Modi appears to have won a third term based on the early results of India’s general election. His party seems unlikely to win a majority of the legislative seats, because of the strong challenge mounted by the opposition party.

Evening Read

A 1905 medical drawing from Trattato Completo di Ostetricia (by Esnesto Bumm and Cesare Merletti) illustrates the human placenta.
A 1905 medical drawing from Trattato Completo di Ostetricia (by Esnesto Bumm and Cesare Merletti) illustrates the human placenta. VintageMedStock / Getty

A Breakthrough in Preventing Stillbirths

By Claire Marie Porter

When Mana Parast was a medical resident in 2003, she had an experience that would change the course of her entire career: her first fetal autopsy.

The autopsy, which pushed Parast to pursue perinatal and placental pathology, was on a third-trimester stillbirth. “There was nothing wrong with the baby; it was a beautiful baby,” she recalls. We’re not done, she remembers her teacher telling her. Go find the placenta.

Read the full article.

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