“The World turned upside down” was the popular tune whimsically played by the bands of British regiments marching to surrender to a victorious General George Washington, at Yorktown in 1781.
And that was, indeed, the beginning of a reversal of the established order both in Europe and across the ocean, a successful revolution, a first imperial retreat, the establishment of a Republic, a potential alteration of the status quo which had emerged from the previous war ―the 7 years’ war (1756-1763)― and not least, the birth of a nation which was gradually to become the champion of liberal values, the defender and redeemer of liberal democracy against both, National-Socialism and Marxist-Leninism, the uncontested leader of what came to be known as the Western or the Free World.
Would it be too much of a simplification to sustain that, ironically, this world may have started its vanishing act in Washington D.C. ―not too far from Yorktown―, in January 2017, at the inauguration of the Presidency of Mr. Donald Trump?
We have already seen the results of only the first half of Mr. Trump’s term of office: he has shaken faith in NATO describing it as obsolete and questioning “why should one risk war for the sake of the Baltics”; he has, on more than one occasion, encouraged Russian aggressiveness –“big nations must have big spheres of influence”; he has expressed his admiration for some of the world’s most loathsome tyrants; he has described the EU as an enemy of the US; channels of privileged relations have been opened between the White House and most of the virulently anti-EU extreme parties in Europe; free trade, an article of faith of the US ―and most particularly of the Republican party―, is under relentless attack from the White House; the decision to move the Embassy of the US from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has caused the credibility of the US, and to an extent that of its allies, in the M. East to diminish; fundamental post-WWII arrangements, such as those of Brendon Woods and Dumbarton Oaks are being questioned; worst of all, the present occupant of the White House is depriving his office ―which, in substance, is that of the Leader of the Free World―, of a vital part of its decorum, dignity and moral authority not only at home, entangled in a maze of judicial controversy, but also amongst his peers of the West ―not to mention all the antagonists of liberal democracy, worldwide, who simply sit back and enjoy the spectacle.
Would it, then, be fair and rational, not too impulsive or too simplified, to sustain that the Western World, having lost, temporarily ―or even permanently―, its American leadership, can already be seen as “a world turned upside down”? That the entire post World War II system of values and conventional trans-Atlantic arrangements, largely willed by the US, which had so effectively functioned for almost three quarters of a century to the common interest of all free market democracies ―making possible in the process their total victory in the Cold War and the obliteration of USSR and communism in Europe―, is now being dismantled by the US itself?
There is little doubt that blows had already been inflicted; neither fatal, nor seriously crippling, but still, not totally harmless. Western liberalism was already under attack. The economic crisis of 2008 had been seen by all those left feeling frustrated at the collapse of “real socialism” ―not least among them, the Kremlin and what was remaining, in various mutant forms of the European hard Left―, as an opportunity. An opportunity to counter attack, seek to reverse or mitigate the success of democratic, globalist free marketeers and snatch victories from the jaws of utter defeat.
The EU, for example, had early enough been identified as the principal common enemy of all sorts of extreme elements, in its own country-members and beyond. Populist extreme rightists and extreme leftists had already rediscovered ―as it had first been discovered by Nazis and Communists in 1939―, the opportunistic practicality of various types of de facto strategic cooperation between them. The Kaczyńskis and the Orbans and their alikes had already infiltrated the ranks of the EU.
All that was not of Mr. Trump’s doing. Nor ―to be fair―, was his Administration who first, so timidly, allowed Russia’s, Turkey’s and Iran’s unbridled brigandage in the M. East, in support of Syria’s murderous regime.
Nor are the riots of the undoubtedly home-spun “Yellow Vests” in France, of Mr. Trump’s doing. Alas! A segment of European society, obsessed with notions of “equality”, seems unable to understand that subsidized, unproductive and undeserved prosperity, sometimes even indolence and apathy, can no longer be afforded to the degree to which it has been bred and spoiled by. Our planet has many more passengers upon it, and its wealth and resources are much more fairly distributed to its continents than they used to be a few decades ago.
Yes, but having said this we must, also, admit that what transpired across the pond has greatly encouraged and motivated and roused all the dangerous species of Europe. One must not underestimate the capabilities given by modern technology to instigate and sustain unrest. Mr. Putin and his allies in Europe have been hard at it for years. We cannot know whether or not Mr. Trump has the will ―or any free time left to him by his domestic troubles―, to connive with or even instigate, populist rebellions against the EU. But neither his assurances of support and “admiration” to Mme Marine Le Pen before the French presidential elections, nor his explicitly declared preference for a “hard” Brexit can, or should, be forgotten.
Mr. Steve Bannon, though, is in France and is, by his own admission, working to restore the authority of “independent nations” and “national states”, and curb the might of super-national organizations.
What does all this mean? Well seen from certain angles the Western World may indeed appear as turning upside down or at best, about to do so.
Nevertheless, American institutions prove encouragingly resistant and the two remaining years of Mr. Donald Trump’s Presidency may not suffice to complete the destruction. A second term, however, could be fatal.
The EU, if left undisturbed from across the Atlantic, will be able to cope with the threat of destabilization from the Kremlin.
But the EU and the liberal forces of our continent cannot go on fighting on all fronts ―East, West, and worst of all at home against forces of populist extremists, encouraged and reinforced from abroad. In the US things could go back to their civilized normal soon enough ―even sooner than expected―, but Mr. Putin’s regime is there to remain for some time as dictatorships usually do.
The Western World needs both its pylons. It will inevitably capsize if one of them is lost. In the meantime, rational Europeans must keep their head and a stiff upper lip, even if the odds become daunting. The forthcoming European Elections will be a crucial encounter, a showdown between the forces of moderation and those of extremism. Between the urban, well educated and civilized segments of European populations and their primitive, intellectually brutal, hateful, and envious fellow citizens of the back of beyond ―who, much more often than not, have themselves chosen to remain where they are― the divide may already have become unbridgeable. Between these two species, the rational Homo Sapiens and the Neanderthal, there can be no common ground. Decent conservatives and center-rightists must keep their distance from the Kaczyńskis and the Orbans. It must always be remembered that timidity, appeasement and concessions can only embolden extremists.
P.C.: The Yellow Vests movement is not necessarily bad news. They are mainly looting votes from the extreme right and the extreme left, in short term populists. Someone should attempt to bring them to Greece as soon as possible.