Congratulations, Mr. Trump ?
Trump won. Surprising for some, shocking for others, even apocalyptic. Nevertheless, European leaders send congratulation letters. They quite interesting at what they say. And even more interesting at what they don’t say.
French President Hollande congratulated Trump, because that is a decent thing to do and “natural between two democratic heads of state” and pointed to the common foundations of the two countries
“democracy, freedom and respect for the individual.“
German Chancellor Merkel was more specific:
“Germany and America are bound together by values: democracy, freedom, respect of law and respect of people regardless of their origin, the color of their skin, their religion, gender, sexual orientation or their political beliefs. On the basis of these values I am offering to work closely with the future President of the United States, Donald Trump”.
The European institutions did – as usual – a compromise between the French and the German solution. President of the European Council Tusk and president of the European Commission Juncker pointed out that the cooperation between Europe and the United States is rooted in the values that we share:
“freedom, human rights, democracy and faith in the market economy.“
Those who followed Trumps escapades in the campaign will quickly find the link between what was lectured in the congratulation letters and Trump’s raunchy campaign messages. Tusk and Juncker considered it necessary to draw attention to US-EU trade and refused to call TTIP dead. For each of the values listed in Merkel’s letter one could find criticism of Trump’s so-called fascist messages about Mexicans, blacks, Muslims, women.
All four of them, and many, many others not quoted in this article, recited what are considered our common values. Indeed, such is the accepted wisdom: we may be different in EU and US, but respect for these values is the common denominator that binds us together, and which enables peaceful coexistence. These values, so the narrative goes, are universal. Failure to comply with these values suggests the breakdown of the liberal global world order and leads to chaos and war. One newspaper went so far as to call Angela Merkel the last defender of the liberal world order.
Its not about Trump!
This article will argue that:
- European leaders have learned nothing neither from Brexit nor from Trump.
- That they have failed to recognize that the underlying values of the “liberal world order” are broader than what they claim.
- That in order to preserve the liberal world order we must embrace other values and principles in addition to those lectured to Donald Trump.
- That particular responsibility for this have centre right politicians like Ms. Merkel, Mr. Tusk and Mr. Juncker.
This article will not argue about Trump’s rhetoric or his capacity for the job of the President of the United States. This article is not about Trump; it is about the common ground of Western societies. What it is getting from Trump is just a wake-up call.
Cracks in the progressive consensus
Perhaps the most important and deeper message of Trump’s victory is that the values Merkel, Hollande, Tusk and Juncker listed, and which we take for granted, are not the values on which the modern society rests. They are important values and should be cherished. We should all strive for “freedom, human rights, democracy and a market economy.”
But these are not the only values. There are other. Empirical evidence for this is that Trump and Brexit were speaking to some other values and succeeded.
Not understanding that there are other values out there explains the inability of public intellectuals to explain what happened in the US or the UK without resorting to phrases such as post-truth politics and claiming that the winning majority in the UK or US is uniformed, stupid or even mean. Life would be easy if they were. But they are not.
Science of values
The scientific explanation for the blindness of mostly progressive media and public intellectuals is in Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory. It claims that people often decide intuitively and not necessarily rationally. That we base our intuitive decisions on six different moral foundations: care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity. The progressive commentariat only has a feeling for the first three of the six foundations. Many people – particularly the “deplorables” – additionally have an instinct for loyalty, authority and sanctity.
In his campaign Trump was successfully addressing loyalty to America and the need for authority of American leadership. His running mate Pence was addressing feelings for sanctity of American Christians.
This is perfectly illustrated by a post-electoral tweet by Donald Trump addressed to protesters rioting in the streets against him:
“Imagine what our country could accomplish if we started working together as one people under one God saluting one flag.“
To those of us living in a Platonic progressive cave and used only to politically correct shadows projected on our TV screens these words have an uneasy ring to them. They sound almost like “ein Reich, ein Volk, ein Führer”. But the latter is just a warning what happens if the centrist democratic politicians fail to base their policies on the entire spectrum of moral foundations.
Conservative discontent and responsibility
Of course, people in Germany and the US do not belong to the same nation, they do not direct their patriotism at the same country, but nevertheless, patriotism is a value they have in common. We do not share the same country, the same culture, the same civilization, the same God. But we share feelings for belonging and identity, like we share love of freedoms and justice. Not only are common values universal, there are also values that, though not common, are universal.
But it is not usual to talk about them. In a letter to Trump, nobody wrote that our common values are “freedom, human rights, democracy, faith in the market economy and also loyalty to our culture, love for our homeland, respect of our traditions and religions”. Progressive universalism pretends that the second part (after the “and also”) does not exist. Or that it exists only in its dangerous extreme that should be swept under the carpet, labelled politically incorrect, demonized or even banned.
This is the point at which conservatives should disagree. They should argue to broaden the common foundations of our liberal societies with respect for traditional values and recognition that identification with our communities, nations, states, culture and religion is positive. The socialists will not do it, the liberals will not do it, and be assured, if the conservatives don’t do it, someone will. And then it will not be benign, it will not be balanced with the other values.
This balance of values is a unique contribution only conservatives can make. So far, unfortunately, the center-right missed the opportunity to do so.
Both Trump and Brexit have a message for the ailing Union of ours. To paraphrase Trump:
“Imagine what our European Union could accomplish if we started working together as one people under one God saluting one flag.”
Indeed, in Europe we are not one people, but we are a single culture. Indeed, some claim not to have a God while others may pray differently. Indeed, we have two flags, national and European, not just one.
But if we are unable to address people’s instincts of belonging and channel some of those towards Europe, Europe will not survive.