Donald Trump has just taken the first triumphant step on the road back to the White House. It was in the state of Iowa that the perennial candidate showed that he was the undisputed representative of the Republican Party. None of his opponents have suggested that he has the slightest hope of replacing the former president with the party leader who has become his property. Barring the unexpected, it’s hard to see what could prevent Trump from becoming the Republican nominee. It also didn’t stop him from beating Joe Biden. Only an unlikely event—a health problem or the replacement of Biden by another Democratic candidate—could put Donald Trump’s eventual victory in doubt. This is an unprecedented return in the history of the United States, as none of the presidents who have been tempted to return to power have succeeded. Nor could anyone bet, three years later, after his loss to Biden, that Trump had little chance of continuing to be the dominant figure in American politics. Nor that his desire for revenge, or even revenge, will be satisfied. The likely return of Trump has caused fear among US allies, especially in Europe. Is this fear justified? We know that Trump is unpredictable, but he is not as unpredictable as people in Europe would like to believe.
First, we need to understand why half of the voters in the United States are willing to support a candidate who is under the threat of four criminal prosecutions. These are serious charges, in which he is accused of fraud in his personal affairs and of violating the Constitution by inciting a rebellion to prevent Biden from being declared the winner. Trump’s popularity is due to reasons unrelated to his positions, which are sometimes difficult to understand. Trump’s influence on his voters has a magical, charismatic quality, to use the expression of the sociologist Max Weber, who identified charisma as a decisive quality of a statesman.
This quality benefits Trump even more in the United States, where there is a special predilection for fame. So, Trump is a mythological figure. His rallies aroused enthusiasm, even delirium, equal to the world of song and rock. More than Trump can say, which we will never listen to, he embodies the return of the ‘white man’, deeply disturbed in recent years by the rise of feminism, minorities, and what is known as ‘wokism’ ‘, a new form. of political correctness; this is what moves the white crowd.
Trump is scaring people in the United States and beyond. But the fear he aroused was one of the reasons why his voters supported him. They believe that Trump’s somewhat intimidating nature protects the United States from its enemies. Polls show that Trump voters are convinced that Russia would not dare attack Ukraine if he were still president. Or that Hamas would not dare attack Israel for fear of retaliation from the former president. It’s a fantasy, but politics is a fantasy.
Trump’s popularity isn’t just magic. His voters remember, or think they remember, that during his term the economy was better than it is now and that there was no inflation. This is not entirely true, and Trump has nothing to do with it. His voters will also remember that Trump has not declared war on anyone; he inherited only the last remnants of the conflict in Afghanistan. Despite his harsh rhetoric, and unlike all his predecessors, he did not provoke any new confrontations. Finally, Trump is “America first,” a defender of isolationism, which, as we know, is a permanent and deeply rooted current in American society.
So are Europeans right or wrong to be worried? In part, yes, they do. Trump’s “America first” policy will likely lead to protectionism that will harm the economies of Europe and the rest of the world. Trump will undoubtedly try to distance himself from the war in Ukraine and treat this conflict as a European issue. Europeans expected it. They are already devoting more and more of their resources to armies that will eventually be able to intervene without the United States. There are two areas of conflict where Trump is unlikely to change the traditional US position: Taiwan and Israel. Taiwan because Trump is more anti-Chinese than Biden, and Israel because the core of Trump’s voters is more pro-Israel, for theological reasons than geopolitical ones.
Finally, we should remember Trump’s first term. The world is overwhelmed by his speeches, which are not always consistent but which, in practice, are not used. This difference between statements boasting courage and passivity when it comes to action is explained by Trump’s character: he wants power for power’s sake but never uses it. This difference can also be explained by the United States’ own institutions. In this federal country, where power is primarily local, the president can do little or nothing without Congress. Trump will rediscover that the main function of the president is to speak, known as the ‘power of the pulpit’. You will also remember that if, in his first term, Trump wanted to use the Army for purposes unrelated to its mission, such as maintaining order in the country, the military did not intervene. We sometimes read that the president of the United States controls the nuclear weapon button. But there is no such button: the use of nuclear weapons depends on a long chain of command in which military leaders play a decisive role, like the president. The world has had first-hand experience with Donald Trump. We experienced some confusion. But nothing else. We must prepare for the second term. I see no reason for it to be more chaotic than the first.