The latest meeting of what had been the world’s seven major economic powers left no doubt that the United States of America is far more than the foremost among them, and that longstanding differences between them continue to widen. The latest set of reasons for that widening stem from the different ways in which the peoples of Europe and America (and Japan as well) have been reacting to a generation of malfeasance by their transnational ruling class.
From Warsaw westward to Tokyo, voters are pushing back against political-economic arrangements that, they believe, have been disenfranchising them, demanding the loosening of ties to multilateral arrangements as well as radical changes in leadership. In 2016 the U.S. constitutional system proved more responsive than others to this disaffection. Though this has not resulted in anything approaching, or even initiating changes in the way Americans are being governed, never mind a turnover of the ruling class, and although President Donald Trump who is by no means universally popular in America has not departed substantially from his immediate predecessors’ foreign policies, the 2016 election signaled unmistakably that the American people very much want such a departure. Although the ruling classes of Europe knew that the American people don’t think much of them, they looked upon Presidents Clinton and Obama as part and parcel of themselves — socially as well as ideologically. Though George W. Bush had tried to make nice with them, they rejected him immunologically as the choice of the America they dislike. Because Trump campaigned on this America’s behalf and is perceived as being personally sympathetic to it, they dealt with him wearing their sociopolitical Hazmat clothing.
In short, the differences have nothing to do with personalities, and only a little with policies. Rather, they stem from the sociopolitical realities that the leaders and the policies reflect.
Consider the most-quoted line from the conference, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s afterthought: “The times in which we could rely fully on others — they are a way past us. We Europeans really have to take our fate into our own hands.” Trump had said that 23 out of 28 NATO countries’ failure to perform on their commitment to spend at least 2% of GDP on their militaries is “bad, very bad.” Merkel was not bemoaning that fact. She was accusing Trump of some kind of betrayal for bringing it up.
The existing protocol is for Americans to pretend that the Europeans are what they once were and that they will do what they should. The Trump administration hastened to follow it. Thus National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, along with Gary Cohn, wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “We came away with new outcomes for the first time in decades: More allies are stepping up to meet their defense commitments. By asking for more buy-in, we have deepened our relationships.” Neither would bet a dime of their own money on it. They know that neither Merkel nor any of her possible successors, nor the German public, nor those of any other NATO member save Poland have the slightest intention of complying. They, as well as the Europeans, must know that the American people are not any likelier to buy that line from them than they did from previous representatives of the U.S. ruling class.
The second headline from the meeting was newly elected French president Emmanuel Macron’s effort to persuade Trump not to renounce the United States’ unofficial adherence to the 2015 Paris treaty commitments to reduce carbon emissions. Press coverage throughout the world has assumed that the U.S. is a party to that treaty, and that President Trump may personally abrogate it. That, the reverse of the truth, depicts one man as standing in the way of what has become the euro-American ruling class’s environmental religion. Truth is that the U.S. is not party to that treaty because although President Obama signed it, he never submitted it to the U.S. Senate for ratification as required by the U.S. Constitution, and that he did not submit it because of the absolute certainty that the Senate would have rejected it. President Trump could have effectively withdrawn from the treaty simply by submitting it to the Senate. Instead, he effectively ratified Obama’s unconstitutional adherence to it by continuing to abide to its terms during its specified three-year withdrawal process — effectively leaving withdrawal to the next president. Once again, the Trump administration proved far more accommodating to transnational ruling class opinion than the American political system and the American people.
Nevertheless, ruling class opinion on both sides of the Atlantic indicts the Trump administration for insufficient accommodation. The interesting question is, who are these people that we should accommodate them, and what is their problem with Americans?
All at the meeting represented various forms of the class that has ruled Europe since roughly 1970 and against which Europeans are revolting in various ways. France’s Emmanuel Macron has the tepid support of a fourth of his electorate and the passionate disdain of over half. Theresa May, in office because the voters rejected Britain’s Establishment, loses popularity as her party doubles down on Establishmentarianism. Italy’s Paolo Gentiloni tries to hold off elections that his ruling class is certain to lose. Angela Merkel, pilloried by Germans for letting in 1.2 million people they don’t like and who don’t like them, is unafraid of elections only because her opponents favor letting in more. Because few outside of functionaries and party wheel-horses follow their lead, “rulers” or “officials” would be more accurate descriptions of them than “leaders.” As they preside over administrative states, democracy is but a bother. They speak bureaucratese resulting from back door deals. They set long range programs relegated to memory holes long before they bear fruit. Passionately, they believe in nothing. And they know that their peoples, contemptuous of them, long for something else.
Their problem with Americans is that, unlike Europeans we, within living memory, have lived other than as subjects of administrative states. Within living memory, many Americans have lived as self-governing citizens, resent losing that status, and want to return to it. Hence, today’s Americans almost as much as those of times gone by, consider Europeans as less free than we and don’t want to imitate them. Moreover, as Michael Tomasky wrote in the New Republic, “First of all, middle Americans go to church. Not temple. Church. God and Jesus Christ play important roles in their lives.” Not only do Tomasky’s “Liberal Elite” friends consider this to be apostasy from today’s officious secular cult. So do their counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic.
America’s 2016 election struck fear in Europe’s ruling class — fear that something like what is happening in America — which has only begun to happen — is in store for them. That is a reasonable fear and a reasonable explanation for the tensions at the 2017 G7 meeting.