Donald Trump is the exact opposite of John F. Kennedy. And, as with every opposite, there are some things in common. The first of these is Kennedy’s and Trump’s direct relationships with the public, which make them populist presidents, and having made careers in television more than in Congress or the Senate. But while Kennedy did his best to promote the positive aspects of the American spirit, Trump does his best to promote its negative aspects. The curious thing is that both of them reached the presidency against overwhelming odds.
Kennedy’s slogan was “The New Frontier.” A country like his, built by wagons seeking to colonize the West, was thrilled by such a notion. Conversely, what Trump does is close borders and prevent the arrival of new immigrants, which is shocking if one thinks about the fact that every American has a more or less distant ancestor who was an immigrant. Nevertheless, they voted for him. There is no trace of Kennedy’s “Alliance for Progress,” and even less remains of the jewel in the crown, having fought in Europe twice in order to free it from its worst instincts. While Kennedy felt at ease in Paris, in London and in Berlin, Trump does not hide his discomfort towards these countries, and prefers relating to enemies such as Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong Un. A photograph of Trump with arms crossed and surrounded by European leaders stalking him, is telling. It could even be argued that the current American president stands for values that are opposite to those of his country, and the fact that he has trouble not just with his own Republican Party but also with his administration – of which a number of members have been fired – corroborates this. Yet they voted for him, and his approval rating remains steady. There must be something about him, and anyone who approaches the U.S. can feel it.
The American people are angry, and with good reason. They work harder than Europeans, they earn less, their social security is rudimentary, and their burdens are increasing. And they have been saddled, not only with the security of Europe, but of the world, despite the fact that that security blows up on many occasions. Their defense budget is equivalent to that of the 12 countries whose budgets follow behind. They have had enough, and Trump has managed to capitalize on that frustration. They demand more from allies, from rivals, from everybody, and this is when we realize that they have not voted for Trump. They have voted against everyone else. The problem is that his policy against everything and everyone – from climate change to tariff rates – may lead us to disaster. For those wars have no winners, just losers. Hence, we Europeans would be well advised to take Trump seriously, not as a transient aberration in history and in American politics, but as the logical outcome of having carried the weight of global nobility for far too long.