When the incumbent U.S. President Donald Trump wins the race again on Nov. 3, an era will come to an end in which Europe and Germany, despite the declared hostility of Trump, still relied heavily on the U.S. But even if Joe Biden wins, America, upon which we have depended since the end of World War II, will be a thing of the past.
Trump stands for erratic power politics. The fact that he thus targeted allies is due to his short-sighted, zero-sum thinking: The U.S. only wins if the others lose. He declared Germany an enemy and put us under pressure in terms of trade, foreign and security policy. He would also swing the wrecking ball in a second term in order to get rules and order structures out of the way. Germany and the EU are not sufficiently prepared for this.
The basic parameters of German foreign policy in the post-war period — a close trans-Atlantic relationship, and international order structures based on Western values — would be gone. Trump would also further split the EU through which Germany shapes its foreign policy. His support for Brexit and the dealings with Central and Eastern Europe show this. Germany would have to change course, for example in the area of defense and security, and significantly increase its European commitment.
For Biden, however, what counts is international law and the mediation power of international organizations. He would stop the destruction of the World Trade Organization and the United Nations. He would expect more engagement from his allies in Europe, especially in NATO. In the power struggle with China, the Democrats also see the Europeans clearly on the side of the U.S.
Balancing relations with both sides would become increasingly difficult for Germany, even with a Democrat in the White House. Biden’s foreign policy engagement would, however, be significantly limited by the domestic political situation in the U.S. The country is deeply divided — economically, socially and politically.
Trump is a symptom of deeper structural problems. The COVID-19 pandemic is further exacerbating inequalities in the U.S. This social explosive will challenge American democracy. Trump’s dealings with those who think differently, his countless attacks on the media, his hundreds of lies spread from the highest office of the land, the mobilization of highly violent racists: All of this damages the foundation of democracy and — significantly — the credibility of the U.S. in the world.
Biden is seen as a possible president who could make the U.S. again the leader of those nations that share the norms of the rule of law, democracy and liberalism, and who wants to help contain global problems such as climate change and pandemics. The world needs this leadership role because no state, not even a European one, can fill this gap at this point in time.
However, Biden’s election victory would not be a guaranteed end to the U.S. withdrawal. Trump’s supporters would do anything to keep the failed autocrat’s agenda alive — on the streets, in Congress and in the U.S. Supreme Court. That is why Europe, regardless of who wins, must stand up for its values and interests much more internationally as a proactive partner for President Biden.