Tuesday, November 1, 2016
The nightmare before election day
The theme of our office Halloween Party was Trump. It wasn't my choice, but rather the others find him both amusing and scary like a schlock horror movie. My wife asked me to play a clip from SNL's Cold Open on the debates to warm up the evening, so to speak, but it fell flat. As funny as Baldwin is, he doesn't project the same menacing glare of Trump, which was what the others wanted to see.
One of my colleagues actually likes Trump. Early in the campaign, he thought Trump would be good for Lithuania. I had told him that Trump has no plans on backing NATO's long-standing agreement to come to the aid of its fellow members and that he expects countries to pull their own weight. For most Lithuanians this is a real concern, as the country shares a border with Russia's nuclear naval base, Kaliningrad. No matter, my colleague just kept quiet after that.
Trump projects a strange sort of magnetism abroad, not just at home. Love him or hate him, he is very compelling. So much so that a local artist chose to revise the famous Brezhnev-Honecker kiss to include Trump and Putin. It has been painted over at least twice by vandals, but no matter the mural is now world famous.
However, most Europeans are deeply troubled by Trump. They went through this once before with George W. Bush, who tried to divide the continent into "New Europe" and "Old Europe," pursuing bilateral agreements with the former Eastern Bloc countries ("New Europe") to allow for renditions at black sites in several Eastern European countries including Lithuania. The EU thought the US had washed this bad taste out of its mouth, but the halitosis has proven endemic.
Trump, like Bush before, projects all the worst qualities of "America" in the eyes of Europeans. Some find it amusing, as it reinforces their low opinions of the United States. Others find it appalling as it calls into question our long standing friendship over the years. There is a bond between Europe and America that stretches back 500 years, longer if you include the Vikings, and it is one that most Europeans value.
As the 2008 banking crisis amply illustrated, that bond is also economic. Europeans were just as hard hit by the crisis as were Americans. AIG insured many of the leading European banks. Iceland was the first to tumble, but soon all the other European countries found themselves in dire straits. The crisis hit the Eastern European countries the hardest because they had much less in the way of financial reserves. Foreign investment dried up virtually overnight. Lithuania was particularly hard hit, taking all of the last eight years to pull out of this painful economic recession. Only last year were pensioners refunded for the money they lost due to austerity measures, which were imposed by the parliament, under pressure from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in order to receive badly needed government loans.
Trump promises pretty much the same economic policy that led to the crisis, so Europeans are understandably very worried about him. Some countries have tried to gird themselves against a possible Trump administration, but there is little one can really do as the EU-US economies are inextricably connected. All Europeans can hope for is that clearer heads will prevail next Tuesday.
One of my colleagues stuck wooden food picks into the jack o-lantern, hoping it would cast a bad spell on Trump. Soon others did the same, hoping to send their ill will his way. All except one, who just smiled at the folly.