Der er så meget journalister ikke forstår

Parody of Oddset campaign photo.

There’s a lot I object to in this Berlingske article (“Er der lys i mørket? Europæerne håber på, at den transatlantiske tåge letter, hvis Biden og Harris vinder præsidentvalget”) on Europe’s fervent hope for a Biden victory in November.

The article can be summed up succinctly in a single sentence: “Many European heads of state probably dislike Trump and his treatment of Europe, and almost all of them would probably prefer Biden to Trump.”

That’s the “lys i mørket,” right? The possibility of a Biden presidency?

European leaders presumably want that because they think it would be best for their own countries and for Europe. Because they’re all looking out for number one. Which, ironically enough, is the article’s primary criticism of Donald Trump.

As an American and a Dane, I’m still constantly surprised by Danish journalists’ inability to understand that “transatlantic partnership” doesn’t simply mean America doing what Europe wants it to. When America asks NATO members to invest in defense at the level required by the treaty itself, it’s being unreasonable; when America refuses to sign a treaty it would prefer not to behold itself to, it’s also being unreasonable. When America wants to do something that Europe doesn’t, America’s being selfish and reckless; when Europe wants to do something that America doesn’t, America’s being stubborn and short-sighted.

It’s practically de rigeur for European leaders to turn up their noses at every Republican president, but American presidents of both parties are expected always to treat European heads of state with the doting affection usually reserved for children and puppies.

Consider the following passage :

Merkel var ikke selv til stede, men den tyske kansler fik uden diplomatiske omsvøb at vide, at hvis ikke Tyskland – og alle andre NATO-lande, som ikke levede op til aftalen om at yde mindst to procent af bruttonationalproduktet på det fælles forsvar – snart fremlagde en plan for, hvornår de nåede målet, så ville USA trække styrker ud af de europæiske lande.

»Vi skal ikke blive ved med at betale for andre landes forsvar,« sagde Trump med direkte henvisning til, at Tyskland ikke levede op til kravene.

Is it really so hard to get one’s head around the idea that countries ought not to rely on other countries to defend them? That countries can make all the alliances they like, but that they themselves bear the ultimate responsibility for their own defense? And that if they’re not willing to pay for their own defense, other countries may not see the point in defending them?

Is it so hard to remember that mere weeks ago Denmark was arguing strenuously, along with Austria, the Netherlands, and Sweden, against the EU’s economic recovery plan using essentially the same logic? (“Why should we keep paying for other countries’ careless finances?”)

The best example of this kind of double-standard has to do with the French president:

Macron forsøgte dengang at gøre op med Trumps »America First«-strategi og erklærede nationalismen for død. »Nationalismen er patriotismens modsætning,« lød det fra Macron, hvilket var en kritik af Trumps politiske linje. Siden er forholdet mellem USA og Frankrig også mærkbart kølnet.

The article embeds the relevant tweet:

Macron’s favorable rating in France is lower than Trump’s in America, so maybe he’s not the best choice as the go-to guy for moral preening here. Another way of looking at the same set of facts: “Two years ago Macron took a big public whack at Trump; relations between the countries then cooled. Trump remains the more popular of the two leaders.”

And as for the content, who died and made Emmanuel Macron editor-in-chief of the political dictionary? Here’s an alternative view from Chesterton (from What I Saw in America):

…the normal man is almost always the national man. Patriotism is the most popular of all the virtues. The drier sort of democrats who despise it have the democracy against them in every country in the world. Hence their international efforts seldom go any farther than to effect an international reconciliation of all internationalists. But we have not solved the normal and popular problem until we have an international reconciliation of all nationalists.

In other words: the big international pow-wows like Davos are attended by internationalists who obviously agree on the virtues of internationalism. They have more in common with one another than they do with their own constituents, most of whom are much more concerned with their own neighborhoods than they are with what’s going on eight time zones away. (Not because they’re xenophobic; because they’re human.) Chesterton’s point was that real internationalism isn’t achieved by internationalists coming together to agree with one another on the wonders of internationalism, but by nationalists hammering out hard compromises.

And from his Irish Impressions:

Nationalism is a nobler thing even than patriotism; for nationalism appeals to a law of nations; it implies that a nation is a normal thing, and therefore one of a number of normal things.

If there’s one thing the pandemic ought to have taught us, it’s how silly a proposition it was that national borders were somehow backward and old-fashioned. Border controls popped up in Europe much faster than they did in America, and they were much more severe. Did you hear any of the internationalists crying out in March against the inhumanity of border controls? Against their immorality? Nations have borders because without borders they’re not nations.

Maybe Chesterton had a point (he often did). It’s not so radical, the idea that international agreements made between nations by men who value the interests of internationalism above the interests of nations they’re supposed to represent may not have the same moral authority as international agreements made between nations by men who seek what’s best for their own nations–their nations’ cultures, traditions, and values. You may wish to have a lawyer represent you in a legal matter, but you’d be a fool to think he was ever putting your interests above his own, and he’d be a bigger fool to do so. People’s interests are their own, always.

Whether you prefer Chesterton to Macron is up to you, but let’s at least acknowledge that the Macronian definitions of patriotism and nationalism, and their relative strengths and weaknesses, are hardly settled science.

Why do I dwell on this? Because it’s this kind of appeal to authority I find so shallow and stupid in almost all European coverage of America: this particular European leader said this, and therefore it’s a good point; this Republican president said that, and therefore it’s silly nonsense. It would do us all a world of good if journalists would drop the tribal cheerleading and evaluate the actual arguments on their merits.

My impression is that Kristian Mouritzen, the author of the Berlingske piece, wants to inform us that there was a rift between the French and American presidents on philosophical principles. That’s fine. But he could have set those principles out before us instead of stating Macron’s and then moving on as though there could be no question as to its rightness. What if Macron, the more unpopular of the two, had got hold of the wrong end of the stick? What if—and this is such heresy I almost hate to say it out loud—what if Trump was right?

What if it’s a head of state’s job to prioritize the interests of his own country above those of other nations?

After all, I’ve never heard Macron express much interest in the impact of French policy on American citizens. Has the man a heart of stone?

Why doesn’t Sweden consult with Denmark before making any important decisions? (Looking at you, Barsebäck Nuclear Power Plant.) Why doesn’t Ireland? Or Mongolia?

Consider Mouritzen’s conclusion:

Men Danmarks tidligere udenrigsminister Per Stig Møller (K) udtrykte det meget klart i et interview med Berlingske for et par uger siden, da han blev spurgt om, hvad der skulle til for at få USA tilbage på transatlantisk kurs.

»At Biden bliver valgt,« som han sagde. Men som forhenværende kan han også tillade sig at sige det, andre europæiske ledere tænker i disse dage.

Så mange europæiske ledere holder vejret frem til valget i november. Fire år mere med Trump? Eller Biden/Harris? Man kan ikke udelukke, at andre tænker ligesom Per Stig Møller.

If others are thinking, like the former udenrigsminister, that it’s best for Europe if Biden wins the election, aren’t they thinking rather selfishly? Isn’t that “bad” Macronian nationalism, putting the needs of Europe over those of America? Is that any different than Trump thinking about what’s best for America?

If so, how?

And as someone who loves both his countries, ought I not to prefer candidates from both who say “I will do what’s best for us” over those who say, “I will do what they say is best for us?”