The world has entered a new era with Friday’s inauguration in Washington. Only time can tell what sort of era that will be. Are we witnessing the start of a conservative nationalistic renewal leading to moral and economic recovery, as many enthusiastic evangelical presidential supporters believe? Or the birth of the Banana Republic of the USA, under an authoritarian leader with the temperament of a South American dictator, as other concerned evangelical detractors fear?
Prior to the ceremony, evangelical supporters attended events where prayers were offered for God to anoint the new White House incumbent to be a wrecking ball of media and academic strongholds; and where Nehemiah, called by God to build a wall despite attacks from critics, was upheld as inspiration.
For those with doubts about the new chief executive’s ability to unite a divided nation, however, the inauguration speech itself gave plenty of reason for concern. Does the president have the necessary competence and character traits of humility, respect and compassion to give the nation a fresh start? Wrecking is easy and quick. Building requires united effort and time.
So now we have to accept the new realities. What does this mean for us in Europe?
The post-war era has ended. The 45th President has broken precedent with the core beliefs guiding his predecessors since World War Two: that America’s closest allies are democracies, that global free trade is best both for US prosperity and the common global good, and that a strong, united Europe is crucial for America’s security.
In short, Pax Americana is over. We have to get used to the idea of the man in the Oval Office actively undermining European unity. After predicting that this is the year the EU will implode and proposing that Nigel Farage be the British ambassador in Washington, he will first meet the British PM, showing his support of Brexit. Then he plans to meet with his alter ego from the Kremlin.
While the prospect of a reversal in US abortion laws may be welcomed by Christians the world over, the ‘America First’ package threatens to wreck the framework of international relations based on law, freedom, dignity and solidarity.
Rather incongruously, Psalm 133 was quoted during the inauguration speech: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity.” Obviously the speaker was not thinking of the peoples of Europe. Yet I often use this verse myself to describe a vision of the kind of Europe God would like, what Robert Schuman envisioned as a ‘community of peoples deeply rooted in Christian values’.
Sadly, the EU falls short of this vision. But should we blame ‘secularist elites’ for that? Who can expect them to promote Christian values? Who can and should, if not Christians? So who has failed? Is the proper response to give up and withdraw? or to engage in the battle for Europe’s soul? This is what Jacques Delors pleaded for with spiritual leaders back in 1992, to help recover a soul for Europe; otherwise he warned the game would be over within a decade. Even though we are well past his deadline, we must not give up.
Perhaps it helps to view this upheaval as shock therapy for Europe. Something good could come out of it.
Is this what it will take for Europe’s leaders to find more common ground, caught between the threats from both the Kremlin and the new Washington? It certainly has forced revision of defence budgets and alternatives to a NATO branded as an ‘obsolete organisation’ by the new commander-in-chief. Europe will have to learn to defend her own borders. Already France, Germany, Sweden, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland are among the countries raising their defence spending. Brexit now allows the development of a European Defence Action Plan involving defence integration, previously consistently vetoed by the UK.
Praise of Putin and criticism of Merkel has been met with incredulity in Europe, east and west. For the former KGB officer has morphed democratic institutions into an ‘elected authoritarianism’, using a humiliated nationalism to build his popular support–a tactic not lost on his American admirer. The attacks on the German chancellor threaten to unsettle the existing balance between Germany and the other European nations. European unity has been essential for post-war Germany to re-establish her place in the community of nations. But now a protectionist and isolationist US will force a very reluctant Germany into the leadership of the free world.
Merkel needs our prayer support in this new role. As do all our leaders, democratic and authoritarian. After all, Paul instructed his readers to pray for the authoritarian leaders of his day, so that the ‘soft powers’ of the gospel–love, truth and justice–could prevail.
Concerned about Europe’s future? Join us in Brussels on the fourth Saturday of each month until June, starting this coming Saturday, in the European Studies Course, exploring Europe’s past, present and future from biblical perspectives. Or plan now to join the Masterclass in European Studies, August 1-6, in Brussels.
Till next week,