One of the pleasant things about the very best Dutch cafés is that most of them subscribe to a dozen or more newspapers from all over western Europe. It was thanks to this amenity that I became aware, soon after moving to Amsterdam from New York in the late 1990s, of the European media’s poisonous hatred for the United States. In the eyes of almost all European journalists, I discovered, America was a land of illiterates, cretins, racists, xenophobes, warmongers.
And that was under Bill Clinton. It got even worse under George W. Bush. To be sure, on the day after 9⁄11 a few editorialists took the “We Are All Americans” line, but others enjoyed the opportunity to spit at the victims of Ground Zero, declaring that America had asked for it. Swedish author Jan Guillou cheered the strike on “U.S. imperialism.” Norwegian author Gert Nygårdshaug sneered at somebody’s concern that the next target might be in Europe: Muslims, he explained, hate Americans, and with good reason; for Europeans, however, they had nothing but goodwill.
The Afghanistan war further intensified the European media’s anti-Americanism; and the Iraq war took it up yet another notch. Newspapers all over the continent accused Bush of terrorism, equated him with Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein (or said he was worse than either of them), derided him as a puppet of Israel, depicted Guantánamo as the ninth circle of hell, and called for an end to the Atlantic alliance. “It is not easy to know whom one should believe in this world of Bushmen and Saddamists,” wrote an editor at Norway’s Dagsavisen, “where the truth is for sale and friends can hardly be distinguished from enemies.”
Then, one day, the anti-Americanism almost completely vanished from the European media. The date: November 4, 2008. Americans elected Barack Obama president, and suddenly America wasn’t so terrible after all.
Part of the reason for the shift was, quite simply, shock. For a long time, a core belief of the European media had been that the overwhelming majority of white Americans were racist cavemen. How to make sense of the fact that millions of them had voted to put a black man in the White House? European journalists couldn’t make sense of it.
But they knew one thing: they loved Obama. They had to love Obama. And they had to love him even more than Americans did – even more, indeed, than American journalists did. Because if they didn’t, they’d be the racists. (Of course, the fact that they thought this way made one thing crystal clear: they were racists, the whole lot of them.)
In any event, for eight years, the presence of a black man in the Oval Office not only made it impossible for the European media to criticize him; it made them hesitate to go after America itself, at least in the take-no-prisoners way they’d been accustomed to. Guantánamo remained open, and Obama’s policies helped make the Middle East even more destabilized and dangerous and led to the creation of ISIS. But you’d hardly have known it if you read the European press.
It must have hurt, having their hands tied like that for so long.
Well, now their hands are untied, and – with a few scattered exceptions – they’re making up for lost time with a vengeance. As much as they loved Obama – well, that’s how much they hate Trump. Most of them hate him even more, and clobber him even more brutally, than the majority of the American media do. No, maybe that’s not possible. But they sure do hate him. One reason, surely, is that they know that Trump’s victory has helped boost the prospects of Geert Wilders, Marine Le Pen, and others who – riding on waves of unease about the EU and Islam – seek to replicate the Donald’s triumph in their own countries.
So it was that, on January 21, a writer for Spain’s El Mundo compared Trump to Chance, the retarded gardener in the 1979 movie Being There who becomes a top White House adviser; over at that country’s other big paper, El _País,_ a commentator called his inauguration an “exhibition of male, white, privileged power.” While one piece in Denmark’s Politiken was headlined “Obama was a magnificent president,”another spoke darkly of “TrumPutinism.” Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter contrasted Trump, “the wicked troll,” with Justin Trudeau, the “fairy-tale prince.”
A Le Monde editorial snickered that while Obama “leaves power with an approval rating that his successor can only envy,” Trump is “a devotee of dystopia” who has “never felt constrained…by the facts” and the brevity of whose inaugural address “testifies to an obstinate denial of the complexity of the world.” (In fact, Trump’s inaugural address was two words longer than George Washington’s first, 1,298 words longer than Washington’s second, and more than twice as long as Lincoln’s second.) Also, Trump, in Le Monde’s view, fails to recognize the “roots” of jihadism. (The problem here, I daresay, is that Trump grasps the “roots” of jihad all too clearly for Le Monde ’s comfort.)
Then there was Morten Strand, who in Norway’s Dagbladet called Trump a liar, then strung together a series of flat-out lies about Trump, then mocked him for accusing the press of lying about him. Strand sneered that Trump had “gone bankrupt four times on foolhardy ventures” (as if Trump were a pauper and not a staggeringly successful builder). Strand actually headlined his screed “Mr. Me Is President” – this about a man who, in his inaugural address, used a first-person singular pronoun only three times and the word “we” 46 times, whereas Obama, in his farewell address, said “I,” “me,” “my,” or “mine” no fewer than 67 times. After Trump’s first day, Ole Moen, “one of Norway’s leading U.S. experts,” told VG that Trump “creates his own reality” and “surrounds himself with lies.” (This is the same “expert” who, pre-Obama, wrote that Americans were too racist to ever elect a black President.) Fellow “expert” Svein Melby agreed: Trump “lives in his own world.”
Accompanying all the Trump-hate in the European media is a newly resurrected contempt for the nation that elected him. To be sure, many are still so busy trashing Trump that they haven’t yet gotten around to sticking the shiv into America generally; others are so far content merely to slam Trump’s supporters as “uneducated” and “racist” while holding up Clinton’s higher popular-vote total as evidence that most Americans remain on the side of the angels. (Ines Pohl of Deutsche Welle, for example, blamed Clinton’s loss to a “demagogue” on “an antiquated electoral system.”) But others have quickly picked up the America-bashing where they left off in 2008 – and as Obama fades even further into history, more and more of them, I suspect, will climb back onto that saddle again.
Just check out Strand’s Dagbladet colleague Marie Simonsen, who revealed her own ignorance about Obamacare in what was apparently meant to be a gibe about American stupidity: “It has begun to dawn on some [American] voters that what they thought was the work of the Devil is the same thing as the public health insurance they are grateful for and dependent upon.” In VG, Rune Berglund Steen wrote that American racism played a “central role” in Trump’s election. In Aftonbladet, a Swedish daily, Karin Petterson agreed, charging that “there’s something fundamentally wrong with…a country” that could elect “a lying, misogynistic half-person [sic] with delusions of grandeur…a bully who hugs racists and mocks weakness…a corrupt madman.” Though the masterly Obama, according to Petterson, “saved the U.S. and world economy in 2009,” even he “was unable to cure the greater trends that are tearing the country apart” – those trends, naturally, being resurgent “racism and hatred.”
In short, the same electorate that put a black man in the White House is, somehow, racist again. The same voters who twice anointed a demigod have now opted for Satan himself. Needless to say, a big part of the reason why Trump won is that Obama didn’t save the economy. And if there are racial tensions, it’s almost entirely because Obama inflamed them, viciously stoking the victimization culture and racializing absolutely everything he touched.
Not that racial tensions are really tearing America apart: that’s an overstatement, and what Obama has damaged can, fortunately, be fixed. But one place that is actually going down the tubes – and is probably well beyond fixing – is Pettersson’s own country, Sweden. It’s on its way out precisely because she and other cultural-elite types refuse to face up to the very problems Trump has called out and has vowed to address. It’s a country where the media, including her own paper Aftonbladet, systematically whitewash the horrific impact of Islam on their society. And many other western European countries, thanks to their own craven elites, are not terribly far behind Sweden on the path to utter self-immolation.
But hey, don’t waste your time trying to explain any of that to the European media. They’re back on the warpath against America. And this time they’ll likely be more vitriolic than ever, driven by an alarm that the Trump revolt may soon be duplicated in their own backyard.