President Joe Biden delivers remarks stressing the United States' commitment to NATO, during a virtual event hosted by the Munich Security Conference on February 19, 2021. 

President Joe Biden delivers remarks stressing the United States' commitment to NATO, during a virtual event hosted by the Munich Security Conference on February 19, 2021.  Getty Images / Anna Moneymaker

In Europe, Biden Hopes to Ease Fears of an American Return to Trumpism

The president will point to America’s actions—and his election—as evidence that the United States can be a trusted partner again.

As President Joe Biden heads to Europe this weekend declaring “America’s back,” he also will try to convince nervous allies that the Donald Trump era in American politics was an unwelcome anomaly that won’t return in two or four years, and that his election and policies are proof positive of it, a top White House advisor said Monday. 

Trump upended America’s approach to global partnerships, including calling NATO “obsolete” and criticizing “delinquent” countries in the alliance who did not invest 2 percent of their gross domestic product in defense. He insulted and picked public fights with leaders of the United States’ closest allies, including the United Kingdom, Canada, France, and Germany. Biden is seeking to show allies that Americans have rejected Trump’s confrontational message and policies. He is promoting a message of unity on his first international trip as president, later this week, at a meeting of G-7 leaders in Cornwall, England, followed by a biennial NATO Summit of heads of state and government, in Brussels.

But for some allies, the memory of Trump and the possibility that American voters could elect politicians with similar world views in the 2022 midterm elections or 2024 presidential election is at the front of their mind, said former diplomat Alexander Vershbow, who has served as NATO deputy secretary general and ambassador to Russia.

“The NATO summit can be viewed as a kind of reset for the transatlantic relations after four turbulent years under Donald Trump,” Vershbow, a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council, said Friday on a press call hosted by the think tank. “The allies are quite relieved that the U.S. has, as they see it, returned to normal. ...But, with that being said, the allies do have lingering concerns about the forces that produced Trump’s election in 2016 and are wondering whether those forces are gone for good or the possibility the U.S. could shift back to a more contentious, more transactional approach to NATO.”

Europe so far has been divided over how to handle the “real” concern that “Trumpian tendencies” could rise again in future election cycles, Vershbow said. While leaders in central and eastern Europe as well as in Germany have tried to increase cooperation with the United States, France has taken a different approach, “saying the U.S. can’t be trusted as much as it used to be, and this is why we must pursue greater strategic autonomy,” he said.  

At a White House briefing on Monday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Biden will use America’s actions over the past five months to show allies that the country has changed, citing America’s progress to stop the COVID-19 pandemic, investment to reverse the economic downturn, and commitment to innovation. 

“Our view going into this trip is that actions speak louder than words,” he said. Pointing to progress the country has made on those issues “will be the most effective way to show the world that the United States has the power and purpose to be able to deliver as the world’s leading democracy. That’s what he’s going to try and demonstrate.”

The election that ousted Trump from the White House was far from a landslide. While Biden beat Trump by at least 7 million votes, the electoral college result could have gone a different way if about 80,000 votes in four states had been cast differently, according to the Washington Post. And, though Democrats won control of the Senate and kept the House, multiple lawmakers with policies and rhetoric similar to Trump were elected to congressional seats, including Republican Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, of Georgia, and Lauren Boebert, of Colorado—both states Biden won. Additionally, House Republicans in May stripped the third-ranking member, Liz Cheney, of Wyoming, from her leadership position for being an outspoken critic of Trump’s divisive politics and conspiracy theories. 

Nearly one-third of Europeans said America can no longer be trusted after electing Trump, according to a poll in January. Close to 20 percent also said they do not trust Americans to make the right choices for their country at the voting box. 

A more recent poll suggests Biden is already making some progress improving the world’s view of Americans. Favorable views of Americans increased an average of 9 points among adults in 14 nations during Biden’s first 100 days, with Germany, Japan and France seeing the biggest change, Morning Consult found in May.

Sullivan said that Biden can continue to reverse those attitudes during his trip by pointing out what America has accomplished in the five months since the president took office, especially with regards to controlling the spread of the coronavirus and helping other countries access vaccines.  

“What President Biden can do is show the rest of the world what American is capable of,” Sullivan said. “That is going to be the best way for people to say, ‘The United States can do this. They can deliver and we will stand up and stand behind them.’”