The closeness of the race, though, leaves a nagging fear that the world has not seen the last of Trump. Like an allegorical monster, he remains wounded but out there, lurking, ready to wreak his revenge. Even if he does not reemerge from the bushes himself to claim victory in the courts or, indeed, to try again in 2024, his dogma remains. That Trump got as close as he did in the midst of a pandemic and a global recession means that Trumpism remains defiantly alive. For the world, this is of fundamental importance: Protection is required.
Another conclusion for world leaders is that whatever happens to Trump and Trumpism over the next few weeks and years, the causes of their rise, and the issues they have identified, have certainly not gone away. Yes, these leaders believe, Trump was, and perhaps will be again, a fundamentally malign, ignorant, and dangerous president, but he was not the cause of the structural problem at the heart of the U.S.’s relationship with the world. I spoke with dozens of diplomats, officials, and aides in the U.S. and Europe in the run-up to the election, most of whom expected a Biden victory, and many of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomatic issues. Almost all accepted that serious questions about America’s role in the world would not go away just because Trump was dethroned. The fact that the election was closer than they had expected only confirms this conclusion.
“The old politics is over,” one senior aide to a European leader told me before the election. It was a message that was repeated back to me again and again, particularly by those more skeptical of the transformative powers of a Biden presidency. Over the past four years, a muscle memory has developed in Berlin, Paris, Brussels, and London of how to work not just with American power, but against it, on issues such as climate change and trade. Less antagonistically, but just as important, I was told that America’s allies had also learned how to work in the space left open by Washington’s indifference, whether dealing with the crisis in Belarus, facing up to Turkish maneuverings in the Mediterranean, or managing the devastation in Lebanon.