"THERE’S something dangerous happening in America now.” These were the words of President Joe Biden during a recent speech in Arizona where he was honouring his friend, the late Republican senator, John McCain.

Biden’s remarks were meant to be a wake-up call to the ever-growing threats to US democracy which he identified as the Make America Great Again (MAGA) “extremist movement” of Donald Trump. According to Biden, MAGA right now is what “drives” and “intimidates” today’s Republican Party.

It’s difficult not to agree with Biden’s blunt assessment, just as he is right in saying that his predecessor was not guided by the US Constitution or decency but by “vengeance and vindictiveness”.

While it would be comforting to think that things have changed for the better since those heady and dangerous days when Trump was in power, nothing could be further from the truth. Arguably, if anything, the United States is entering what will likely be one of its most testing political periods of modern times as it heads into the 2024 presidential election.

The National: Former president Donald Trump (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, POOL)

Even with arrests and indictments piling up, Trump (above) through his bullish rhetoric and actions is showing that his menace to US democracy has not waned during his exile from power.

The chauvinist leanings of a president with little regard for diplomatic principles caused plenty of grief the first time around. But that was before war broke out in Europe as it has since with Russia’s war on Ukraine. Now the prospect of a Trump reboot or a variant from the same political mould gaining office has everyone’s teeth on edge. The bottom line here is that if Trump or one of his other Republican pretenders to the White House wins, then trouble is coming and not just to America – Europe will not escape the fallout. Like a rabbit caught in the headlights, Europe with discomfiting complacency, appears to be simply watching and waiting rather than making contingency plans to help offset that fallout.

So horrifying is the prospect of a Trump – or equivalent – rerun it’s as if the thought is too much for the EU to contemplate even as it has its own vote scheduled for the spring of 2024 to refresh its current 705-seat parliament. This all-pervasive sense of dread is especially sharp when Europe considers how the various Republican presidential candidates differ in their foreign policy approaches. While such approaches remain very much shaped by opposition to the incumbent Democratic administration, it still matters a great deal whether Trump, Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, Mike Pence, or some other Republican occupies the White House. That very point was made in a report published earlier this year by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) one of the few to flag up the potential dangers to Europe presented by Trumpism rebooted.

“For most EU member states, the European alliance with the United States has long been the central feature of their foreign and security policy,” the report reminded.

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“But the tumult of the Trump administration and the more polite foreign policy revolution of the early Biden administration have demonstrated beyond any doubt that the old world that America made – and the old bargain that it struck with Europe – will not long persist,” the ECFR report concluded. If European political leaders are edgy so too it would seem are the citizens of their respective countries. In a recent Transatlantic Trends 2023 public opinion survey conducted by the American policy think tank the German Marshall Fund, the findings revealed a transatlantic disconnect in public perception that could not be starker.

While six in 10 Americans (59%) think the US will lead the world in 2028, Washington’s leading allies far from share that view. Only a third of the British (35%), less than a third of the Germans (31%) and only a quarter of the French (25%) express faith in future US leadership.

Overwhelmingly, it would appear, Europeans do not trust American democracy. How interesting it would be to see the further breakdown of those figure as it relates to those of us here in Scotland.

The National: Emmanuel Macron will reportedly welcome Sir Keir Starmer to Paris in the coming days (Carl Court/PA)

If as many agree, the spectre of Trump’s return is haunting Europe, then knowing what to do about it is something else again. Few doubt that should he return to the White House what we would likely see – hard as it is to imagine – would be a supercharged political version even more radical and flaky than before. In the longer term, a second Trump term might see Europeans lean towards the “strategic autonomy” from the US that France’s president Emmanuel Macron (above) has long called for. But that kind of shift would be protracted and expensive and Europe is short of both time and cash right now given its commitment to supporting Ukraine among other things.

Whether Trump will win next year’s election is of course still unclear. There are those who simply dismiss it outright – as much through wishful thinking perhaps than a sober take on the real possibility.

What’s pretty much certain is that any future Republican president would likely shift American policy regarding the EU, prompting fears of a U-turn on everything from military support to Ukraine or tackling climate change to escalating the ongoing geopolitical standoff with China. For all these reasons and more, 2024 is going to be a very important year for US-EU relations.

“America is back, diplomacy is back” was Biden’s message in his first major foreign policy speech after winning the last US election.

Since then his administration has worked hard to reverse Trump’s “America First” policies even if it has been unable to salvage all the treaties including the nuclear deal with Iran.

President Biden was right in his recent speech when he warmed that, “there’s something dangerous happening in America now”. But that danger is nothing compared to what a full-blown return of Trump would mean and entail.

Many might scoff at such a prospect, but senior European political decision-makers themselves have since admitted that they were caught unprepared by Trump’s election as president in 2016.

Some say they are determined not to make the same mistake again and here’s hoping they mean what they say. But it must be said there’s precious little evidence of it so far.