If you somehow missed it, Donald Trump met with Angela Merkel on Friday, March 17th. However, if you watched the news or took a peek on the internet, you can be excused for thinking that the meeting consisted of a short press conference and the most awkward photo op in the history of international diplomacy.
While the media had a field day with the President sitting there, refusing to look at Merkel and pretending not to hear her suggestion that they shake hands for the cameras, there was more to the meeting than the snub.
For starters, Trump managed to prove immediately that he does not understand the economic relationship between America and Germany. He gave Germany credit for “doing very well in its trade deals with the U.S.,” before going on to say, “Virtually every country we do business with – it’s not good for our workers. We’ve been treated unfairly and that’s going to stop.”
Never mind that implicit in the statement is the accusation that Germany somehow swindled their way into a trade deal that was bad for America- which violates the basic economic principle that trade deals only occur between two mutually benefitting parties, and that trade deals which don’t adhere to this principle are called reparations or indemnities- it also demonstrates that Trump doesn’t understand how the European Union works.
The EU negotiates trade deals unilaterally, as in all 28 member states negotiate as a block, and therefore no direct trade deals exist between the U.S. and Germany. Merkel was quick to point this out to the President, who ignored her and plowed on with his prepared statement. A statement which also featured this little gem about NATO, “Many nations owe vast sums of money from past years and it is very unfair to the United States. These nations must pay what they owe.”
He added: “During our meeting, I thanked Chancellor Merkel for the German government’s commitment to increase defense spending and work toward contributing at least 2% of GDP.” (via The Guardian)
While it is true that the U.S. shoulders a higher percentage of NATO’s cost than most other member states, those costs are seen by most security experts as being in the U.S.’s interest. According to a former U.S. representative at NATO, Ivo Daalder, “the US decides for itself how much it contributes to defending NATO. This is not a financial transaction, where NATO countries pay the US to defend them. It is part of our treaty commitment.”
While these faux pas do not look good for the administration, they hardly constitute news anymore. The President makes errors like this daily, and as much fun as it is for me to track them, I can’t expect anyone to take notice or for them to characterize this meeting as anything more than a notch in Trump’s belt of blundering failures. But the meeting meant more than that, it was important.
It was important because it marked the baton pass between the Presidency of the United States and the Chancellorship of Germany for the title of ‘leader of the free world.' (How’s that for a buried lead?) Angela Merkel emerged from that meeting looking like the level headed, responsible leader that Western liberalism needs now.
While opinions may differ on this, Merkel has demonstrated all the qualities that I look for in a leader when pinioning myself to the umbrella of the ‘free world.' We have to take into consideration that it is not only her political acumen, but also the moral and intellectual qualities she demonstrates, that make her my new world leader.
Make no mistake – this is all Trump’s doing. He has proven himself to be so inept, deluded and morally reprehensible that this shift was all but forced on Merkel, who leads Europe’s strongest economy and by extension the second largest economic unit in the world.
Under her leadership, the German economy has steadily prospered for the last fifteen years, projecting 0.4% in the first quarter of 2017. While that might not seem like a lot, Germany’s growth has surpassed a percentage point consistently since 2010 when most other world economies were floundering or celebrating minor increases. Skeptics might chalk that up to happenstance, but writing off the Chancellor’s stewardship seems, to me at least, incorrect.
Beyond her economic savvy, Merkel has defined her administration by being a consensus-driven centrist. She is Germany’s longest-serving chancellor, the first woman to hold the position and is often referred to in German media as ‘Mutti,' or ‘Mom’ in English. While in America the connotation of ‘mom’ might be different, it is meant as a term of endearment and respect by her countrymen, a nickname earned for sobriety and level-headedness.
She has successfully navigated the economic crisis in the Eurozone, has been Putin’s harshest critic and the advocate of the most staunch sanctions against him, has decried the invasion of Ukraine since the beginning, has done more to alleviate the Syrian refugee crisis than any other world leader, and has done so with a quiet dignity that I would have never celebrated until Trump’s election.
The manner in which she conducts the affairs of state is not insignificant. Merkel’s humble adherence to her principles, the transparency of her government, and the constant practical application of free-market liberal principles has earned her a deserved position of reverence. She is embarrassingly more equipped to navigate the subtleties of international diplomacy, to garner respect from foreign leaders and is more open to a global society than Trump at his best, big-boy serious posturing.
She functions as a better anchor and figurehead for those of us that wish the world to come together. She resists protectionism and isolation at every turn. Angela Merkel is the kind of leader that those who wax poetic about old school American values dream about.
So, Mutti, I hope you are ready for the rest of the world to look to you for guidance. We aren’t getting it from anywhere else right now, and we need to believe things can get better.