When Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel meets later today with President Donald Trump, she will for the first time come face to face with her absolute opposite.
• Merkel is modest. Trump is bombastic.
• Merkel is pragmatic. Trump is dramatic.
• Merkel is consistent. Trump is mercurial.
• Merkel is an internationalist. Trump is a nationalist.
• Merkel is a Europeanist. Trump is an America firster.
• Merkel is a steadier. Trump is a disrupter.
• Merkel is incremental. Trump is radical.
• Merkel is a collaborator. Trump is a loner.
• Merkel is a conflict avoider. Trump is a conflict trigger.
• Merkel came of age in East Germany, in a communist system. Trump came of age in New York, in a capitalist system.
• Merkel’s personal history includes a father who was a ruminative pastor. Trump’s personal history includes a father who was an aggressive developer.
Notwithstanding the extreme differences between them, and notwithstanding Trump’s charge that Merkel was “ruining Germany” (because of her liberal immigration policy), the Chancellor will do what she can to smooth relations between her and the American president. Which is to say between the United States and Germany, between the United States and the European Union, and between the United States and NATO.
America’s chief executive is not now leader of the liberal world order. His immediate predecessor, Barack Obama, largely eschewed the task, thereby contributing to the president’s declining role on the global stage. Trump, in turn, is completely unequipped to play the part. His experience in foreign policy approximates zero. His expertise in foreign policy approximates zero. And his commitment to the Department of State and, apparently, to his Secretary of State also approximate zero. Moreover, to the degree that Trump has a coherent foreign policy, he is a deviant. As Walter Russell Mead writes in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, “For the first time in 70 years, the American people have elected a president who disparages the policies, ideas, and institutions at the heart of post war U.S. foreign policy.”
Ergo the leader of the liberal world order: Angela Merkel. Is there anyone else to fill the post? If so, the name escapes me. Of course, Merkel has her own pile of problems: Russia’s belligerence, Turkey’s outrageousness, Britain’s recalcitrance, France’s electoral uncertainty, Italy’s financial instability, Greece’s financial crisis, terrorists, refugees. Not to speak of her domestic concerns, which, politically, are more considerable now than they were. Until recently Merkel was a shoo-in for a fourth term as Chancellor. But, again, largely because of her policy on immigration, her popularity is diminished and her electoral prospects less assured.
Still, for the moment Merkel is on a mission. She is in the United States to make peace with the president and, in so far as she possibly can, to get his support for that which she has long held dear, the European project. A Europe that is centrist – and more united than divided.