It was awkward. It was really, superbly awkward. Donald J. Trump, technically the president of the United States, hosted German chancellor Angela Merkel for a White House visit this week, and it went about as well as you could expect for an in-person meeting
with yet another foreign leader Trump has trash-talked.
The two met at the front of the White House where they shook hands.
Trump, known for his forceful grab-and-pull routine when it comes to physically greeting someone, smiled and led her inside, but once the two were sitting in the Oval Office for a photo op, it happened.
The press in the room called for a handshake. Merkel said something along the lines of, “They want to have a handshake.”
Trump, not looking at the leader of the next most powerful country in the West, continued to tap his fingers together looking more like a disgruntled child than a president. He refused to shake her hand.
Cold War? More like cold shoulder.
Sure, it’s possible Trump didn’t hear anybody in the room calling for a handshake. Unlikely, but possible. And yet, this wasn’t the first time he had been in this scenario.
Trump has hosted British Prime Minister Theresa May, Canadian PM Justin Trudeau and Japanese PM Shinzo Abe among others. Each time Trump followed protocol by offering a friendly shake of the hand.
Not this time. This time Trump sat in a manner in which body language experts widely interpreted as icy hostility. It was an interaction that represented the wide-ranging differences between the two.
Merkel is widely respected for her progressive views and reforms and opened Germany’s borders to the refugees who needed, well, refuge. A former research scientist with a degree in physics and a doctorate in quantum chemistry, Merkel has the intelligence, calmness and demeanor of a leader of a first-world country. The only Europeans who don’t like Merkel happen to be the ones in favor of Trump and imitators such as Marine Le Pen.
Trump, on the other hand, is a con artist of a businessman who worked his way into a role as a reality TV star before capitalising on Russian interference to snag the US presidency. Despite showing progressive leanings his whole life, Trump now puts forth a pseudo-conservative, near-isolationist, America-first strategy that clashes with America’s past role as beacon for progressivism and welcoming of any and all who feel persecuted. He has repeatedly hurt American diplomacy with other nations and continued to do so in his meeting with Merkel.
During his meeting with Merkel, Trump continued to express his dislike for immigration and again threatened American reluctance to defend NATO.
Trump took to Twitter after the meeting to say that Germany and other countries “owed” America for NATO support.
That’s really not how it works.
It is suggested that every NATO country pays 2 percent of its GDP to NATO by 2024, but there is no exchange of funds between countries, and many countries are working towards
Germany, for instance, pays 1.2 percent of its GDP. Not enough, but Merkel just pushed through a defense spending increase that continues the trek toward the goal.
Trump has consistently blasted NATO and the European Union, but what he doesn’t understand is the detriment in eliminating the two post-World War II alliances. Before the alliances, Europe was constantly at war. In the Slavic states to the east, it still is. That is because each country is not a state held together by a central government and they don’t want to be. The cultures are too different. The people are too proud.
America needs a stable Europe and has the money to support NATO as it has been and is currently doing with just over 3 percent of its GDP contributed.
For Germany in particular, Trump is missing what Merkel’s country does well and what it has done for America.
Trump is right about one thing. Germany gets a far better deal in trades with a reported $70 billion trade surplus with the United States. But the country, known for something Trump loves (manufacturing), has invested in America and created 670,000 jobs on this side of the Atlantic.
Germany’s trade training is also something Trump would be keen to emulate since Germany values skilled labor and has a system in place to ensure they are well-respected jobs. Trump may want to bring the factory and coal mining jobs back, but after the baby-boomers die out, who will want to take those jobs in America’s current socioeconomic climate?
As America continues to take cues from Trump, it becomes less and less representative of the Western ideal. Closing in on a century after World War II, it is Germany who sees the American leader as an intolerant, war-mongering racist who wants to build a wall rather than the other way around.
Of all the foreign leaders Trump has met with, he has the most to gain from a good relationship with Merkel. Germany is the economic engine of Europe. A gold standard in manufacturing with products respected in America. An automobile giant that Trump himself should respect with an educational system that has spurred a 6.5 per cent youth unemployment rate. Besides Germany’s clean energy mission, sounds like Trump’s dream. Having a better relationship with Merkel may also lead to him getting the “fair deal” he wants so badly in trades with Germany.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germany has stood as one of America’s strongest allies in terms of preserving the idea of “Western values.”
When its leader comes to town, the least Trump can do is shake her hand. •