Generations of American statesmen, spies, businessmen, non-profit executives, academics, Jewish leaders, and countless others (this author, a recipient of fellowships from two leading German foundations, included) have worked tirelessly to maintain and strengthen the German-American partnership through good times and bad. Those efforts are now in serious jeopardy thanks to President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly gone out of his way to alienate Germany. Throughout the campaign, Trump gratuitously attacked Merkel, who is very popular among her countrymen, stating that she had “ruined” Germany through her refugee policy. Shortly before swearing the oath of office, he said in an interview that the European Union is a “vehicle for Germany,” when, in reality, it was created largely to tame it. Key members of his administration have repeatedly accused Berlin of currency manipulation, this, in spite of the fact that Germany uses the euro, whose value is set by the European Central Bank. Trump’s White House meeting with Merkel will be remembered first for his conspicuous refusal to shake the Chancellor’s hand, followed by a humiliating joke at her expense regarding the aforementioned NSA surveillance, a scandal Merkel could have easily exploited to her own advantage by manipulating anti-American sentiment but wisely chose not to do, she being one of Europe’s most innately and resolutely pro-American leaders.
And what has Merkel received for her steadfast commitment to the transatlantic partnership? The final indignity came last week at the gathering of NATO members in Brussels, where Trump explicitly refused to endorse Article V, the alliance’s collective defense clause, and continued to hector members for not paying enough on defense. This, after months and months of careful explanation to Trump on the part of European leaders and members of his own staff that, while most NATO states do need to increase their defense expenditure, the increased funds will not be deposited into the U.S. Treasury. Trump also reiterated his specific attacks on Germany, specifically its trade surplus with the United States, calling the country “bad, very bad.”
Trump is the living embodiment of many negative stereotypes
In the eyes of most Germans (and Europeans for that matter), the American president is a mentally unstable braggart not to be trusted. For the anti-American segment of the German electorate, Trump is a vindication, the living embodiment of every negative stereotype it holds about America and Americans (i.e. that we are militaristic, uncultured, money-obsessed bumpkins). He is also a political liability for any European leader who stands too close to him; see, for instance, Martin Schulz’s attack on Trump in defense of Merkel’s honor. And so it perhaps should not have come as a surprise that the Chancellor, speaking at a campaign rally in Bavaria over the weekend (Germany goes to the polls in federal elections this September), would say the following in reference to both the United States and pro-Brexit Britain: “The era in which we could fully rely on others is over to some extent. That’s what I experienced over the past several days.”