In no period in recent memory has the prestige and respect held by the President of the United States suffered such a precipitous decline, as in the two months since Donald Trump assumed office on January 20, 2017.
This was starkly evident during the visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Washington to meet with Trump on Friday, March 17.
Trump insulted his guest by arguing that NATO members should pay back to the United States the “unfair” burden of NATO’s budget borne by the United States since 1949.
He insulted her by trying to involve her in his monumental lie about Barack Obama wiretapping him and Trump Tower, with a cheap joke that they both shared something in common–being surveilled by Obama. In fact, her cell phone and other communications were intercepted by U.S. intelligence agencies, whereas there is no evidence whatsoever that Obama or intelligence agencies in his administration, or even the British GCHQ, directly targeted Trump or the Trump Tower.
At the G-20 economic summit in Baden-Baden, Germany this week, U.S. representatives insisted on the language in favor of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the customary language on free trade and against protectionism be removed, which was necessary for the unanimous declaration.
See Jack Ewing, “U.S. Breaks With Allies Over Trade Issues Amid Trump’s ‘America First’ Vows,” New York Times, March 18, 2017.
In doing so, while Merkel was in Washington, Trump asserted strongly his opposition to climate change programs (though his final position on whether to withdraw from the Paris agreement is not yet known).
He has deleted information and references to climate change programs on the White House web site. He has eliminated such programs in his budget proposal for the EPA (Envioronmental Protection Agency), which he has named a climate nut to head.
On free trade, Trump has through his actions in Baden-Baden staked out a strong postion in favor of protectionism, breaking with a bipartisan tradition that goes back to before WW II.
That the intellectual arguments supporting these positions are utterly lacking is as evident to the world as is the fact that Obama did not tap Donald Trump or the Trump Tower, or that the claim that 3-5 million voters for Trump were not counted was a bald-faced lie, or that the claim that Barack Obama was not born in the United States was a huge lie, which Trump persisted in long after proof to the contrary had been produced.
We need to pause and reflect on the nature and qualities of the two individuals who shared the podium at the press conference at the White House on Friday.
Angela Merkel is as serious and steady on her course as Trump is uninformed and flamboyantly erratic on his. She has successfully led Germany and other nations through the financial crises facing Europe including the Greek debt crisis, the refugee crisis of 2015, the Russian invasions of the Crimea and the eastern Ukraine in 2014, and in standing up to Russia and Vladimir Putin by upholding EU sanctions against Russia and by strengthening NATO’s defense on the eastern front wirh Russia.
She has a seroius and very effective team which backs her up. Her positions are well-considered.
Donald Trumpon the other hand, is dangerously ignorant of history, wants the European Union to break up, and has surrounded himself with right-wing extremists. He has no understanding of Europe’s history, acccomplishments, or critical role in defending Western Europe from Soviet influences and attempts to take over governments, or its role in liberating the countries of eastern Europe from Soviet military and political domination.
He and others like him question the liberal political, military, and economic order which has kept Europe and the United States secure from Soviet and Russian designs for over 70 years.
They do so with no clue as to what an alternative or new world order would look like, despite the fact that without the U.N. Charter and other treaties prohibiting the international use of force or predatory economic behavior, according to everything we know, the world would quickly revert to a state of pure power politics, and the accompanying scourges of war, famine, and disease.
Trump should read the Preamble and Articles 1 and 2 to the United Nations Charter, as a first lesson in what the old “liberal world order” is all about.
In addition, Donald Trump lies all the time, about everything.
The sharp differences between Merkel and Trump in seriousness, knowledge of history and world political and economic affaris, and sophisticated savoir faire, could not have been more marked than at their meeting on March 17. Merkel, with a solid record of 11 years of leadership of Germany, and Europe, and now the Free World, towered above the rude, nutty, and extreme right-wing narcissist who has assunmed the presidency of the United States.
Given the relative stature of the two leaders on the world stage, their relative seriousness in approaching issues, and their policies, we can only call the president “Little Donld Trump”.
Despite the fact that he sits at the top of the most powerful nuclear weapons state in the world, everything about him is little in comparison to Merkel, and other distinguished world leaders who take their jobs seriously.
For accounts of the meeting between Merkel and Trump, see
(1) Robin Alexander, “Was Merkel im postsowjetisch anmutenden Weißen Haus erlebte,” Die Welt, 18. März 2017 (19:43 Uhr).
Alexander expresses the fellings of many Americans when she writes, “Merkel is the heroine of liberal America, which is ashamed of Trump.” (“Merkel ist die Heldin des liberalen Amerikas, das sich für Trump schämt.”)
(2) Mark Landler, “Merkel Meets Trump, the Defender Versus the Disrupter,” New York Times, March 18, 2017.
Given the power that he wields, particularly in foreign policy where Trump faces few constitutional constraints, world leaders are treating “Little Donald Trump” with great caution, at least for the time being.
Ultimately, however, the lack of respect he commands on the world stage will have its very considerable costs.
The Trenchant Observer