Merkel Throws Trump in the Briar Patch

Donald Trump and Angela Merkel now agree about the main issues in U.S.-German relations. “The times in which we could rely fully on others — they are a way past us,” Merkel told a beer-tent rally of her political party. “We Europeans really have to take our fate into our own hands.” That is just what President Trump has been telling the Europeans since the beginning of last year’s U.S. election campaign, demanding in particular that Europe pay more for its own defense. Both Trump and Merkel, moreover, say they want the euro to strengthen against the U.S. dollar. That buries the two bones of contention between Berlin and Washington. Everything else is political posturing and fake news.

The German chancellor in effect threatens to throw President Trump into the proverbial briar patch, giving him what he wants while appearing to denounce him (see the Disney version here).

Merkel is running for re-election to a fourth term in next September’s national elections, and it does her more good to denounce Trump than to speak of policy convergence. The German public hates Donald Trump with a visceral passion. The country’s largest-circulation news magazine, Der Spiegel, titled an editorial last week, “It’s time to get rid of Donald Trump,” explaining: “Donald Trump has transformed the United States into a laughing-stock and he is a danger to the world. He must be removed from the White House before things get even worse.”

Trump’s unashamed nationalism elicits revulsion in a land whose 20th-century experience with nationalism was less than satisfactory. The Germans never will understand American populism; for them, populism is the dank fen of German politics that incubated National Socialism. Germany’s self-styled populists of the Alternative for Germany party are infested with Nazi apologists. In the distorting mirror of German history, Trump looks like a monster.

Even worse, Trump stepped on Germany’s sore toe with big boots when he denounced Germany’s 2015 decision to admit more than 1.2 million Muslim refugees supposedly from Syria, but including economic migrants from as far away as Afghanistan. For Germans, this was a grand national sacrifice to world citizenship; to Trump and the American political right, it was a hallmark of civilizational decline. That may be true, but the Germans insist on their right to decline in their own chosen fashion.

Trump also raised hackles in Germany earlier this year by complaining that Germany had kept Europe’s common currency artificially weak in order to boost exports. This theory came from Trump advisor Peter Navarro (I characterized it at the time as “Navarro-Navarro Land”). The Germans responded that this was unfair: Germany had allowed Europe’s central bank to engineer negative interest rates for the benefit of economic laggards such as Italy, Spain and Portugal, to the detriment of German savers. Last week, Chancellor Merkel herself declared that the euro was “too weak.” Again, she is running against the European Central Bank’s negative-interest rate policy, a smart move for a German politician before a national election. And once again, she agrees with Trump. Prof. Navarro meanwhile hasn’t been heard from in months.