Morning Briefing Not Our President

The 45th president of the United States places his interests over ours. America comes first, the rest of the world a distant second.

 

To distract myself from the weekend events on my return flight to Germany, I read what the late American poet Sylvia Plath wrote about “The Great Gatsby:” “Dragon goes to bed with princess.” I immediately thought of Donald Trump, who seduced the United States with his nouveau riche vanity. I also thought about the hundreds of thousands of women who rejected him, who took to the streets on Saturday, and who inspired me and my colleagues to jump out of a taxi in New York to join them in protest. “Not my President” read one of the posters.

If Chancellor Angela Merkel had been there, she would have held up her own poster in the name of all Germans: “Not our President.” For us, this isn’t about empathy or apathy but interests. The 45th president of the United States places his interests over ours – his rise to power marks an historic turning point in our relationship. We can serve America or we can push off. America comes first, the rest of the world a distant second.

In Germany when there’s an emergency, you call 110 and the police come. Globally, when there’s a burning problem, Israelis, Arabs, World Bank presidents, IMF directors and German chancellors pick up the phone and dial +1-202-456-1414 for The White House. That’s where those with big problems find solutions, those without liquidity find money, and those without protection find rockets and military equipment.

Since Woodrow Wilson, the initiator of the League of Nations and a Noble Peace Prize laureate, all U.S. presidents have seen themselves as internationalists. “I not only use all the brains that I have, but all I can borrow,” said Wilson, whose vision of America included and didn’t exclude other nations.

But since Friday, the old White House number is disconnected. Trump’s move into the White House heralds America’s retreat from the world stage. The U.S. is no longer the leader of the West but an import-export agency for American products. The new president appears determined to keep his “America First” campaign pledge that helped him win 62 million voters. The dragon goes to bed with princess.

The German chancellor looks as if she is frozen in place, apparently unflappable. Partners in leadership? Not anymore.

For the German chancellor, it’s really not about criticizing or defying Donald Trump. It’s about seeing him clearly for who he is. Merkel still refuses to acknowledge the new normal. She is waiting for a tamed Trump. Donald 2.0. But for how long will she wait? As far as we can see now: The new Donald will not arrive. What began in 2015 with the loss of control over our domestic borders has now morphed into a rudderless foreign policy. Central questions remain unanswered: What does Germany stand for after Trump has cancelled the special relationship? Who will Germany follow, if anyone, should America no longer lead? How should we define our new national interests? Where does Germany end, and where does Europe begin?

The challenge Merkel faces is impossible to ignore. The America she believes in has shown her the cold shoulder. The America she briefly lived in before her political career with her then-academic friend and later husband doesn’t exist anymore. Trump’s inaugural speech was essentially a farewell address.

The process hurts, like the sudden death of both parents. Germany, the orphan, must now pick up the pieces, and begin to chart its own way through life. If not, it will no doubt get another legal guardian.

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