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Germany: ‘bad, very bad.’ Trump tweet.
France’s brainy new president, Emmanuel Macron, said it was too bad that Donald Trump was not part of the Enlightenment. Few Americans would have understood what he meant but Europeans certainly did.
The Enlightenment was the glorious epoch in the mid 1700 and 1800’s that gave birth to modern science, philosophy, reason, and literature. Among its notables were Voltaire, Rousseau, Kant, Diderot, Hume, and Adam Smith and Benjamin Franklin.
This was by far the most delicate criticism of Trump that one hears in Europe, where he is widely regarded with contempt and revulsion. As for Trump’s business-heavy cabinet, one immediately thinks of Oscar Wilde’s acid line about men who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Europe is in a rage over Trump’s rejection of the Paris Climate Accord, an act that also caused worldwide shock and dismay. It will please American coal miners, religious fundamentalists and those who share Trump’s view that it’s all a Red Chinese hoax.
Meanwhile, Trump’s adversarial relations with Europe have shaken the NATO alliance and changed Germany’s view of transatlantic relations. After last week’s testy NATO summit and Trump’s tweeted attacks on Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel lashed out, ‘“The times in which we could completely depend on others are, to a certain extent, over.”
Merkel is a cautious, ultra-bland technocrat whose speeches are usually sleep-inducing. For her to drop such a bombshell shows how poor US-German relations have become. This fracture between Berlin and Washington has been a long time in coming but is still startling. Germans are fed up with being treated like vassals and, let us not forget, still semi-occupied by US armed forces.
Adding to the tensions, Trump has been hammering Europe’s NATO members over their skimpy contributions to the alliance and its arms programs. But here is another example of Trump’s poor understanding of world affairs.
NATO is not a business partnership. The alliance, founded in 1949, was designed to shore up war-battered Europe and form a united front against the very real threat of Soviet invasion. Today, the very successful NATO alliance, 70% funded by the US, remains the most concrete expression of America’s geopolitical domination of western Europe.
As the recently deceased thinker Zbigniew Brezezinski aptly put it to me, Europe provides strategic ‘stepping-stones’ to the expansion of US influence into Eurasia through NATO. The alliance is not an equal partnership, it’s the primary tool for enforcing US power in Europe.
Now that the Soviet Union is gone, there is no real military threat to Europe. A majority of Europe’s tax-payers don’t want to pay more to reinforce NATO. Or worse, see it become a sort of foreign legion for the US to use in its imperial ventures in the Mideast, Africa and West Asia.
Germany was dragooned by the US into sending troops to Afghanistan, but over the protests of most of its citizens and other Europeans. Canada faces a similar problem. As the late German defense minister, Franz Josef Strauss so colorfully put it, ‘we won’t be spear carriers for America’s atomic knights.’
I’ve witnessed a powerful up swell of nationalism in Germany, including growing pride in Germany’s soldiers during World War II. But every sign of pride in Germany is met by a torrent of media frenzy about the Nazis and their crimes. In this way, Germany is kept on the defensive and quiescent. But this may now be changing as Trump & Co lambastes Germany and Germans. It’s very dangerous, as history shows, to strong-arm Germans.
Trump even blasts German cars. He would better reserve his wrath for the manufacturers of America’s mediocre quality cars.
What really galls Trump about Europe is that it has too many Muslims. He actually accused Angel Merkel of ‘wrecking’ Europe because she allowed in Syrian refugees in a praiseworthy humanitarian act. Trump and his alt-right advisors are unlikely to know that 11% of Syrians are Christians of various sorts.
Neither Trump nor his advisors have much interest in or knowledge of Europe. America’s nativist religious voters, 80% of whom support with Trump, see Europe as a wicked, degenerate place filled with drinkers, sexual perverts and pacifists. Europeans laugh at church-going fundamentalist Americans as backwards, superstitious rustics.
Trump is wildly popular in Pittsburgh, as he noted last week, but to much of the rest of the planet he remains a symbol of flat-earth consciousness and the unlovely face of America.