While May Offers Platitudes, Merkel Becomes the New Leader of the Trump Resistance

Theresa May had little to say about the election of Donald Trump as US president, other than the usual platitudes about the government maintaining the “special relationship” between America and Britain. There was no hint of reaffirming David Cameron’s censure of Trump’s xenophobia during the presidential campaign as “stupid, divisive and wrong.”

In contrast, when it came to making a formal statement about Trump’s election, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel was unequivocal in setting out Germany’s terms for cooperation with the Trump White House:

"Germany and America are bound by common values - democracy, freedom, as well as respect for the rule of law and the dignity of each and every person, regardless of their origin, skin colour, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or political views.”

And let’s face it: Trump’s track record as the Republican nominee, in word and action, has been in contempt of all of these values. To suggest that Trump is a man with respect for the dignity of humanity would simply be a sick joke. To him, Merkel is a disastrous leader for allowing Syrian refugees safe haven in Germany. He would deport them back to war zones.

The West is at a decisive turning point

When it comes to racism and religious tolerance, Trump claims that his rhetorical fixation on banning, registering and spying on Muslims is driven purely by national security concerns. But he has been nonchalant about his endorsement by neo-Nazis and fascists like David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan, while his Twitter feed has shared memes from the racist and antisemitic alt-right; one of Trump’s senior counsellors will be Stephen Bannon, former editor of Breitbart News, a central channel of the alt-right.

As for respect for sexual orientation, Trump chose as his vice presidential pick Mike Pence, who as governor of Indiana defended allowing gay and transgender young people to be subjected to “conversion therapy”, effectively a euphemism for state-sanctioned abuse that has driven many to suicide.

As for democracy and basic freedoms Trump, the incoming “leader of the free world”, threatened to refuse to accept the result of the election if he lost (ironic considering that he lost the popular vote). His reaction to journalistic scrutiny has been a temper tantrum of proposals to erode freedom of expression, such as introducing punitive libel laws and an ability for him to “shut down” the internet at whim.

Trump respects the law enough to advocate instructing the US military to commit war crimes, like intentionally killing non-combatants and torturing detainees with methods “much worse” than the waterboarding of the Bush era. The generals, horrified by this, are just too politically correct.

The West is at a decisive turning point. The British government may have dismissed the idea of Nigel Farage’s bromance with Trump leading to him being given an official diplomatic role. But regardless, Brexit Britain is set to pivot towards a Trump-led America as it departs from the EU, forming an Atlanticist bloc of reactionary right-wing populism.

We have been in a Second Cold War since Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea. But surreally, with the incoming US president being ambivalent about NATO and sympathetic to an authoritarian and militarily aggressive Russia, the settlement between Europe and America has arguably never been more fractured since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The situation is serious enough to drive Merkel to build up Germany’s military and propose the formation of an EU army to compensate.

Britain should bear in mind that Euroscepticism is not just reserved to UKIP and the Tory right. In the referendum many on the left will have voted for Remain out of pragmatism, not enthusiasm, and some even campaigned for a left-wing Brexit, or “Lexit”, in mind of the EU’s role in imposing continental austerity, as well its often appalling mishandling of the refugee crisis.

This has undoubtedly contributed to a renaissance of neo-fascism in nations like Greece, France, Austria and the Netherlands, with the ringleaders seeing common cause with Trump. It has even empowered the far-right in Germany, with the anti-euro and anti-Muslim Alternative for Germany posing as UKIP-style insurgents.

the platform of morals and principles from which Merkel criticises Trump are not just those of Germany

These are still valid and relevant criticisms, and with Merkel being the leader of the strongest power in Europe and the most influential proponent of centre-right Christian Democracy, the most popular ideology in the EU parliament, she could be described as the de facto leader of the EU.

But the platform of morals and principles from which Merkel criticises Trump are not just those of Germany, the nation which knows better than anyone about the dangers of authoritarian demagoguery, but those of the EU constitution and its emphasis on fundamental human rights. This is vital far beyond the EU as a political entity.

After over a decade in power, Merkel’s popularity has lagged, but her position is secure enough to run for a fourth term in 2017. And with Trump taking power, it would not be unreasonable to describe Merkel as the new “leader of the free world”: or at least, in this time of encroaching darkness and turmoil, the closest thing to it.

As she begins to take on a new role Merkel reminds the UK that even if Britain is leaving the EU, these European values are embedded into our national and political fabric - they are simply invaluable. In contrast, our Brexit prime minister seeks to be the Margaret Thatcher to Trump’s Ronald Reagan.

More about the author

About the author

Jacob Richardson began his career with Disclaimer and writes on culture, politics and society. Politically he is a democratic socialist and Labour Party supporter. His other interests include cinema, psychoanalysis and professional wrestling.

Follow Jacob on Twitter.

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