Jacob F. Farr
Naked Politics Blogger
The President of the United States is often seen as the leader of the free world. Someone who will uphold democracy, liberty and fraternity in the face of adversity. In the past, the President has championed the cause of growing unity and globalisation in an attempt to encompass the whole planet in ‘the free world’. Globalisation is the name of the game, with continents and countries uniting in unilateral free trade agreements in order to cut red tape and increase diversity within the marketplace. Many have seen the success of the single market in Europe and have sought to establish their own deals in the form of TPP, BRICS and NAFTA, amongst others, in an attempt to benefit from a more connected world. It has been the duty of the leaders of the free world, especially the president of the US, to support these global deals in order to spread a better quality of life, or so we are to believe.
The rise of Trump has destroyed any suggestion that the role of the President of the United States today will be to uphold these globalist principles. Trump is a new political animal, he is unlike Obama or his European political counterparts; he ran on a campaign of protectionism, openly criticising the EU leaders for their open border policy and attacking free trade agreements on a grand scale. Throughout his campaign, he made it clear that he felt America’s responsibility for policing the world was at an end, it was time for their NATO, European and Asian partners to start paying their own way and uphold their own freedoms in the face of adversity. Enter Merkel, arguably the leader of the European Union and now, with the election of Trump, the new leader of the free world.
In a recent Independent article, it was stated that Obama had left Merkel to last in his list of foreign leaders to contact before his departure from the White House. This is of no surprise as Merkel was his closest ally on the international stage. Merkel has had a strong relationship with the last two presidents, even though her predecessor was slightly frosty towards the Bush administration during the invasion of Iraq. In the 21st century, she has become a standard bearer for the cause of globalisation and further integration of the international community. Perhaps it is not surprising that a leader of a country that has lived through such turbulent times in recent history wants a secure world. And no one in the last 70 years has argued against the fact that the US has been at the forefront of spreading globalisation, with free trade as well as defence agreements acting as the means of co-operation; until now.
Trump’s passing of the mantle of the leader of the free world to Merkel is seen than in their first meeting as peers. The pair took part in several sparring matches leading up to the event, with Trump accusing Merkel of ‘ruining Germany’ and acting with bemusement when he was beaten by Merkel to Time’s Person of the Year in 2015, although that outrage was short lived. Merkel hit back at Trump on several occasions, but none more important than when she congratulated him on becoming America’s 45th president. Merkel started her congratulatory speech like she would any other, before subtly reminding Trump of the principles of the free world. The German Chancellor in further exchanges brought up the Geneva Convention, something that is unprecedented in this millennium. To have to remind the US president of their duty to the Geneva Convention must act as a sign of great concern. One would hope that as national leaders, the pair would be able to put the past behind them and act in courteous manner towards one another. Thankfully, Merkel obliged; unfortunately, Trump missed the memo.
Several loaded questions were fired at both leaders in an attempt to highlight the differences between them. Free trade agreements were the most fascinating line of questioning, with Merkel touting the benefits of globalisation, citing German relations with South Korea and how it had helped create jobs in both economies. Trump on the other hand, rebutted by stating that he is not protectionist in his economic pursuits, but instead that he aims to acquire similar deals as to the ones that German benefits from. The last American election was won by Trump promising to bring jobs back to America. His success rests on protectionism. Immigration is one of the best examples of where Trump looks to be staying true to his word, with his proposed ‘Muslim ban’. However, when you put it next to Merkel’s open border policy not so long ago, it appears like the two leaders are on either side of the spectrum when tackling immigration. Merkel finds herself in unchartered territory, abandoned by the US, being asked to lead the way in building a stable global community.
Trump looks unwavering in his approach “To Make America Great Again” and Merkel, although making more concessions than in the past, is still hell-bent on focusing on further integration rather than national interests. Merkel must tread carefully if she is to defeat opponents of globalisation at home as well as abroad; the rise of far-right movements in Europe, alongside Brexit and Trump has shown the appetite for a more protectionist approach from community leaders. Globalisation is at threat because it is not working for all parties involved in agreements. Many face a declining labour market alongside the exploitation of the third world and corporate power in this new economic climate. Merkel and her ilk must come to terms with the failures of their pursued policies of further integration or else they will continue to have to face opposition in the form of nationalist forces. Until Trump is replaced by a pro-globalisation candidate (which is no guarantee) then Merkel can enjoy her new role, as leader of the free world.