‘The limits of populism and denial of basic truths are being laid bare’
Angela Merkel may not scream down the phone at President Donald Trump – but she knows how to insert a dagger.
Trump, as well as Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, must have felt his ears burning when the German Chancellor demolished their approaches to the coronavirus in a speech Thursday. “As we are experiencing firsthand, you cannot fight the pandemic with lies and disinformation any more than you can fight it with hate or incitement to hatred,” Merkel said. “The limits of populism and denial of basic truths are being laid bare.”
Merkel and Trump were destined to clash. A former scientist, she is cool, cautious, self-contained, fact-oriented and quiet despite her toughness. Trump is … none of those things. Late in 2016, the outgoing US President, who Merkel sometimes referred to as “Liebe (dear) Barack,” flew to Berlin on a mission — to convince her to run for another term. Once Trump was in the Oval Office, Obama reasoned, Merkel would need to lead the liberal international order.
Ever since, she’s been walking on eggshells with a new President who flouts many of the values that Merkel — who grew up in Communist East Germany — always saw as epitomized by America. One confrontation, in Canada, was captured in an instantly iconic photograph. And CNN’s Carl Bernstein wrote recently that Trump has a habit of haranguing Merkel, even calling her “stupid” on the phone. She reportedly counters his rants with facts.
Merkel has not always lived up to her billing as the West’s moral bulwark. As the EU’s most powerful leader, she shares responsibility for the European project’s wobbles while members battled Covid-19 behind closed borders. And Germany’s complicated history and limited defense budgets — which infuriate Trump — mean it cannot fill the security vacuum left by the US.
But Merkel, who does not plan to run for a fifth term next year, can read the polls. And though she might never say so, she’d love to outlast Trump.
After a rancorous G7 summit in 2018 in Canada and a “somewhat depressing” outcome, Merkel’s office released this photo.