Friday 18 October 2019

Editorial: 'Merkel shows Trump the way'

US President Donald Trump with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
US President Donald Trump with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP


'If our leaders seek to conceal the truth, or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom." That is what Rex Tillerson, the former US Secretary of State, said in a speech shortly after his resignation. His speech was interpreted at the time as a rebuke of US President Donald Trump.

Tillerson's appointment as Secretary of State was unexpected. A former oil mogul, unfamiliar with the politics and diplomacy necessary in the high office to which he was appointed by Trump, he nevertheless quickly came to be regarded as the only "grown-up in the room" in relation to international affairs under the Trump presidency. Also, in the past, he is reported to have referred to the president as a "moron". Last week, Mr Tillerson returned to the theme, stating that Trump had regularly pushed him to take actions that were illegal. For his efforts, the president described his former Secretary of State as "dumb as a rock" and "lazy as hell".

Also last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stepped down as leader of the ruling Christian Democrats, a precursor to her also standing down as Chancellor by 2021, in an orderly handover to her, by all accounts, measured and calm successor as party leader and likely next Chancellor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. The contrast between events in Hamburg and Washington DC could not be starker. As Merkel delivered an emotional farewell speech to the party she has led with great success for 18 years, in the US federal prosecutors said in court filings that Trump had directed illegal payments to ward off a potential sex scandal that threatened his chances of winning the White House in 2016. In another filing, prosecutors for a special counsel investigating interference by Russia in the 2016 election disclosed further details of contacts between an associate of Trump and Russia. According to authoritative reports in the US, the filings lay bare the most direct evidence to date linking Trump to potentially criminal conduct.

To tears and cheers, Merkel's farewell speech was met with a six-minute standing ovation. Although the party remains somewhat divided as to its future direction - the candidate who intended to take the CDU further to the right to meet the challenge of the Alternative for Germany was narrowly defeated - Merkel's successor, who will be more commonly referred to as AKK, stated that "leadership depends on inner strength, not volume". The sentiment could be directed at Trump, whose leadership is based on ever-increasing raucous volume.

It is to be hoped and expected that, in due course, AKK will continue to provide balanced leadership to Europe at a time when such leadership, on the continent and worldwide, is much needed. The challenges which await her, or whomever should ultimately succeed the remarkable Merkel, cannot be underestimated, not least when political events in Italy, now also France and other parts of Europe are considered, and of course from the ultimate fallout from Brexit, which will so impact this country. As the political centre ground pauses for breath after the seamless transition in Germany, it must remain alert to the threats posed by the charlatans of 'alternative realities' and renew all efforts to provide stable, measured and imaginative political leadership to the citizens of Europe.

Sunday Independent

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