Originally Published: June 5, 2017 6:01 a.m.
Isn’t it awesome how Donald Trump brings people together, bridges the partisan divide, and inspires political parties to set aside their differences and unite for the good of the nation?
Surely you don’t think I’m referring to Americans. No, this is about the Germans. Trump’s trashing of the NATO alliance that has kept the peace for 70 years, his antagonistic attitude toward Germany (which, with our help, has long served as a bulwark against Russian aggression), and his dissing of our western allies as deadbeats who shirk their NATO payments (hilarious, coming from a guy who routinely stiffed his own contractors) has naturally infuriated foreign policy experts here at home.
Julie Smith, a former director of NATO policy at the Pentagon, says that Trump “and a few ill-informed, inexperienced, and short-sighted members of his team opted for petulance and arrogance — a decision that plays well with Trump’s base but won’t serve them well with America’s closest allies ... Moscow literally could not have asked for a better outcome since its longstanding goal has been to undermine NATO, U.S. credibility, and transatlantic unity.”
David Frum, the former George W. Bush senior aide and speechwriter, rightly says that Trump’s tour last week was “an utter catastrophe for U.S. interests in Europe.” Like Smith, he says “it’s hard to imagine that (Trump’s) messaging could have been more perfect for Vladimir Putin if he’d written the script himself.” And Eliot A. Cohen, former counselor to Condoleezza Rice, says that Trump’s foreign trip “shows us, yet again, how little there is beneath the facade of this paper mache presidency.”
But most noteworthy of all is the furious reaction in Germany.
How striking it is that German partisans — unlike their counterparts in America — can somehow muster the will to act in the bipartisan national interest.
Chancellor Angela Merkel is running for re-election this fall against Martin Schulz, leader of the Social Democrats. If this were an American election, and the incumbent had just weathered a rocky international summit, we’d probably expect the challenger to claim it as proof of the incumbent’s weakness, proof that the nation doesn’t win anything anymore, blah blah. But Schulz has done precisely the opposite.
“No freely elected head of government in our country should allow himself — or herself — to be humiliated in this way, the way this man (Trump), like an autocratic leader, believed he could inflict humiliation in Brussels,” Schulz said in a speech over the weekend. “Election campaign or no election campaign, in this situation let me be entirely clear: the chancellor represents all of us in summits like these. And I reject with outrage the way this man takes it upon himself to treat the head of our country’s government. That is unacceptable.”
Wow. Imagine that. A partisan leader basically said that, election or no election, it’s of paramount importance to put country over party.
Perhaps our Trump-toadying Republicans can draw inspiration from the Germans and do the same. Perhaps, like the Germans, they can muster the will to cross party lines and confront the threat that Trump poses to international peace. Perhaps they can start by facing the implications of the latest twist in the Jared Kushner saga, the princeling’s attempt to set up a back-channel to the Russians, eluding American intelligence by using the Russians’ network. Perhaps they can act in the national interest by starting to connect the dots.
Our restive German friends would certainly appreciate it.
But nah. Most Capitol Hill Republicans still lack the capacity. According to a new report by The Atlantic’s Molly Ball on the congressional mood, “there are differing degrees of fatalism. One group thinks it is possible to fight through the crisis, while another is resigned to ‘a long slow death,’ as one staffer put it, potentially culminating in a Democratic-controlled House beginning impeachment proceedings in 2019. ‘This is like Reservoir Dogs,’ the staffer said. ‘Everyone ends up dead on the floor.’”
Fatalism ... Wasn’t that the German attitude in early 1945?
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (newsworks.org/polman) and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Pennsylvania. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.