America’s past and future collide on a single day in Europe

May 26, 2017

Today's WorldView

America’s past and future collide on a single day in Europe

 By Ishaan Tharoor

Call it a tale of two Presidents. On the same day that President Trump visits the gleaming new NATO headquarters in Brussels, his predecessor will give a high-profile speech in Berlin.

Former President Barack Obama is expected to return to the Brandenburg Gate on Thursday, basking in the admiration of his many European admirers while speaking alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a leader with whom he has a famous friendship. Obama will be participating in the celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant church. That it coincides with Trump’s tour of the Belgian capital is a scheduling quirk, but it’s a coincidence that feels fraught with symbolism.

On Wednesday, Trump entered the den of the proverbial globalists. Brussels is not just the headquarters of the West’s preeminent military alliance, but also the heart of the European Union and home to the sort of technocratic elites that Trump and the continent’s far right frequently rage against. Before he entered the White House, Trump deemed NATO “obsolete” and seemed to suggest that he would welcome the further dissolution of the European Union after Brexit.

“The mere fact that Trump has agreed to visit a city filled with international organizations he once called ‘obsolete’ is a victory,” The Washington Post’s Michael Birnbaum and Anthony Faiola wrote.  And although a few months in office appear to have moderated Trump’s message, Obama’s star turn in Berlin will only deepen the sense of dissonance surrounding his successor.

An editorial in the Leipziger Zeitung newspaper said Obama’s presence in Germany would be that of a “healer.” Obama, the newspaper declared, “is a painfully missed ex-president,” an “eloquent, charismatic preacher.” These are qualities, it claimed, that Trump entirely lacks.

No matter the polarization that seems to define American politics, Obama remains an incredibly well-regarded figure in Europe. An estimated 200,000 Germans rallied around Obama in Berlin before his first election in 2008, and that enthusiasm endured. A Pew Research Center survey last June found that 77 percent of Europeans had confidence in Obama, while only 9 percent felt the same way about Trump.

Obama’s popularity was even greater in Germany, where 86 percent of respondents said they had confidence in him. His Thursday appearance at the Brandenburg Gate, where Ronald Reagan famously upbraided the Soviet Union’s final leader, may reaffirm the spirit of American friendship — or at least spark some nostalgia for a cuddlier past.

“The choice of the location seems like a staging for the ‘good American’ Germans would have liked to have seen in office,” Thomas Jäger, Professor of international politics and foreign policy at Cologne University, said to my colleagues. “Trump, on the other hand, in the German perception embodies every negative American stereotype … a grandstander, too loud, successful in a way that one doesn’t like at all.”

The expectations surrounding Trump’s time in Brussels are not particularly high. At NATO he will stick to a familiar and safe script, urging the United States’ partners to share more of the burden in maintaining international security and emphasizing the need to focus on the war against Islamist extremism — two issues where he will find no resistance among NATO’s member states. Conspicuously, serious discussion about the challenge of Russia is not on the agenda. Trump will also meet several European leaders, including recently elected French President Emmanuel Macron, who campaigned with Obama’s blessing from afar and at times seemed to point to the perils of Trump’s presidency as a reason to vote against his own right-wing opponents.


But now that the sitting U.S. president is in Europe, his interlocutors on the continent will hope he can be persuaded to embrace the institutions and the wider liberal order he railed against just months ago.

“There’s still a high degree of uncertainty when it comes to the aims and objectives of the Americans,” Cornelius Adebahr, an associate fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations, said to The Post. “One of the main objectives is to convince the Americans of the value of these formats.”

Trump is “someone who doesn’t believe in the whole idea of engaging with European allies,” Tomas Valasek, head of the Carnegie Europe think tank, said to my colleagues. “At least part of the European countries’ strategy for dealing with Trump is essentially to hunker down and wait until he goes away.”

Ahead of the Group of Seven meeting in Sicily, where Trump will be in attendance, Merkel called for unity in the fight against global warming. The move was seen in part as a bid to push back against the Trump administration’s apparent desire to pull out of the Paris climate accords — a pact championed by Obama. There is hope among European officialdom that the “grown-ups” in the White House will coax Trump away from extreme positions and keep his foreign policy more in line with that of a traditional Republican president. Others caution against such complacency.

“European policymakers hope that [Trump] will listen to his team, live up to their promises, and not destroy the NATO alliance or the European Union in a fit of pique,” wrote Jeremy Shapiro of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “They would be wiser to hedge against his predictable unpredictability and seek their own means of securing their position in the world.”


14 thoughts on “America’s past and future collide on a single day in Europe

  1. What a contrast in leadership. Obama is the most popular President at the point of leaving office while Trump is struggling to keep his job with the sword of impeachment over his neck. The former is Harvard educated intellectual with a globalist perspective while the latter is an insecure simpleton with a chip on his shoulder. Americans have chosen a successor and must now learn to live with their choice. They deserve what they are getting.–Din Merican

  2. Obama is well liked and a respected statesman.

    Donald Trump is a seven year old boy in a seventy years old man ‘s body.That is the reason he is such a stupid fool,ignorant of all the foolish things he had done to hurt the office of the presidency.Instead of being the POTUS,he should be the president of the “grab them by the p*ssy ” club.

  3. Regardless if you liked Obama or not, he demonstrates a trait I find totally missing in Trump, it’s called character. For those “poorly educated” die-hard trumpians who may question the definition, just look it up in a dictionary and try to honestly answer if Trump displays any of the common traits!

  4. Obama, for whom I have voted twice, is a disgrace to the United States. He was under left-leaning world view before becoming the president, and he then decimated core American values – individual liberty, In God/Truth We Trust, and E Pluribus Unum – during his presidency and gave rise to leftism in the third world nations including those of Middle East. I am very glad to see President Trump to undo what Obama has done, and therefore he alleviates my sense of buyer remorse for having voted for Obama. The biggest achievements of Obama are Noble Peace Prize and the big grin.

  5. ROFLOL. Leftist again, sounds like a broken record. Trumpsters not only are “poorly educated” with very limited vocabulary but they’re also suffering from personality disorders like their chicken hawk leader, blind to facts and fabricate their own “alternative facts”, and believing their own lies. It’s hilarious to read some of their childish deflections, but it must be tough these days to be a Trumpster – every day the orangutan demonstrates what a childish nincompoop he is, but his idiotic supporters have to try to make him look better by bad-mouthing Obama. They must be feeling as pathetic as they sound. I’m not sure what Trumpsters mean by socialist. Do they mean the idea that a country helps all of its citizens? If so, Trump relied on the ‘socialists’ to bail out his failing business six times. Bankruptcy is fine when Trump does it, but when ordinary people do it they are leeches, right?

    As a Republican since 1970, I have had many differences with Democratic Obama. As human being he did make mistakes, so do I and anyone else. We may have differences on political matters but we cannot deny Obama’s achievements as president. He took over our country when our economy was collapsing, screwed up by George W. Bush; when he left, the contrast was like night and day. Let me name just a few of his achievements: 80 months of straight job growth; stock market tripled from 5000 to nearly 20000; unemployment down from 10% to 4.6%; government spending at 3%, the lowest since Eisenhower; greater independence from foreign oil and record domestic production; eighteen million more people now have healthcare; the fewest military personnel in combat zones in 12 years; turned back more illegal immigrants than any president in history; passed credit card reforms that protect consumers from excessive fees, rate hikes, deceptive marketing, and unreasonable due dates; gas prices from $5 down to $2; leaving office with class, grace and dignity, and the highest approval rating in HISTORY….

    What have Trump achieved thus far? Just a lot of hot air and a large bunch of lies and distorted exaggerations. Unless you take him calling “Germans are bad, very bad” as achievement and threatening to end German car sales in the US even though lots of them are assembled here in US. And that’s what severe Narcissistic personality disorders looks like. Not kidding. Granted, he is still new in office. He has not brought grave harm to the nation yet. But, of course, as always Trumpsters have their own “alternative facts”.

    Obama and I may have our political differences. Whenever I hear Obama speak on the world stage I feel proud to be an American. When Trump speaks I feel embarrassed, ashamed, and worried at what kind of idiotic thing he will say or do next. When Obama speaks, he is listened to all over the world. When Trump speaks, he is laughed at and returns the US to being the laughing stock of the world. Sadly, Trump thinks that their laughter indicates that they like him. He’s too obtuse to think otherwise.

    Obama has always showed with his words and actions that he cared deeply about America and all of his people. I’ve never seen a shred of evidence that Trump understands much of anything, and that he even recognizes the concept of their being other people in the universe. Just based on the evidence I have observed, Trump doesn’t even recognize himself as a human being in the normal sense of having limitations or flaws. There is just his own personal being of great magical power, and the rest of us cardboard cutout figures acting upon a stage of his own design. If he had a little more intelligence I think he would be a sociopath, but he doesn’t actually seem smart enough to reach that bar.

    Seeing Obama in Europe again reminds us of how a real president conducts himself, how he speaks to the people here and abroad. In fact, Obama is the future – the multi-cultural and diverse global world we live and breathe in. Trump is the past and a return to the segregationist, isolationist and racist 50’s. In all fairness, obama doesn’t deserve too much credit for looking good compared to a deranged buffoon. Trump is only refreshing if you’re a civilization hating troglodyte.

    Obama versus Trump is class vs crass; intelligence versus ignorance. Obama equals class, dignity, integrity, intelligent, mature, caring, rational, friendly, sense of humor, eloquence…. The Dumpster equals classless, liar, egotist, self-absorbed, ignorant, arrogant, humorless, dour, and the list goes on….

    This will be my last response to a delusional Trumpster. It’s futile and a waste of time to reason to any Trumpster who, like their idol is victim to personality disorders, is so blinded and block-minded he simply repeat the same thing over and over again – left right, left right, left right…. They like to fabricate “alternative facts” against any truth not to their liking, Fox News is their source and almost only source, to argue just for the sake of argument. I’m sure they will continue to response to many of my posts and label me names. And that’s alright as long as it’s not libelious. Even a worm has its right to express its opinion. In this blog only Din has the right to post or not to post the comment of fabricated ‘facts’. It’s not going to change how I see myself a liberal Republican and proud to be a moderate Republican.

    The Trumpsters can’t accept the fact that Obama is a better man than Trump, that Obama is well-loved and respected all over the world but not their idol. The alternative universe they are living in must be lovely. Please find a way to stay there.

  6. Once a person is infested with Trump Derangement Syndrome, he or she just enjoys the sheer joy of being the noble beings looking down the blighted. To understand how the mindset of people like LaMoy, you can view this interview with Thomas Sowell or read his book on the subject:

    Thomas Sowell – The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy

    If you are open to data versus narrative of people like LaMoy, you could read this superb article on how Trump’s policies are helping the America, with data backed:

    • This is why right wing nutjobs like Shiou are so transparent. The linked article was written by a former CEO and Trump partisan. Hell, you can read the comments sections as to the flaws of the piece.

      Sowell though is talking about a different time and I was an acolyte of Sowell before he become a GOP shill.

      Always remember what he (Sowell) said about Trump. Vote for Trump he will be easier to impeach.

  7. Understanding left-right political spectrum in the context of American politics is easier once one adopts the idea that the United States, unlike any other nations before it, was conceived in individual liberty – that is, individual liberty of its citizen is the purpose of existence (raison d’être) of the state.

    Once the idea of individual liberty as exalted value is adopted, a solid foundation to gauge US politics is viewing the US politics as a spectrum of left, center, and right, whereas the extreme right is defined as anarchy, and the extreme left is defined as nationally concentrated power as in a Communist fascist nation. The size of government grows from extreme right to the extreme left; while the individual liberty shrinks from extreme right to extreme left. The aforementioned left-center-right definition is of course not the only definition available in the world, but is very likely to be the only definition relevant to people (the Americans) who has been aspiring to self-government since the birth of the US. Historically, the US government sits around the center and slightly to the right.

    The reason the center of gravity of America politics is center-right, not far right, not far left, is a result of two very different visions: constrained vision and unconstrained vision. You can get a good introduction to the visions with this:
    Thomas Sowell and a Conflict of Visions

    The only one “good thing” I see from having the people outside USA to believe the false narrative of “Trump as a buffoon” is that it allowed me to hold a basket at the stock market right after the last election and let money falling from the sky and into my basket. I just feel a little guilty if I am going to do it again in the next occasion at the expense of people believing in the Americans’ left-bend narrative.

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