When the official who lately has been called the leader of the free world meets the U.S. president at the White House on Tuesday, there are two things the latter could learn from the former.
First, at least the appearance of humility. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who learned the power as well as the necessity of invisibility while growing up in what was then East Germany, has called it “grotesque and absurd” to suggest that any one person, “even with the greatest experience, can fix the situation for better or worse in Germany, Europe and the world, and certainly not a German chancellor.”
Then there’s her constancy. “Pragmatic Merkel takes on unpredictable Trump” was the Financial Times headline previewing the meeting, where they’re expected to discuss Russia, trade policy, terrorism, NATO, refugees and their own new relationship.
Merkel is the same on Tuesday as on Monday, and as on the Monday before. Her expression seldom offers a clue as to what she’s thinking — OK, except when President George W. Bush tried to surprise her with a shoulder rub — and in temperament and in her process, which is methodical and patient, she marches slowly but always in the same direction.
Trump, who sees unpredictability as an asset and perhaps even a goal, has not made consistency a hallmark. Even the president’s views on the long-serving chancellor have been all over the place.
In 2013, he tweeted, “Merkel is doing a fantastic job” and two years later called her “probably the greatest leader in the world today.” A few months later, after Merkel rather than Trump was named Time’s person of the year, he declared she was “ruining Germany” by welcoming so many Syrian refugees. In September, he took a break from that view, naming Merkel as one of his favorite world leaders and citing in particular “her bravery in the face of the refugee crisis.”
The daughter of a Lutheran minister, Merkel has the focus of the physicist she is. Growing up on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall influenced her handling of the refugee crisis, and it’s as a result that she’s up against serious competition from both the left and the populist right in her upcoming run for a fourth term. Though Trump has only a single-digit approval rating in Germany, her relationship with him is nonetheless crucial.
She will make the case for European integration and will argue that a trade war with Germany would hurt Americans, given that German-American companies employ some 600,000 workers in the U.S. Her challenge, according to Spiegel, will be “finding the right tone — to teach without sounding pedantic.” And his will be to follow through on what his advisers have promisingly referred to as his eagerness to hear what she’s learned about Russian President Vladimir Putin.