Grotesque. Absurd. That’s what Angela Merkel seems to think of the idea that she may be the last defender of the west’s liberal democratic order.
The idea emerged soon after Donald Trump was declared the next U.S. president. And it persists, despite her objections, now that it’s confirmed she’s running for a fourth term as Germany’s chancellor.
It really took off when Barack Obama, ostensibly the second-last defender of the west’s liberal democratic order, dropped by for a farewell visit last week.
She publicly refused the mantle at her announcement on Sunday, with officials apparently suggesting such ideas could hurt her chances in the coming election.
Hard to be surprised
“No person, no person alone, even with a great deal of experience can face the things in Germany, in Europe, in the world … certainly not a chancellor of Germany,” she said.
It’s hard to be surprised. Merkel is taking on a difficult race in a polarized country, to hold on to a position in a polarized world in the midst of lightning-fast transition.
In this new state of affairs, not only does the liberal West have no clear leader, but the rules of doing business on the world stage are being reimagined.
The accepted norms are no longer accepted.
Witness Trump’s announcement yesterday that he would unilaterally pull the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal between 12 countries, including Canada. Whatever you might think of the TPP, it isn’t customary for world leaders to renege on pre-existing deals on the first day of taking office.
Witness, also, Trump’s remarkable intervention into the affairs of the UK.
It wasn’t enough that he welcomed British politician and Brexiteer Nigel Farage — who made his name promoting an insular, nationalist, anti-immigrant vision of Britain — to speak on his campaign stage. The longtime leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party became the very first foreign politician to meet with Trump as the president-elect.
In a highly unusual move, Trump also tweeted Monday night that “many people would like to see Nigel Farage represent Great Britain as their ambassador to the United States. He would do a great job!”
Downing street issued a terse statement saying there was no vacancy and that the job is filled by an “excellent” ambassador, thank you very much.
Farage’s own response, in a column for Breitbart News London, apparently written overnight, spoke volumes about how he and Trump see their place in the new world order. Farage seemed to be insisting that he have a role mediating between the two countries, despite the prime minister’s clear refusal of the idea.
“I have known several of the Trump team for years and I am in a good position with the president-elect’s support to help,” said Farage, who, by the way, is contemplating an eighth attempt at finally securing a parliamentary seat.
“The world has changed, and it’s time that Downing Street did too.”
‘I just want to make sure that people understand that there is another option, and that is from the centre.’ - Former U.K. prime minister Tony Blair
The world has indeed changed, so much so that France’s Marine Le Pen made an untold number of mainstream media headlines with her vision of a more peaceful world: with her, Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in power.
“It’s the emergence of a new world order,” she told CBC last week. “We’re going to see the major world balances readjust, and to me, this seems extremely positive.
“I think it’s also a sign of peace.”
It’s a vision that’s a world away from what Merkel has known for the past 11 years as a stalwart of the liberal world order, and particularly of the EU.
With anti-EU and anti-Euro populists on the march, Merkel’s Europe is also changing.
“There is a chance that nationalist logic overcomes and … this European construction that took three generations will be broken,” said Laurent Joffrin, editor-in-chief of the French newspaper Liberation. That means going back to “isolated nations who compete against each other …. If the Euro collapses we have monetary war.”
For now, it’s shaping up to be a battle of ideas — one that has drawn out many other would-be combatants eager to defend their preferred side: from the establishment, it was former French president Nicholas Sarkozy — who failed to advance to the next round of Les Republicain primaries in France — to, former British Prime minister Tony Blair, who told CBC’s Peter Mansbridge that he envisions a new role in British politics helping connect liberals.
“I just want to make sure that people understand that there is another option, and that is from the centre,” he said.
But none would have anything near the power that Merkel does.
“When it comes to politics, it is always about balancing interests,” she said after announcing her candidacy on Sunday.
“I always try to do that on the basis of our values: democracy, freedom, respect for the law, the dignity of every human being independent of background, skin colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political position.”
Whether she accepts the crown or not, Merkel has joined the battle on behalf of the liberal West simply by choosing to run again.