Three global media, reports three different reports and all points to “The Fall of America”
First Politico reports: Angela Merkel, whether she wants the job or not, is the West’s last, best hope. Then UK’s Independent reports: Angela Merkel is now the leader of the free world, not Donald Trump. Then lastly New Yorker reports: The Frankfurt School Knew Trump Was Coming: Germany increasingly appears to be the strongest remaining bastion of liberal democracy
But what is the “Fall of America?” The explanation is that while America still has the “Hard Infrastructure” such as military might and economic power, the “Software” needed to run the “Hardware” have “Self-Destruct & Dysfunctioned.”
The Leader of the Free World Meets Donald Trump: Angela Merkel, whether she wants the job or not, is the West’s last, best hope.
This time the media hype surrounding a White House meeting is no wild exaggeration. When President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel finally get together on Friday, the leaders of the West’s two most powerful countries are sure to come off more like an odd couple than two close allies chewing over plans for some joint enterprise. And for good reason. Merkel and Trump are not only polar opposites as people, but they share little in terms of international outlook.
Their styles reflect their vastly different backgrounds. Merkel, Germany’s first and only female chancellor, was raised by a pastor in communist East Germany, where she earned a doctorate in physical chemistry. Although she is the longest-serving and most powerful leader in Europe, she is unfailingly modest, competent and consensus-oriented. Trump’s all-about-me mentality, Queens upbringing and brash, tabloid-and-reality-TV personality couldn’t be more different.
The contrast in substance is just as stark. From the Eurozone meltdown to the refugee surge, Merkel has been through multiple crises. She has no illusions about Vladimir Putin and the spy-ridden Kremlin team running Russia, and places a high value on quiet diplomacy, free trade, international law and the institutions of the European Union.
Trump is untested, unable or unwilling to criticize Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine, determined to judge U.S. foreign policies by the trade balance involved or the extent to which the costs of U.S. military deployments are reimbursed, and happy to talk up the possibility of other EU countries following Britain out the door.
With his alliance diplomacy facing intense scrutiny following reports of tense phone conversations with the leaders of Australia and Mexico, Trump will be on his best behavior. Likewise, Germany’s government has no interest in playing up controversy and hopes to declare the session a diplomatic success.
Nevertheless, Merkel will try to persuade Trump to reverse his cheerleading for the collapse of the EU and put a stop to his ignorant critique of NATO. And why not? Such reversals have become a regular feature of the Trump foreign policy. In the Middle East, despite a lot of talk, the U.S. Embassy in Israel has not moved, nor has the administration taken steps to withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran. In Asia, the Chinese government humbled the new president by insisting he shelve the idea of reconsidering Washington’s support for the “One China” policy.
Considering that Trump went out of his way to criticize Merkel just ahead of his inauguration, saying her decision to admit hundreds of thousands of refugees was a terrible mistake and that he intended to treat her and Putin in roughly the same way, expectations for the meeting are modest. No diplomatic breakthrough is envisioned, and a general meeting of the minds between two longstanding allies before the world’s media should be sufficient to avoid further diplomatic damage.
Behind the scenes, however, the evolution of the Trump-Merkel dialogue will shape the direction and strength of the Western alliance. While Merkel has resisted the label of defender of Western values, the fact is she was the only leader prepared to play a form of hardball with the new president. By saying that Germany would work with America based on shared values (the rule of law, tolerance and equal rights), she became the de facto leader of those determined to defend those values. And this was done at the same time British Prime Minister Theresa May was rushing off to Washington to be the first European leader to meet with Trump (read more).
Angela Merkel is now the leader of the free world, not Donald Trump
The US President isn’t motivated by protecting liberal democracy or freedom, his sole ideology is Trumpism: corporate autocracy with a populist facade. And he surrounds himself with white nationalists even more hostile to liberal democracy than he is.
When Barack Obama revealed that his last phone call as President was to Angela Merkel, reaffirming their alliance and friendship of the last eight years, he wasn’t just saying goodbye. He was handing over his baton. The German Chancellor isn’t just the leader of Europe, she is now the de-facto leader of the free world.
The thrice-elected, soft-spoken former scientist from East Germany, armed with a doctorate in quantum chemistry, doesn’t just carry the weight of Germany and Europe on her shoulders, but that of defending freedom and liberalism across the world.
This is not an attempt to be provocative or exaggerate for effect. Donald Trump cannot claim the mantle of “leading” the free world by default. America’s military might is not the only criteria necessary.
The title also requires the President to be committed to the values of liberal democracy. But unlike his predecessors since the Second World War, it is already clear that Trump has no such inclinations. He is heading, at terrifying speed, in the opposite direction.
Do I even have to make the case for this? Since his inauguration Trump has undermined and ignored judges, even though an independent judiciary and a separation of powers is key to a democracy.
But the ban on immigrants highlighted something far more draconian. If a President can abruptly restrict the rights of US residents without bothering with lawmakers or even government departments, he is in effect an autocrat. That is exactly what Trump did and will continue to do so. His actions don’t just undermine the rights of all Americans, they undermine the institutions that support American democracy.
Then there is Trump’s assault on international trade and cooperation. He is already threatening Mexico, China and now the EU. Who will be next? We can debate whether globalisation benefits people equally, but only a fool would deny that international trade is a global good. And it can only work if done on an equal, rules-based footing. But Trump doesn’t care for those, he is ripping up international agreements so he can bully smaller countries into submission. That sets a dangerous precedent for the entire world (read more).
The Frankfurt School Knew Trump Was Coming: Germany increasingly appears to be the strongest remaining bastion of liberal democracy
hortly after the Presidential election, a small piece of good news came over the wire: the Thomas Mann villa in Los Angeles has been saved. The house, which was built to Mann’s specifications, in the nineteen-forties, went on the market earlier this year, and it seemed likely to be demolished, because the structure was deemed less valuable than the land beneath it. After prolonged negotiations, the German government bought the property, with the idea of establishing it as a cultural center.
The house deserves to stand not only because a great writer lived there but because it brings to mind a tragic moment in American cultural history. The author of “Death in Venice” and “The Magic Mountain” settled in this country in 1938, a grateful refugee from Nazism. He became a citizen and extolled American ideals. By 1952, though, he had become convinced that McCarthyism was a prelude to fascism, and felt compelled to emigrate again. At the time of the House Un-American Activities Committee’s hearings on Communism in Hollywood, Mann said, “Spiritual intolerance, political inquisitions, and declining legal security, and all this in the name of an alleged ‘state of emergency.’ . . . That is how it started in Germany.” The tearing down of Mann’s “magic villa” would have been a cold epilogue to a melancholy tale.
Mann was hardly the only Central European émigré who experienced uneasy feelings of déjà vu in the fearful years after the end of the Second World War. Members of the intellectual enclave known as the Frankfurt School—originally based at the Institute for Social Research, in Frankfurt—felt a similar alarm. In 1950, Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno helped to assemble a volume titled “The Authoritarian Personality,” which constructed a psychological and sociological profile of the “potentially fascistic individual.” The work was based on interviews with American subjects, and the steady accumulation of racist, antidemocratic, paranoid, and irrational sentiments in the case studies gave the German-speakers pause. Likewise, Leo Lowenthal and Norbert Guterman’s 1949 book, “Prophets of Deceit,” studied the Father Coughlin type of rabble-rouser, contemplating the “possibility that a situation will arise in which large numbers of people would be susceptible to his psychological manipulation.”
Adorno believed that the greatest danger to American democracy lay in the mass-culture apparatus of film, radio, and television. Indeed, in his view, this apparatus operates in dictatorial fashion even when no dictatorship is in place: it enforces conformity, quiets dissent, mutes thought. Nazi Germany was merely the most extreme case of a late-capitalist condition in which people surrender real intellectual freedom in favor of a sham paradise of personal liberation and comfort. Watching wartime newsreels, Adorno concluded that the “culture industry,” as he and Horkheimer called it, was replicating fascist methods of mass hypnosis. Above all, he saw a blurring of the line between reality and fiction. In his 1951 book, “Minima Moralia,” he wrote:
Lies have long legs: they are ahead of their time. The conversion of all questions of truth into questions of power, a process that truth itself cannot escape if it is not to be annihilated by power, not only suppresses truth as in earlier despotic orders, but has attacked the very heart of the distinction between true and false, which the hirelings of logic were in any case diligently working to abolish. So Hitler, of whom no one can say whether he died or escaped, survives.
Mann, who had consulted Adorno while writing his musical novel “Doctor Faustus,” was reading “Minima Moralia” as he contemplated his departure from America. He compared the book’s aphoristic style to the “enormously strong gravitational force-field” of a super-compact celestial body. Possibly, it exerted a pull on his decision to go into exile again. A few months later, on the eve of leaving, Mann wrote to Adorno, “The way things are developing is already clear. And we have rather gone beyond Brüning.” Heinrich Brüning was the Chancellor of Germany from 1930 to 1932.
The fears of Mann, Adorno, and other émigrés came to naught—or so it seemed. The McCarthyite danger passed; civil rights advanced; free speech triumphed; liberal democracy spread around the world. By the end of the century, the Frankfurt School was seen in many quarters as an artifact of intellectual kitsch. In recent years, though, its stock has risen once again. As Stuart Jeffries points out in his recent book, “Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School,” the ongoing international crisis of capitalism and liberal democracy has prompted a resurgence of interest in the body of work known as critical theory. The combination of economic inequality and pop-cultural frivolity is precisely the scenario Adorno and others had in mind: mass distraction masking élite domination. Two years ago, in an essay on the persistence of the Frankfurt School, I wrote, “If Adorno were to look upon the cultural landscape of the twenty-first century, he might take grim satisfaction in seeing his fondest fears realized (read more).”