Do Not Let Anti-Trumpism Become Anti-Americanism

Oppermann Do Not Let Anti Trumpism Become Anti Americanism Original

Source: Ich / Wikimedia Commons

Germans are worried about the future of their partnership with the United States and about their new role on the world scene. Throughout much of Europe, leaders have lost confidence that the US presidency under Donald Trump will make the right decisions in international affairs, and Germany is no exception. Nevertheless, Germans should remain close to the US by prioritizing sub-national and public diplomacy channels that appeal directly to the American civil society.

This erosion of confidence in the US was made plain last month when the Pew Research Center published a poll suggesting that trust in the US president among Germans fell from 86 percent during the last months of the Obama administration to 11 percent under President Trump, even though Trump has only been in office for five months. As a consequence, the general image of the United States has suffered considerably in Germany. As Germany is in the midst of a campaign for its most important elections, the risk is that anti-Trump sentiment hardens into a durable anti-Americanism that prevents the transatlantic partnership from recovering once Trump leaves office as it did when Barack Obama proceeded George W. Bush.

According to the Pew survey, most respondents in Germany said they are opposed to Trump's climate, immigration, and defense policies and expect their politicians to take strong stances against him. Less than 50 percent said they like American ideas about democracy, and their opinion about America's respect for personal freedoms has dropped by over 31 percentage points since the NSA revelations in 2013. Germans are also the most pessimistic Europeans with regard to the future of relations with the US: 56 percent expect them to worsen, only 40 percent to remain the same.

While Germans are still very much attached to multilateralism and cooperation, they should be careful to not let their anti-Trump sentiment anti-American forces grow still stronger.

As German federal elections draw closer, anti-American political parties, such as the leftist Die Linke, have tried to transform opposition to Trump’s policies into entrenched anti-Americanism aimed at de-anchoring Germany from the West. The transatlantic partnership is not only a military alliance; it is a symbol of trust and cooperation between liberal democracies. America’s European allies do not have a viable short- or medium-term alternative to the transatlantic alliance, and any other option outside of NATO’s military framework would leave Europe more vulnerable to potential Russian aggression.

Die Linke’s election program denounces NATO, the US, and its accomplice Germany for waging imperialistic wars in Central Asia and the Middle East in order to expand their spheres of influence and to access natural resources. Last January, Die Linke’s party leader, Sahra Wagenknecht, called for a new military alliance with Russia.

Both extremes on the political spectrum in Germany – Die Linke and the right-wing populist party AfD – advocate for the end of the sanctions imposed on Moscow and a policy of German equidistance between the US and Russia. While it is normal to hear Die Linke rant about America, it is alarming to hear the more moderate social democrats change their foreign policy rhetoric before the elections. Martin Schulz now rejects the proposal to contribute 2 percent of Germany’s GDP to the military budget, ever since Donald Trump demanded "that NATO members must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations" during the NATO summit in Brussels last May. Schulz has made the 2-percent contribution issue a core aspect of his foreign and security policy program. He is far from being anti-American, but the way he chose to orient his campaign bears the risk of legitimizing more radical positions.

Most likely Schulz felt pressured to push back against Trump after his opponent, Angela Merkel, who has emerged as the most trustworthy politician in the Pew survey, surprised the public in May when she declared that "the times when Germany could rely on others – were somewhat over." This is an unusually bold statement from her, one that resonated in the domestic and international press. The chancellor is in an awkward position: she has to campaign for reelection by opposing Trump while engaging in diplomatic damage control with the US.

All that being said, we should not forget that the White House is not the only channel of American diplomacy. States, cities, the US Congress, and civil society are repositioning themselves to signal to the world that America is more than Donald Trump. So far, a group of 30 mayors and over 100 businesses has declared that it would adhere to the Paris Agreement regardless of the federal government's stance on climate change. American courts have relentlessly blocked or watered-down Trump's travel ban from six majority-Muslim countries. Republicans are struggling to pass their healthcare bill to repeal and replace Obamacare in the Senate.

Sub-national diplomacy will inevitably become a more important factor in US foreign relations. Germany and US allies should prioritize public diplomacy channels that directly appeal to American civil society, such as increasing academic exchanges and seeking opportunities for dialogue with both Trump supporters and Trump opponents. Germans should also cooperate more closely with states and firms in matters of trade and climate change. Furthermore, politicians should refrain from using ambiguous rhetoric when it comes to supporting the transatlantic partnership.

In a recent opinion piece that appeared in The New York Times, Martin Schulz underlined the importance of Europe’s and America’s cultural, economic, political, and friendly ties. These ties will be put to test with President Trump, but they should not be severed by either side. Keeping this in mind may be the best strategy to not let anti-Trumpism drift into anti-Americanism.