Berlin. Last week an old friend from Stuttgart wrote to reassure me: “Don’t worry. We’ll stick together, no matter what our politicians say and do!” That was the week that German Chancellor Angela Merkel, after a set of meetings in which Donald Trump berated Germany for its trade surplus, proclaimed that the Unites States is no longer the reliable ally it once was. For Americans, this might seem like just one more farcical moment in the Trump presidency. It is after all easy to become inured to his antics. For Germans, however, this was momentous. Never, since 1949, has a German chancellor distanced herself and her country so decisively from the United States. If acted on, it will be the most substantive political realignment since World War II. More than unification itself, it will mark the end of the “postwar period.”
We might be tempted to overlook this point. Most Americans in fact regularly do so: As we know, “foreign affairs” play an embarrassingly small role in U.S. politics—to the chagrin of many Germans, by the way, who feel cheated in a lopsided relationship where they care more about the United States than we do about them. Others will downplay Merkel’s remarks as political posturing: there is an important election here in Germany this fall, and her tough stance vis-a-vis the United States may have helped a bit. (She is, however, far ahead in the polls; and the Social Democrats—her chief opponents—seem almost bent on self-destruction.)
But we cannot ignore the truth. As a new and astounding poll from the “Polit-Barometer” of the ZDF (Zweites deutsches Fernsehen, a branch of German Public Television) shows, Germans across the political spectrum now believe that the United States is much less likely to stand with them in a time of crisis. In similarly alarming numbers between 60 and 70 percent of respondents find it improbable that America will work with them on key global concerns such as terrorism and climate change. This poll was in the making before Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris accord. The numbers can’t be any better now.