Melania Trump flashed a certain kind of female power when she swatted away her husband’s hand. If you want to see what power to lead a nation looks like — versus power to control a marriage — check out Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.
America will probably never send a woman like Merkel to the White House. A research scientist by training, with a doctorate in physical chemistry, she’s super smart and so unsexy she makes Hillary Clinton look hot. Totally devoid of glamour, Merkel has something more important: character, principle, and the courage to show contempt for an American president who lacks all of the above.
Disdain for President Trump flickered across Merkel’s face during their recent encounter at the White House after he declined to shake her hand in front of cameras in the Oval Office. It was apparent again when Trump chastised NATO leaders for not meeting their 2 percent of GDP defense spending target and shared his naive-sounding thoughts about peace in the Middle East. Her scorn for Trump broke loose after his departure from Europe.
Merkel made international headlines over the weekend when she said at a campaign rally in Munich that Europe’s post World War II alliances “are to some extent over.” Europeans, she said, “must really take our fate into our own hands.” She didn’t mention Trump by name, but her remarks were widely interpreted as a response to Trump’s boorish lecturing and dithering when it comes to the Paris agreement on climate change. Merkel also said that Brexit — the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union — meant Europe could no longer count on traditional allies.
Up for reelection, Merkel is embracing a German variation of Trump’s populist theme. Meanwhile, back at home, the president resumed his own America First tweeting, calling out Germany as “very bad” for its trade surplus with the United States as well as its inadequate defense spending. As he tweeted, you can imagine Trump regretting that he wasted a good insult — “Look at that face” — on primary season rival Carly Fiorina
Merkel’s power is not the “subdued star power” of a first lady, “dressed in ambivalence and armor,” not to mention a $51,500 Dolce & Gabbana coat. It’s the power of a female leader who knows how to maintain dignity and control, whether she’s enduring George W. Bush’s awkward neck massage or something even worse: Trump’s Ugly American act.
Germany’s leader embraces values America now rejects. Merkel admitted Syrian refugees to her country when the rest of the world shut them out, although she may yet pay a political price for the decision. But even her rival, Martin Schulz, backed her in the face of Trump’s insulting behavior, putting out a statement that said, “I reject with outrage the way this man takes it upon himself to treat the head of our country’s government.” Such an expression of support for an opponent is impossible to imagine from Trump, who still nasty-tweets Clinton.
Trump defeated a woman, the first in America to run as the nominee of a major political party. As president, however, he must deal with female leaders like Merkel and Great Britain’s prime minister, Theresa May. According to recent polls, May’s call for a quick election could backfire. If she loses, her defeat could be partly due to her perceived relationship with Trump. She’s being called Trump’s “mole” for allegedly helping to water down the climate change agreement.
If Merkel wins reelection, Trump is stuck not just with her face, but with her growing stature on the world stage as the chief advocate for democracy, freedom, and compassion.
All in all, it adds up to a bad trip for Trump — dissed by his wife and by the new leader of the free world, who also happens to be a woman.
Joan Vennochi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.