Trump’s abominable behavior during German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to the White House caused outrage on my Facebook feed. But Merkel doesn’t need your outrage.
She’s taken on plenty of outsized egos with her signature steely patience, from Nicolas Sarkozy to Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Vladimir Putin. What she needs you to to do is understand the importance of the world order, whose fate seems to rest on her shoulders.
Now, I know full well that at most, despite your good intentions, you give the international section of the newspaper little more than a skimming over. I get it. It’s hard to read about countries you don’t know all that much about. Either you really paid attention in world history class or you need to slog through a whole lot of context to get why you should care if some foreign politician has been elected or deposed or which coalition of political parties formed a government that may or may not last.
I promise not to go into mind-numbing detail if you’ll bear with me while I argue that one of the best ways to resist Trump (really Steve Bannon’s) nationalism is with globalism. And I don’t mean giving lip service to the virtues of cooperation with the country you last traveled to or where your great-great-great grandmother came from. I mean, understanding what we international relations nerds mean when we throw around expression like global governance or the liberal world order and why Merkel is now tasked with protecting it.
These terms might sound intimidating, even scary but believe me, you don’t need a degree in anything to understand them. First of all, there really is no such thing as a global government but the term global governance is often used. All it really means is the network of interconnected international institutions that countries can join, such as the UN, NATO, the IMF and the World Bank and the World Trade Organization. When countries join these organizations, they give up some sovereignty or independence in order to gain the benefits of working together internationally, such as in defense, monetary cooperation or trade. This is, of course, a gross oversimplification, but it’s a little like how we, as individuals, give up a bit of our independence in order to live in a society where we all agree on some basic ground rules.
These and other organizations make up what some folks rather loftily refer to as the liberal world order. I think it deserves such loftiness because its origins are in a very noble cause: world peace. After World War II, the leaders of the U.S. and Europe came to the conclusion that we can avoid future wars on such a scale if we tie our fates together. Since then, the maintenance and strengthening of the world order has been the primary objective of both Democratic and Republican foreign policy, even if Republican appreciation for these organizations started to erode during the George W. Bush years. The term “liberal” is included, but doesn’t refer to some sort of left-leaning hippy thing, but liberalism in the classic sense, based on individual freedom.
The world order matters because, first of all, peace and stability is good for business, which has lead to worldwide declines in poverty. More importantly, unless you’ve got a better idea, the only way we are going to make progress on some of the world’s most pressing issues, like climate change, terrorism and migration, is by working together. We can’t solve any of this by cutting off all ties and retreating into the past because it no longer exists. Our challenges are interconnected and the way forward is as well.
Trump’s disregard for the rest of the world is perhaps the most dangerous part of his presidency. While national politics are always subject to left-right maneuvering and corrections, blowing up the world order will be a lot trickier to fix in four or, God help us, eight years. And by the end of that time, the world may very well be a different place. As the de facto leader of Europe, Merkel is our best hope in terms of holding it all together until America can rejoin the world.