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Economist Reporter: Europeans, Especially Germans, Horrified By Trump


President Obama is in Germany today meeting with Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel. The two are holding a press conference at this hour. Let's listen to a bit.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Our alliance with our NATO partners has been a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy for nearly 70 years, in good times and in bad and through presidents of both parties because the United States has a fundamental interest in Europe's stability and security.

INSKEEP: That statement about NATO would have seemed unremarkable just a few weeks ago. So would Merkel's remarks. She's been speaking up today for globalization and also for fighting climate change. On all of those issues, there's now some question about how far away Europeans will be from President-elect Donald Trump. Let's talk about this with David Rennie. He's Washington bureau chief for The Economist, much experience on both sides of the ocean.

Welcome back to the program.

DAVID RENNIE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: How are Europeans feeling about the change in administration here?

RENNIE: They're pretty horrified. I think it was really interesting to hear the president talk about America's fundamental interests. And when Angela Merkel was speaking before him, she also talked about interests of Germany and Europe. She also used the word values. And I think that there's two reasons why Europeans are really scared of Donald Trump.

One is they think that they may just have different interests - that he may not share their view that climate change is a crisis, for example, is a big one. But it's also the idea that his view of the world, as far as they can tell, is that interests are the only thing that matters and that values are for kind of softies. Values are for chumps. And that doesn't just offend Europeans in general, who've built this post-war sort of order on rules and getting along. But in Germany, the idea of a strongman who's only interested in interests - the idea of America first is uniquely horrifying in Germany.

INSKEEP: Merkel, in her statement congratulating Donald Trump on his victory, made it conditional on following the same values. I'm happy to cooperate with Trump, she says, on the basis of values like the rule of law and respect for people of all kinds and that sort of thing. And I want to mention something else, though. There are parts of the European polity that may feel differently. There are people within Trump's campaign who are said to have reached out to French nationalists, for example. Is Europe divided in a way the way the United States is on the question of nationalism and the way the world is ordered?

RENNIE: Absolutely. Some of the same forces that led to, say, the vote for Britain to leave the European Union are clearly similar to the forces that you've seen, you know, the Trump. There is a revolt against globalization underway across the rich West. There is a sense that we need to be more selfish. We need to look after our own first. Germany, in particular, is an extraordinary example of a country that has had leadership of Europe forced on it reluctantly, the idea of might is right - the idea of kind of being more selfish, banging your fist on the table. All of that is horrifying to the Germans in the abstract.

And then...

INSKEEP: Because they learned from the bitter experience of World War II.

RENNIE: Exactly. And I have heard - when I was a Europe correspondent for The Economist, I went to see Angela Merkel with some other journalists. She talked to us in private about how we needed to understand that she had to do certain things because if a populist nationalist party rose up in Germany of the sort that you sort of see in France, that that would terrify the world - that Germany had a unique responsibility to try and stop that kind of politics getting hold in Germany because it would frighten everyone in Europe and the world.

INSKEEP: Let me just ask you briefly because you were around the last time there was a change of administration, when Obama was the new president. What were Europeans thinking back then?

RENNIE: The initial reaction, has to be said, was pretty superficial. You had these very shallow kind of - hooray, a black man, so America isn't as racist as we thought. There was also a real kind of caricature hatred of George W. Bush at that time. He was seen as, you know, a cowboy who was only interested in stealing Middle Eastern oil. They didn't believe a word of, kind of, democracy promotion in the Middle East. They thought he wanted to torture Muslim terrorists and stuff. The irony here, of course, is that that is Donald Trump's campaign pitch, is the caricature of George W. Bush.

INSKEEP: He has said, I would have taken the oil and that we should torture people...


INSKEEP: ...Things he's literally said.

David Rennie of The Economist, thank you very much - talking with us here as President Obama and Angela Merkel of Germany hold a news conference. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.