Speaking this weekend to the Times of London and Germany's Bild newspaper, Trump branded NATO "obsolete" and appeared to welcome the dissolution of the European Union. (You can read the full transcript here, though it's behind the Times paywall.) His remarks, as my colleague Michael Birnbaum reported, "raised alarm bells across Europe."
At home, Trump came under criticism on Monday — a public holiday commemorating the life and struggle of Martin Luther King Jr. — for his "tone-deafness" on race. He spent much of the weekend launching gratuitous Twitter attacks on Rep. John Lewis, a titan of the civil rights struggle admired by Democrats and Republicans alike.
As Post columnist Michael Gerson observed, Trump "seems to have no feel for, no interest in, the American story he is about to enter."
Politicians and policymakers watching from Europe may have a similar view — that Trump is indifferent to the principles and policies, as well as the historical experience, that prefigured the stability of much of the West for more than half a century.
Here's an American president-elect who doesn't seem to appreciate the underpinnings of the international alliance system, is opposed to the project of European integration backed by every U.S. administration since the end of World War II, and remains conspicuously well-disposed to the Kremlin.
In the interview, Trump was pointedly asked who he would trust more, Russian President Vladimir Putin or German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Any other candidate in the 2016 presidential race, no matter their party affiliation, would have with little hesitation picked Merkel — the democratically elected leader of Europe's biggest economy — over an authoritarian Russian demagogue.
But not Trump.
"Well, I start off trusting both — but let’s see how long that lasts," he answered. "It may not last long at all."
At a news conference on Monday, Merkel responded politely, claiming she was going to withhold her judgment of Trump's comments — which included an attack on her "catastrophic" admission of hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers into Germany — until after he takes the oath of office.
"I think we Europeans have our fate in our own hands," Merkel said.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry chided Trump for his comments. "I thought, frankly, it was inappropriate for a president-elect of the United States to be stepping into the politics of other countries in a quite direct manner," Kerry told CNN's Christiane Amanpour.
So too did French President Francois Hollande. Europe "has no need for outside advice to tell it what it has to do," he said on Monday.
But both Merkel and Hollande represent a faltering status quo. The latter is a lame-duck president; his country's elections in May will likely usher in a right-wing government more hostile to Brussels. Merkel herself faces a tough political challenge from Germany's surging far-right, animated by hostility to immigrants and refugees.
On Tuesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to deliver an address outlining her plans to shepherd her nation out of the European Union. The prospect of a "hard" Brexit — that is, a departure from the bloc that would also mean leaving Europe's common market — spooked traders and sent the British pound to its lowest level in months.
Nevertheless, Trump remains a huge booster of Brexit. The Times journalist who interviewed him over the weekend was none other than Michael Gove, a key pro-Brexit campaigner who for a fleeting moment was tipped to become Britain's prime minister following the referendum. Gove posed for a picture with the president-elect that would make most political journalists cringe.
Not surprisingly, Gove did little to push back against Trump's meandering responses, which included numerous evasions and misrepresentations of fact (refugees, for example, are not "illegal.")
"You can see why Trump Tower granted [Gove] his hour," Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland wrote. "It’s the same reason Trump gives regular access to Sean Hannity of Fox News. He would prefer to be questioned only by those who are ideological sympathizers."
Trump skirted questions about the European Union as best as he could. "I don't think it matters much for the United States," he declared, and went on to complain about how permits for one of his Irish properties were stymied by E.U. laws.
"I think people want their own identity, so if you ask me, others, I believe [other countries] will leave" the European Union, Trump said, highlighting once more his own belief in the importance of borders and national sovereignty. Trump's legion of critics say such rhetoric is a populist smokescreen for a darker kind of ethnic nationalism.
“The best response is European unity,” said French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault. “As with the case of Brexit, the best way to defend Europe is to remain united. This is a bit of an invitation that we are making to Mr. Trump. To remain a bloc. Not to forget that the force of Europeans is in their unity.”
But at a time when the cracks in a divided Europe are only widening, Trump's ascension in Washington doesn't bode well for its united future.
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