It’s a gloomy November morning on the East Coast of the United States. This tired reader of the venerable New York Times is rubbing his eyes in vague disbelief. The sometimes aloof paper, which tends to shy away from lavishing exuberant praise, has made Angela Merkel the last bastion of the free world and a model defender of liberal democracy.
It’s hard to imagine higher praise. But considering Donald Trump was just elected the next president of the United States, it’s also hard to imagine a time of greater despair. And that is precisely why this surprising accolade for the German chancellor gives one pause to reflect. Can Angela Merkel, who has decided to run for a fourth term in office, fulfill the role of defender of freedom and democracy?
Geopolitically, 2016 has been an annus horribilis for the West. Both the British Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump have forced us to question the order of things. The United States of America could lose its predominant position in the world under a new, erratic president while the People’s Republic of China could grow to become a superpower. Meanwhile, without leadership, Europe is looking at the ruins of its efforts to integrate both newcomers and long-term ethnic and religious minorities. At the moment, social solidarity appears to be deteriorating.