Angela Merkel has been reading Playboy, she reportedly revealed to her (mostly) female entourage. Not that the German Chancellor is given to magazines with scantily clad women. But it was the only way she could get a full understanding of US President Donald Trump.
In an interview with the American magazine, the former businessman outlined his philosophy of life and his political ideas.
If Angela Merkel can be characterized by one thing, it is her meticulous preparation and her willingness to understand her opponents.
Meeting with Trump is unlikely to intimidate Merkel. She has dealt with alpha males with inflated egos before. Throughout her career, she has battled the likes of Vladimir Putin, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
All of them have tried to intimidate her. Putin infamously allowed his dog Koni into the room when Merkel visited Russia in 2007 (Merkel is reportedly scared of dogs, though Putin claims that making her feel uncomfortable was not his intention).
Merkel used small talk to neutralize the Kremlin strongman, and then later imposed economic sanctions on Russia that the country could ill afford.
With nearly all the leaders above, she has responded like an older sister who is used to dealing with the naughtiness of her younger brothers.
Merkel tends to be sweet, personable and charming when she meets with other leaders. While researching my book about her — “Angela Merkel: Europe’s Most Influential Leader” — I heard stories of how she had won over both David Cameron and Barack Obama by teaching them how to swear in German. She also, apparently, does a pretty accurate impression of the former Pope Benedict, which Putin was said to find particularly amusing.
We all caught a glimpse of this more human side of her in 2012 when she broke up G8 talks on Syria to watch the penalty shootout of a Champions League final.
But she is also obsessed by detail. The German Chancellor, who has a doctorate in quantum mechanics, is known for her obsessive attention to detail and for her patience.
Unlike Trump, who likes to tweet in the small hours of the morning, Merkel often waits days or even weeks before she responds. When a problem emerges, she gathers facts before she makes a decision. By her own admission, she has turned “cautious deliberation into an art form.” Indeed, the Germans have even invented a verb for this: Merkeln — which was the Youth Word of the Year in 2015 in Germany — means to be indecisive or to not have an opinion on something.
But she will not be rushed into anything contrary to Europe’s interests and she is certainly not going to be intimidated by Trump’s male bravado.
In her eleventh year in office, the pastor’s daughter who grew up under the communist dictatorship — and who speaks Russian — is not likely to welcome President Trump’s desire for friendly relations with Putin.
Nor is Germany, one of the largest exporters of goods, likely to be enamored by Trump’s protectionism.
Should he be worried? Should he accommodate his awkward German ally? Or could he simply ignore her? That would not be wise.
Much as Trump would like to establish more friendly relations with Moscow, the European Union is one of the US’ most important trading partners. Millions of jobs in the US depend on trade with the EU. Upsetting that relationship will make it difficult to bring back jobs to the American Rust Belt — the area that elected Trump.
The 45th President needs to develop a very different style if he is to establish positive relations with Germany. Upsetting Europe’s strongest power is simply not an option.