The picture that shows the West is finished

Face-off: “We won’t let ourselves be ripped off again and again,” said Merkel on Sunday. © Getty

Is Trump trying to destroy a 100-year-old alliance? Together, America and Europe have won two world wars, boosted the world’s economy and helped spread democracy. This weekend, they wavered.

The moment the photograph was posted to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Instagram page, it became an instant classic. The well-timed picture from the weekend’s G7 summit showed the frustrated leaders of Germany, France, Britain and Japan crowded around a defiant Donald Trump.

It quickly went viral. It is “a Renaissance painting,” said one Twitter user. “The teacher scolding the misbehaving student”, wrote another. Some compared it to another picture, taken the same week, of Russia and China’s presidents happily drinking shots of vodka, saying they captured “the world in 2018”.

The Group of 7 (G7) meet every year to discuss important issues for the world’s richest democracies. (Russia was once a member, but was ejected after the annexation of Crimea in 2014.)

This year was one of the most fractious. The leaders argued over the trade tariffs recently imposed on Europe and Canada by the US, disrupting decades of free trade. Trump suggested that Russia be returned to the fold, and asked his allies to contribute more funding towards NATO.

Despite the disagreements, in the end, Trump agreed to sign up to the joint statement (known as a Communique) they had written as a show of unity.

That is until Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called America’s trade policy “insulting”. At this point, Trump was on his way to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. He angrily tweeted that Trudeau was “very dishonest & weak”, and pulled his support of the Communique.

This final twist left his allies incensed.

For David Leonhardt of The New York Times, it was also a turning point. “Maybe it’s ideological, and he prefers Putin-style authoritarianism to democracy,” he wrote. “Or maybe he has no grand strategy and Putin really does have some compromising information. Or maybe Trump just likes being against what every other modern American president was for.”

Whatever the reason, “it’s past time to take seriously the only explanation for all of Trump’s behaviour: He wants to destroy the Western alliance.”

Can this be true?

The west is history

Of course it can, argue some. Trump has always admired strongman leaders like Putin far more than America’s traditional allies. He has prioritised a bullying, winner-takes-all “America First” attitude over the usual compromises and platitudes that come with diplomacy. And that attitude could change everything.

There is no evil plan to destroy democracy, say Trump’s defenders. He is simply doing something that no other leaders dare: he is admitting that the G7 has lost its way. Plenty of people feel left behind by free trade and the liberal order, but there is no hope of fixing the problem until someone is honest about it.

You Decide

  1. Is Trump trying to destroy decades of friendship with Canada and Western Europe?
  2. Is “the West”, meaning wealthy democracies in the western hemisphere, still a useful phrase?


  1. Have a miniature caption contest in your class, using the image at the top of this article. What do you think the leaders are saying to each other?
  2. Imagine that you are one of the leaders of the remaining powers in the G7. (Canada, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the EU.) Write a joint statement responding to Trump’s behaviour towards them.

Some People Say...

“Where all think alike there is little danger of innovation.”

Edward Abbey

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Tensions have been escalating between Trump and Europe for several months. There was anger over his decision to pull out of the Paris climate change agreement in 2017, and again last month when he dropped a deal with Iran to curb its nuclear weapons. Then came the US trade tariffs on June 1. The president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, said: “What worries me most, however, is the fact that the rules-based international order is being challenged.”
What do we not know?
How America’s allies will respond to that challenge and whether the deteriorating relationship can be turned around. The EU is already imposing its own tariffs on the US in response — however, Trump has appeared to get on well with leaders like France’s President Macron at times, despite differences in opinion.

Word Watch

The Group of Seven has been meeting annually since the 1970s. Together, they represent around 62% of the world’s total wealth. The seven countries are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US. The EU also attends.
Annexation of Crimea
Russia has had control of Crimea since 2014. In February that year, unmarked Russian soldiers captured several key sites, and in March, a referendum was held to declare its independence from Ukraine. The incident was widely condemned by the G7 members.
Trade tariffs
A tariff is a tax on imported goods. Earlier this month, Trump imposed a 25% tariff on steel and a 10% tariff on aluminium from the EU, Canada and Mexico. The EU has placed its own tariffs on US products in response. Canada and Mexico are planning to do the same.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is a military alliance between the US, Canada and Europe. The US is by far the largest contributor, paying around 22% of its budget.
This is a reference speculation that Putin has “kompromat” on Trump — compromising material that could be used to blackmail him.

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