Since then, Germany has deferred less and less to the United States—and walked more and more its own path. Germans cheered candidate Obama in 2008, but German-U.S. relations if anything sank even lower under President Obama than under President Bush. Merkel ignored Obama’s pleas to reflate the German economy after the financial crisis of 2008 and the euro crisis of 2010. The Snowden revelations—including exaggerated claims that the United States had tapped Merkel’s ubiquitous personal cellphone—poisoned the mood even more deeply. In June 2014, Germany took the unprecedented step of expelling the senior U.S. intelligence officer in Berlin, even announcing the action over Twitter. (Never mind that it soon emerged that German intelligence had itself scooped up a Hillary Clinton phone call.) Here’s a link to an RT story gleefully—but accurately —noting that the percentage of Germans expressing trust in the United States had plunged from 76 percent after Obama’s election to 35 percent by 2014. Sixty percent of Germans characterized Edward Snowden as a hero.
Whoever was elected president in 2016 would face quite a challenge renewing and rebuilding the German relationship. Trump has instead done further damage.
Since the war, German politics has been founded on two fundamental commitments: to liberalism at home; to Atlanticism abroad. Only a tiny minority question the first, but a much larger minority doubt the second. Like Americans, the Germans remember the Nazi past. Much more than Americans, the Germans remember that British and American bombers burned the cities of Germany to the ground. Germans have gained voice to speak about their own history—and to express their own emotional distance from partners they no longer need so much as they used to. “We will never be family,” a semi-inebriated German Air Force general once insisted to me at a NATO conference in Tallinn. “Americans, British, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders: You are family. We will never be.” That feeling is reflected in strategic decisions like the German hesitation to join the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing agreement.