German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Barack Obama meet for a sixth time and last time during his administration as president, in Berlin. The two leaders touched on specifically the alliance of the nations and the importance of maintaining the unit of NATO, the relationship of the United States and Germany with Russia and their differences of governing in terms of civil liberties, the Ukraine and Syria. Mr Obama reassured the press contingency of president-elect Donald Trump‘s commitment to NATO.
Ms Merkel expressed her admiration of Mr Obama’s commitment to a smooth transition of the Obama administration to that of president-elect Donald Trump. Mr Obama discussed in reply to a query that globalisation has created an uncertainty of cultural identity and that we will need to address that with further strides towards progression, tolerance and diversity. Mr Obama was clear to highlight Ms Merkel and the German people’s achievements through her position as chancellor over the term of his administration and her own.
The strongest point from Mr Obama was about the presidential campaign and the results of the elections was:
“One of the great things about our democracy is that it expresses it’s self in all sorts of ways, and that includes people protesting. I have been the subject of protests during the course of my eight years and I suspect that there’s not a president in our history that at some point that hasn’t been subject to these protests, so I would not advise people who feel strongly or are concerned about some of the issues that have been raised during the campaign, I wouldn’t advise them to be silent.
What I would advise, what I advised before the election and what I will continue to advise after the election is that elections matter, voting matters, organising matters, being informed on the issues matters and what I consistently say to young people, I say it in the United States but I’ll say it here in Germany and across Europe; do not take for granted our systems of government and way of life, I think there is a tendency because we have lived in an era that has been largely stable and peaceful, at least in advanced countries, where living standards have generally gone up, there is a tendency I think to assume that that’s always the case, and it’s not. Democracy is hard work, in the United States if 43% of eligible voters do not vote, then democracy is weakened.
If we are not serious about facts and what’s true and what’s not and particularly in an age of social media where so many people are getting their information in sound bytes and snippets off their phones, if we can’t discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems. If people, whether they are conservative or liberal, left or right are unwilling to compromise and engage in the democratic process and are taking absolutist views and demonising opponents, then democracy will break down.
And so I think my most important advice is to understand what are the foundations of a healthy democracy and how we have to engage in citizenship continuously, not just when something upsets us, not just when there’s an election or when an issue pops up for a few weeks. It’s hard work, and the good news is I think there are a lot of young people certainly who were involved in my campaigns, and I think continue to be involved in work not just politically but through non-profits and other organisations that can carry this hard work of democracy forward but I do think sometimes there is complacency.
Here in Europe I think there are a lot of young people who forget the issues that were at stake during the Cold War, who forget what it meant to have a wall, and I’ll be honest there are times when I listen to the rhetoric in Europe where an easy equivalent somehow between the United States and Russia and between how our governments operate versus how other governments operate, where those distinctions aren’t being made. I’ve said many times around the world that like any government, like any country, like any set of human institutions we have our flaws, we’ve operated imperfectly. There are times when we’ve made mistakes, there are times when I’ve made mistakes or our administration hasn’t always aligned ourselves with the values that we need to align ourselves with.
It’s a work of constant improvement but I can say to the German people that the United States has been good for Germany, has looked out for Germany, has provided security for Germany, has help to rebuild Germany, to unify Germany and I can say across Europe that many principles that have been taken for granted here around free speech and around civil liberties and an independent judiciary and fighting corruption; those are principles that we have worked not perfectly but generally that we have tried to apply not just in our own country but in respect to our foreign policy and that should be remembered.
Because in an age where there’s so much active misinformation and it’s packaged really well and it looks the same when you see it on a Facebook page or on television, where some over zealousness on the part of a US official is equated with constant and severe repression elsewhere, if everything seems to be the same and no distinctions are made then we won’t know what to protect, we won’t know what to fight for and we can lose so much of what we gained in terms of the kind of democratic freedoms and market based economies we’ve come to take for granted.”
Mr Obama drew attention to the practice of “stemwinding” during the Trump campaign and that the transition into government for president-elect Donald Trump was discussed and that Mr Trump appreciated the importance of that.