Trump critic Frank-Walter Steinmeier to be Germany's new president

A special assembly elected the popular politician, who says he rejects those who seek to 'make politics with fear.'

Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters
German President-elect Frank-Walter Steinmeier leaves after the first round of voting of the German presidential election at the Reichstag in Berlin on Sunday.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a Social Democrat who has openly criticized President Trump for what he says are fear-mongering political tactics, was elected Germany's new president in a landslide victory on Sunday. 

A special assembly made up of 630 members of the parliament's lower house and an equal number of representatives from Germany's 16 states elected the former foreign minister, awarding him 931 of the 1,260 total votes. He will take over from Joachim Gauck, a 77-year-old East German pro-democracy activist who did not seek a second term. 

The president of Germany holds very little executive power. But it is nonetheless an influential position, as he or she is seen as a moral authority and figurehead of sorts for the country, and bears the responsibility of hosting visiting dignitaries. According to protocol, Mr. Steinmeier will be considered Mr. Trump's German counterpart, despite the disparity in political and policymaking power between the two.

When asked in August about the rise of right-wing populism in Germany and around the world, Steinmeier responded by denouncing those who "make politics with fear," citing the nationalist Alternative for Germany party, supporters of Britain's exit from the European Union, and "the hate preachers, like Donald Trump at the moment in the United States." 

On Nov. 9, the day after Trump's election victory, Steinmeier openly expressed disappointment with the outcome. 

"The result is not what most German would have wished," he said, as reported by Bloomberg. "I don't want to sugarcoat anything. Nothing will be easier, many things will become more difficult." 

While European officials across the board lamented the failed candidacy of Hillary Clinton, Trump's election struck a uniquely worrisome chord for Germans, as Elizabeth Pond reported for The Christian Science Monitor on the same day: 

It would thus be hard to exaggerate the dread of a Trump victory among both European elites and populaces. In Germany, the continent’s largest and most influential country, some 73 percent supported Clinton and 80 percent thought that a Trump victory would hurt transatlantic relations, according to Forsa and ZDF TV opinion polls just days before the election. 

Even these high negatives don’t begin to express the angst in Europe about Trump, as felt most viscerally by Germans haunted by their nation’s history of succumbing in the 1930s to a Führer whom they initially scorned as a clown.

Brookings Institution Fellow Constanze Stelzenmueller – a German who since childhood has admired the America that rescued Europe and the Germans from the atrocities of Hitler, from post-World-War-II devastation, and from the threat of the 20-plus Soviet divisions that stayed on for half a century after the war in (eastern) Germany – expressed her foreboding about “this dystopian US election” most trenchantly. She noted Trump’s Star of David tweet, which “would have meant instantaneous, irredeemable disgrace” in today’s Germany but was hardly noticed in the US. And as a Harvard-trained student of the US Constitution and rule of law, she deplored Trump’s broad hints to his supporters to use their guns on Clinton or “lock her up.” 

"If it can happen here [in America], it can happen anywhere," Ms. Stelzenmueller told the Monitor. "Certainly what sets Trump apart from any major US politician – let alone presidential candidate – in living memory is his overt, chilling contempt for the fundamental principles of the Constitution. That is familiar to a German in the worst possible way."

In his acceptance speech Sunday, Steinmeier spoke of Germany's responsibility to fight for stability around the world after having overcome its own dark history of wars and totalitarianism. 

"Isn't it actually wonderful, that this Germany, our difficult fatherland, that this country has become an anchor of hope in the world for many," he said. 

This report includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.