German Chancellor Angela Merkel (not President Trump) is the leader of the free world.
“The free world” is a term that’s been used since World War II. According to The Atlantic, the term originally referred to the countries that resisted fascism in the Second World War. The idea gained traction and cultural prominence through the Cold War as it came to represent the United States and other countries that opposed communist Soviet Union. In modern times, it has been largely accepted — though not as widely expressed — that the president of the United States is the de facto “leader of the free world.”
Our current president, however, proves that — with strong competition from several impressive and diplomatic leaders at the helm of other prominent Western countries — this is not the case.
Germany — a country that once stood in the face of the “free world” and perpetrated the absolute worst atrocities a government possibly can — has become a beacon for those seeking freedom and acceptance. The U.S. federal government, meanwhile, has devolved to a point in which pinching pennies is substantially more important than the health of its citizens, the acceptance of individuals with unique backgrounds, or the commitment to scientific and cultural discoveries.
The leader of the “free world” is not simply the leader of the most powerful country in it. The United States has a number of invaluable allies that share our country’s respect for freedom and personal expression. The “free world,” however, is not built on economic prowess (even though the ideals of capitalism do play an important role in combating dictatorships). Rather, the “free world” is an expression of opposition to injustice.
The capitalism of the United States and other powerful Western nations has done a lot to prove the value of a capitalistic economy. However, the reason that the president of the United States has been accepted as the leader of the “free world” has more to do with the core values and beliefs of the U.S. government.
Perhaps it is simply American arrogance that has led us to widely accept the president as “the leader of the free world,” but the newest president and the subsequent administrative proposals have done little to prove that acceptance and freedom are still the policies of this country.
Meanwhile, in Germany, Merkel has done her part to alter Germany’s place in world history. The events of the Holocaust will forever be tied to Germany (in fact, most of the world should hope that the Holocaust is never forgotten, because those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it). But what Merkel understands — as Trump does not — is that history is never kind to those who fear the people unlike themselves.
Merkel has done what Trump refuses to do by accepting refugees with welcome arms and by understanding the broader impact of turning away those most in need of help.
It’s time for the concept of the “free world” to be separated from economic power and connected, instead, to the real meaning of freedom. Although “the leader of the free world,” is simply a title and carries no literal power, the position does carry emotional weight in the eyes of the world.
It is, after all, difficult for the United States to consider its president the leader of the “free world” when the man himself has little to no respect for the ideals of freedom.