Angela Merkel awarded Harvard honorary degree
BOSTON — German Chancellor Angela Merkel rejected President Donald Trump’s brand of politics and worldview in a commencement speech Thursday at Harvard University, calling for global, not national, thinking and working together, not in isolation.
“I want to leave this wish with you,” Merkel said near the end of her 35-minute speech, breaking out of her native tongue to speak in English without a translator. “Tear down walls of ignorance and narrow-mindedness, for nothing has to stay as it is.”
The line — evoking former President Ronald Reagan’s “tear down this wall” speech — was met with a standing ovation among the Harvard graduates, faculty and others who watched the university’s 368th commencement from Harvard Yard.
Merkel, the chancellor of Germany since 2005, never mentioned the president by name, but he was a clear target with her central theme being breaking down “walls.” One of Trump’s defining policy proposals is a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
Her rebuke was most pointed on foreign policy. Trump has challenged the traditional Western alliance that first emerged following World War II by questioning America’s role in the North Atlantic Trade Organization. He’s said NATO has benefited Europe more than the U.S.
“Changes for the better are possible if we tackle them together,” Merkel said, pointing to climate change, navigating the digital transformation and ending wars and displacement as some of the world’s top challenges. “If we want to go it alone, we could not achieve much.”
“More than ever, our way of thinking and our actions have to be multilateral rather than unilateral, global rather than national, outward-looking rather than isolationist. In short, we have to work together, rather than alone.”
Merkel slammed Trump’s approach to trade as well, telling the crowd, “Protectionism and trade conflicts jeopardize free international trade and thus the very foundations of our prosperity.” Trump has engaged in trade wars by increasing tariffs on exports from China and threatening to do the same with Mexico.
In other digs at Trump, the chancellor warned against acting on “first impulses” and to value honesty.
“I have learned that we can find good answers even to difficult questions if we always try to view the world through the eyes of others, if we respect other people’s history, traditions, religion and identity,” Merkel said. “If we hold fast to our inalienable values and act in accordance with them.
“And if we don’t always act on our first impulses even when there is pressure to make a snap decision. But instead take a moment to stop, be still, think, pause.”
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She continued: “Granted, that certainly takes courage,” drawing some laughs among the audience. “Above all, it calls for truthfulness in our attitude toward others. And perhaps most importantly, it calls for us to be honest with ourselves.”
Drawing another standing ovation, she said the “maxim of truth” requires us “not to describe lies as truth and truth as lies.”
The focus on “walls” began at the beginning of her speech when Merkel traced her upbringing in Communist-controlled East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall, which she grew up near. She said the people in 1989 brought it down – something she once thought was not possible.
“Where there was once only a dark wall, a door opened,” said Merkel, who started her professional career as a young physicist before entering politics.
She told Harvard’s graduating class of 2019 to never take freedom or individual liberties for granted and to prioritize people and human dignity as technology advances.
And she kept returning to that word.
“Walls,” she warned them, are what could stop them from solving the world’s problems – walls between family members, between groups and between people of different races, nations and religions.
“I would like to see us break down these walls – walls that keep preventing us from envisioning the world in which together we want to live. Whether we manage to do that is up to us.”
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