It’s The People, not mainstream politicians, who are proving to be the torch bearers. And they’re saying „Heave Ho!“ to many a global integrationist.
(Exit: Clinton,Sarkozy, Juppe, Cameron. Who’s next ? My bet is Matteo Renzi in Italy as a casualty of the December 4th constitutional referendum. And Alexander van der Bellen in voting in Austria on the same day. I’m off to the bookie this afternoon. )
Overlooked on Sunday – France’s Fillon Factor
Germany was riveted by the non-event of Merkel’s candidacy announcement on Sunday, but it was across the border that the real action was taking place. A batch of conservative veterans was vying for France’s Republican Party presidential nomination. The centrist Alan Juppe, indistinguishable from a conservative Social Democrat, was tipped by the polls (those faulty tea leaves yet again) to prevail. Yet another „unexpected“ upset. Francois Fillon is a social conservative with a huge appeal among Catholics who are finding their feet in the new culture wars, and their secular sympathizers. He opposes adoption by gay couples and “Islamic totalitarianism.” It’s this type of politician that is clearly gaining with voters from Poznan to Poitiers.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls says the Republicans, though, could well go down in defeat in May to the surging National Front and Marine LePen.
Fillon will certainly give her a run for her money. He wants a rapprochement with Moscow and cooperation with Putin on Syria, not confrontation.
Both are popular positions with the French electorate. The stand is also gaining with the Germans as well.
Merkel will have a hard time continuing her tough line with the Kremlin should Paris and Washington want to get cozy with Russia. (S-400’s in Kaliningrad though will help her make her point.)
As for Fillon, he has none of LePen’s Frexit dreams.
What to do with the Angry German Voter ?
Will The People as „torchbearers“ use their flames to light the way to a more prosperous future or to burn down the entire post-War political infrastructure ?
Foreign Affairs Magazine sums it up this way: „The age of neoliberalism has ended. The age of neonationalism has just begun.“
That much has been clear since the Scottish referendum and the Brexit campaign. What needs analysis is what, if anything, from the old order can and should be salvaged ? NATO certainly. A pre-Maastricht EU? Is that even possible given the current animus against Brussels?
No one knows at this point. Many in the media characterize right-wing voters as „angry“ and „left behind.“ Certainly, that is the case for many of them, but it misses the main point : large segments of the voting public reject the current extent of globalization, ongoing migration and are unhappy with the „social engineering“ that’s led to a shifting of social norms regarding marriage and the family. The populist Alternative for Germany is pulling voters and members from the political mainstream. They beat the CDU in Merkel’s own backyard in state elections in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Voters concerned about high migration levels cannot be dismissed as „fringe“ if we are to retain democracy as we know it in the West.
The New Right as the New Mainstream?
Politicians jeopardize the health of our institutions when they ignore or repudiate radical changes in public opinion. The popular (liberal) black US entertainer Kayne West has coined the new verb „Clintoned“ to describe what happens to politicians who hold on to losing formulas and bromides.
The waves of change, like it or not, have reached Europe. They are now lapping at German shores.
There’s a lag time with German media and politicians completely realizing this. They have yet to calmly evaluate the public mood. The institutional tendency here is to condemn non-conformism first and a analyze it later. The reasons are clear: it represents a set of new imperatives that often rejects the consensus policies crafted over years from TTIP to Gender Mainstreaming. It’s not, by the way, limited to the Right.
The Left (both the party and the segment) shares a number of positions with it. And that has created its own set of ironies.
Left Party Co-Leader Sara Wagenknecht was „caked“ by an Antifa activist for vigorously questioning the social costs of open door migration and for proposing limits on migrant numbers.
Another signpost on the road veering Right here : The country is seeing regular and large mass demonstrations against mandatory sex education for grade school children that equate gay marriage with the traditional family. (I’ll have more on this and on the government’s excessively heavy hand with social media and free speech in my next post.)
„Remain Chancellor and Carry On“
With these tectonic shifts underway, Germany was treated to the surreal show of a vague and disinterested Chancellor announcing her candidacy in boilerplate language.
The Chancellor didn’t really go into up any of the huge challenges facing Germany: an assertive Russia, a looming transatlantic rupture, the mad king in Ankara, the Chinese century, digitalization, migration 2.0, the incredible shrinking EU, Instead Merkel promised to her main focus on avoiding polarization and populism. „Maß und Mitte“ was her battle cry – „Restraint and the Middleground.“ It’s a message from yesterday’s playbook. Angela in Obamaland. Where is the middle ground ? What constitutes restraint ? Regarding whom ? And what ?
It echoes the „Wir schaffen das“ the „We’ll manage it“ mantra of the migrant crisis’s peak. We’re still trying to figure out who is “we” and what is “it”.
The „carry on and let things work themselves out“ approach that was accepted by many voters with clenched teeth in the past will not be acceptable to them in the new political climate. They’re still waiting for the state to put an economic, cultural and social price tag on migration. Herr Waigel has been vague as to the actual numbers and the financing.
The „Steady as she goes“ „Maß und Mitte” is a recipe for failure in 2017 and will mean a crushing defeat for Merkel and the CDU at the polls in September.
Here’s why :
Merkel’s Faulty Premises
Merkel is counting on the following premises to win the election; they are very shaky:
1.) the German voter prefers continuity to change
2.) the disarray in the populist right AFD will continue
3.) there will be no major terror attacks from homegrown/migration based jihadists over the next ten months.
4.) Interest rates will remain low ; there will be no end to the easy money policy (Quantitative Easing) on hand since 2010.
5.) Greece does not default , end payment, or leave the Eurozone
6.) There are no black swans (in Syria,Ukraine,on the markets, etc., etc. …)
Here’s the weakness in those premises :
1.) About 73 percent of Germans voted in the 2013 federal elections. Expect the turnout in 2017 to be significantly higher. And they will be out voting for change. Left and Right will be mobilizing heavily and there will be a huge protest vote from the first timers and non-voters like we saw in recent German state elections and in the US. Many of these voters will not be interested in the „Middleground“ but in extremes of the Left and Right.
2.) If the Alternative for Germany overcomes its bitter infighting, neutralizes the neo-Nazis who’ve infiltrated the organization and puts together a coherent plan with convincing personalities it can launch a formidable challenge.
It’s already polling at 12-13 % making it the country’s 3rd strongest party ahead of the Greens which has 25 years , an entire generation, of a lead in organizing. It might even challenge the SPD for second place – but that would be in 2021, not in 2017.
3.) Cross your fingers.
4-6.) See above.
Berlin ist Überall
Germany could well see a national version of the Berlin city(also a federal state) government of Social Democrats – the Left (former communists) and the Greens known as the Red-Red-Green Coalition
1.) A watered down CDU platform, with no vision and no will to face up to the problems it had a role in creating during the Grand Coalition, fails to convince the voters it can do the two things people addressed right now :
a.) stop illegal migration and deport economic refugees
b.) turn around a surge in property crime, especially break-ins, car theft and pickpocketing
2.) The AFD siphons off votes from the mainstream – especially from the CDU. The poor showing for the CDU leaves it without enough support to repeat the Grand Coalition with the Social Democrats. The Social Democrats with Sigmar Gabriel as Chancellor hammer out a coalition with the Left and the Greens. The AFD posts at 20 % but are rejected as possible coalition partners and enter the opposition benches.
America : The Indispensable Ally ?
The administration of Donald Trump will look aghast at the „communist takeover in Berlin“ should Red-Red-Green prevail in ’17. It will spark the worst crisis in the history of the trans-Atlantic relationship. In ’17 it could be the turn of the leftist government in Berlin to call for an end to the NATO alliance.
An estranged Washington will find common ground with its British cousins, and the mercantile Brexiting London. New friends in the Kremlin will join with the US in celebrating the fall of Islamic State in Aleppo, Raqaa, and Mosul.
Close ties will be established with the conservative or far right government in France and the Spirit of Lafayette will be honored again as Paris remembers Joan d’Arc.
A similar espirt d’corp will color US relations with the conservative governments in the Visegrad nations (Poland,Hungary, the Czech and Slovak Republics) plus Austria, which will see the right wing Norbert Hofer replacing Alexander Van der Bellin in elections on December 4th.
Germany will suddenly find itself ideologically out of step with the neonationalist states and will face the threat of disrupted trade ties as a consequence.
The Eight Week Window
This does not need to happen. The next eight weeks will be crucial for Germany – specifically for Angela Merkel – to correct course. The Chancellor must arrange a meeting with Donald Trump in New York immediately. The Trump transition team has already started the process of dismantling the Obama legacy in the US.
No institutions or alliances are out of bounds. One example:
General Michael Flynn, the new head of the National Security Agency (Henry Kissinger’s old job) is expected to oversee a complete dismantling and reassembly of America’s intelligence networks for starters.
Berlin must make sure that the close ties between the two nations are not themselves dismantled or damaged in the process. Obama’s closeness with Merkel was not registered with sympathy nor satisfaction by the incoming administration. It’s new key people and leaders will not remember kindly Obama’s visit here and his „passing of the torch“ to Angela Merkel.
Now is the time for realpolitik and not dreamy catchphrases about an imaginary middle ground and a fuzzy restraint. (It might as well as be a reference to middle earth in today’s political environment.) All is not yet lost for Germany’s conservatives. But when the next eight weeks are up, a big portion of good will with the Trump administration and conservative America might be lost. At least for the next four years. And that would have a profound effect on the success of the CDU with angry German voters who might well soon be the „new middle“ here as well.
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