September 30, 2017

WHAT COULD GO WRONG*? Christopher Caldwell: The Germans Turn Right.

The migration crisis turned Merkel’s behavior into something more than a political-science question. As Berthold Kohler of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung put it, “The fundamental trust of many middle-class Germans was shaken.”

Some Americans will recognize in the uprising against Merkel an element of their boiling fury towards Barack Obama at the end of his presidency. The AfD’s advertising campaign capitalized on that. It was the brainchild of Thor Kunkel, a Petry friend and madcap author educated in San Francisco. Kunkel enlisted Austin, Texas-based Harris Media, which has run ad campaigns for Ted Cruz, Mitch McConnell, and Likud. Kunkel’s own literary taste runs to Thomas Pynchon, and his Endstufe, or Final Stage, is a historical novel about a little-known pornographic film studio that operated under the Nazis.

In 2013 Merkel had campaigned under the slogan “Ihr kennt mich” (“You know me”), and now she was traveling around the country saying the invitation to migrants “must not be repeated,” as if someone else had done it. Some in the AfD went so far as to call her criminal. Her invitation to immigrants required ignoring the EU’s Dublin agreements on refugees. Weidel announced after the elections that she hoped to investigate Merkel for “all the breaches of the law that lady has committed.” For better or for worse, Merkel was not the person the press presented her as. She was not “steady.” She was not a mother figure. She was impulsive, unpredictable, dangerous. “The Oath-Breaker” was the headline on one of Kunkel’s online ads.

The AfD’s distrust of the press is absolute. Today, the party’s activists complain, the press does little more than collude in Merkel’s project of shaming those who disagree with her. Merkel’s justice minister, the Social Democrat Heiko Maas, worked assiduously to limit negative comments about the wave of migrants, both on newspaper comment pages and on social media. So worried was the government about his unpopularity that 250 policemen accompanied him when he went to Dresden to give a talk in July.

Trust in all institutions in Germany has plummeted​—​and with it trust in the “European values” that Merkel invoked two summers ago. Earlier this year, two posthumous books by the historian Rolf Peter Sieferle were published by small presses, and one​—​a collection of notes called Finis Germania​—​made it to the top of the bestseller list. Many of its entries questioned Germany’s culture of Holocaust memory. Now, Germans have broken the taboo against voting for conservative parties. But one should hesitate before assuming that Germany is traveling back down the road to fascism. The sociologist Gunnar Heinsohn points out that, even if it wished to, Germany would not have the demographic resources for it. At the point in the 20th century when Western countries began wreaking havoc, the United States, Canada, and Europe accounted worldwide for 44 percent of fighting-age men (15-29 years old). Today they account for 11 percent. Heinsohn is not saying fascism cannot arise. But he makes a convincing case that Germany will not be the place where it happens.

Read the whole thing. As Glenn has insta-quipped, “We have the worst political class in our history. The Germans, at least, can say that’s not true for them. . . .”

* I know, I know. And Caldwell does, too. But both of our headlines were too good not to use.

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