December 31, 2016

Gedanken in bezug auf die Neujahrsansprache Bundeskanzlerin Merkels 31.12.2016

(I've rather cheekily given this post a title in German, even though the text is completely in English. Forgive me. It's really not meant as clickbait - not that I would be getting many clicks in any event.)

Well, I've now read over the German transcript of the Chancellor's address.

I find a lot to admire in it, honestly. I have some disagreements with it, too, but I find it interesting that she can still speak optimistically about things and is trying to take the long view. She admits that it's hard to do these days.

But at the same time that she is a diehard optimist when it comes to the ability of the German social market economy to meet the crises and changes of the time, as she says, better than any other economic system in the world. And she emphasizes the values of German democracy throughout. She's - I wouldn't quite say begging, but let's say almost imploring people not to give up on parliamentary democracy or the European idea.

I think Chancellor Merkel has in this speech missed or glossed over some of the real reasons for that dissatisfaction - not totally, but at the same time clearly not giving enough honest attention to those reasons to satisfy the average AfD member, I would imagine. I think she does to some extent want to have it both ways, but maybe not in the sense that neoneocon meant it in her analysis.

In my reading of it, her wanting it both ways is in the sense that on the one hand, as I said, Merkel remains optimistic about the robustness of German society and so on. But on the other hand, there is a certain pessimism about the ability of Germany to stand economically or otherwise as a truly independent country, for example. She calls that a 'Zerrbild,' a caricature. (One wonders why she, the leader of such a big country, should be so wary of the prospect of independence from the EU when other leaders of countries that are so much smaller - Hungary, the Czech Republic, for example - seem to have no similar trepidation.) This is coupled with a certain grim hanging-on attitude when it comes to making the European project work over the long term.

At least she doesn't seem to me to do what His Majesty at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. would have done in her place - just continue to wave off all worries, criticisms, fears for the future of one's country as just a "false choice" and give objectors the back of his hand.

Some might say the Chancellor allowed at least one straw man to take up residence in her text, namely that reference to some people somewhere - she didn't say who exactly - who reject parliamentary democracy in general as serving the interests of only the few. If she was pointing that at the AfD and PEGIDA side, then yes, it was a straw man.

But at the same time, we have to remember that in Germany, there is a long history of a violent, indeed Fascist branch of the far left, complete with street muscle, which is not shy about forcefully expressing its contempt for normal values. I think it more likely that she is aiming that particular criticism at them. (I've never had any direct encounters with the AntiFa types, thankfully.)

But she focuses too narrowly and exclusively on the problem of terrorism, I think, as the source of much of this disquiet. Where she talks about setting German fellow-feeling ('Mitmenschlichkeit' is better translated this way, I think, than as merely 'human' or even as 'compassion') and solidarity against the hate of the terrorists, expressing thereby that the terrorists will not define how Germans are to live, she widely misses the point that it is precisely not because of the occasional spectacular bombing or similar that Germans are becoming so fearful of the future of their way of life, but the little things - Muslims demanding that German women wear the hijab in certain neighborhoods, or stop serving haram foods like Schnitzel at the university canteen, or that Muslim-only prayer rooms be provided at train stations or hospitals - and the authorities don't have the courage to insist on integration in such cases. They're afraid, and Germans see this. These and much else are the kinds of under-the-radar things that are indeed redefining how Germans are to live. One can well ask how Chancellor Merkel continues to be so blind to this aspect. I admit I can't really grasp it - I hate to say it, but in this, her speech betrays more than a little of the Obamian tendency to play the ostrich and try to wish the hard realities away.

But I still think that for Merkel and those with her, at least as expressed in this speech, there is indeed a love of country on their part, just that their love of country is more abstract than what we, or indeed a good many Germans, would think of as real patriotism. That, to me, is not the same thing as what has been on offer from the White House pulpit of late. As I see it, in this talk, the Chancellor is expressing what she believes to be good German values, not trying to tear down or redefine her society's traditional ideals out of resentment or petty narcissism (moral or otherwise).

I admit that Chancellor Merkel's vision as I see it expressed on this occasion and that of His Majesty have a lot in common, but not everything. I suppose there is precious little hope that she will change her mind on anything fundamental to the long-term health of her country at this point, but at least she shows some capacity to move her views, however slightly, and to begin to acknowledge the scope of the problems. She is not quite so obstinate or so impervious to learning as her counterpart in Washington has shown himself to be at every turn - she acknowledged, for example, that it is specifically Islamist terrorism that we are talking about.

This is partly why I can still respect her stance in a very difficult situation, though I have a lot of sympathy for those Germans who have by now withdrawn every last morsel of respect for her. Now granted, should it have taken so long or so many dead for her to make even that little bit of progress? That is a Schande, indeed. But one can redeem oneself from shame, sometimes.  I think that Merkel in particular and the German people in general have been between a rock and a hard place for a long time, and she therefore has somewhat more of an excuse for making such choices as she has done than His Majesty does or did for his own.

Ein frohes neues Jahr an alle!

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