Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
It really is amazing to observe the serious business of politics of another country during an election that matters and then observing how ridiculous the American President is making himself look from overseas. I commented to my German friends that it seems that the President lives in a Cloud Cuckoo Land of his own alternative reality.
Now let me put some perspective on this. In the summer of 1979 I was traveling across the United States and to Britain and the Netherlands. Back then the world was in crisis mode, the Iranian Revolution had shaken the status quo of the Middle East, the Soviets were on the march in Afghanistan, and the United States seemed moribund. The country was still reeling from Watergate, the Vietnam debacle, and a continuing economic crisis. Interest rates were over 20%, gas prices were high, the economy struggling, it seemed that the Japanese were buying up everything in the United States, and President Carter could not get along with his Democratic majority in Congress.
While I was in the U.K., President Carter gave his now infamous Malaise speech. The reaction overseas was hard to describe, people in the U.K., the Netherlands, and other Western European countries who still believed in the United States were aghast, they found his negativity almost incomprehensible. The dollar dropped in value overnight and having a very limited amount of money with me I found it most disheartening. In fact when I was asked about the speech by people that I stayed with in the U.K., I didn’t know what to say or how to defend it. I was embarrassed. Don’t get me wrong, now 38 years later I admire Jimmy Carter but still cannot understand why he said what he did back then, it didn’t help us at all.
So I have been in Germany the last 10 days. The German election was in its final week, and yesterday the Germans voted. It was a tough election, the “Grand Coalition” of the CDU/CSU and the Social Democratic Party had proved unable to meet the challenge of the refugee crisis coupled with economic fears, especially in states that made up the former East Germany. In that area, as well as in the traditionally conservative state of Bayern, with the exception of big cities like Munich, the new, Right Wing AfD, or Alternative for Germany Party did well. In the east it got over 21% of the vote, in Bayern close to 15%. In the rest of the country it didn’t do so well. The thing about the AfD is that while it initially began as an anti-European Union party, then became an anti-refugee party, which in time became much more racist, anti-Semitic, and pro-Nazi, even using many of the terms used by the Nazis as they climbed they way to power in the late 1920s and 1930s, and suggesting, quite wrongly that Germany should stop criticizing Hitler’s Third Reich. Also doing well in the east was the revitalized and rebadged Communist Party, now called “Die Linke” or “The Left.” Overall the AfD received 13% of the vote nationwide and became the first party of the far right to gain seats in the national parliament, or the Bundestag going back to when West Germany was founded during the Cold War.
I watched the election returns with our friends on two different German television networks, and was fascinated with the discussion and analysis, and I had read election coverage in different German newspapers of various political leanings since I arrived. Last night, from about six o’clock on I was immersed it the German political debate, and I found it to be much more serious and deeper than ours. The reporters asked hard questions to the leaders of all the parties and didn’t let any of them off the hook. Likewise all the parties signaled that they would not work with the AfD, even the SPD which appears to be choosing the political wilderness of being in the opposition along with the AfD and Die Linke.
There are no television and radio advertisements for any party allowed, though campaign posters, rallies, and debates between different political factions are quite common. By reading the literature of the parties, seeing news coverage or rallies, and seeing the campaign posters one easily could tell what the message of each party was. The remarkable thing was just how racist and fear mongering the AfD campaign was. Even on their campaign posters the basic message was the Islamists are coming for your women. They took advantage of the perceived failure of the Grand Coalition in dealing with the refugee crisis and by blaming immigrants and the EU for Germany’s problems.
So at the end of the day the Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU took a beating, many, almost 1.3 million of its voters chose the FDP, or the Free Democrats who are more socially progressive and business minded as a protest, while another million chose the AfD. The SPD, the Social Democratic Party’s losses, while fewer in number were catastrophic many of its voters migrated to Die Linke or the AfD, the SPD garnered just over 20% of the vote, an all time low for the party. Since no party has a majority of the Bundestag membership, it will be up to the CDU/CSU to form a coalition. Since their former Grand Coalition partners, the SPD are going to the opposition it appears that there will be a Schwarz, Gelb, Gruene Coalition of the CDU/CSU which had 33% of the vote, the FDP with almost 11%, and the Gruenen, or the Green Party, which got about 9% of the vote. The leaders of all three parties have vowed to work for democracy and fight against the extreme right of the AfD. It will be an interesting but complicated coalition and the parties will have to find ways to cooperate and a governing program while satisfying their base, which was something that the Grand Coalition could not do.
So what will matter in the next election in 2021 will be how this coalition works, and if the AfD which has no positive program can hold itself together in the Bundestag. Likewise the SPD, long a bastion of German center-left politics must recover what it lost as an opposition party, while not giving legitimacy to the AfD or their traditional nemesis on the left, the former Communists.
As for now Chancellor Merkel must now build a coalition and she has invited the SPD to participate. In one of the shows I watched tonight the leaders of the Free Democrats and the Greens appeared to be supporting a coalition with the CDU/CSU in order to halt the growth of the extreme right. We won’t know for a few days what the final outcome will be but it appears that most analysts are predicting a Black, Yellow, Green, or Jamaica coalition (the colors of the Jamaican flag) of the CDU/CSU, the FDP, and the Greens.
But turning to the United States and how ludicrous President Trump’s words and actions are, and how they are hurting us overseas with our long time allies, with the exception of the neo-Nazi AfD which has mimicked Trump’s anti-immigration, racial, and do-it alone rhetoric with building a wall, getting more border police, and deporting immigrants, even those determined not to be a threat. As far as the blatant racism of the AfD leaders, one has that while Thomas Botang, a member of the German Nation Football (soccer) team is a good player that he would not want to live next door to him because Botang is black. But I digress…
Since I have been here the President has made multiple new threats against North Korea which has only prompted them to respond in kind, and has spent much of his time insulting anyone who criticizes him. While he described Klansmen and neo-Nazis as “Good People” in the aftermath of Charlottesville, he has been quick to berate African American sports figures over their political protests regarding Black Lives matter, which by the way is still a constitutional right whether he likes it or not, and by disinviting Gold State Warriors basketball player Stephan Curry from the White House. His rambling speech in Alabama on Saturday in which he told NFL owners that they should fire the “sons of bitches” that protest during the national anthem and criticized the league for trying to make the game safer for players was met with more open protests from players and owners, and scoffed at over here.
I mean really, watching the political circus and train wreck that is the Trump administrative from afar is even more disconcerting when you are across the ocean and visiting sites made infamous by leaders who led their county to disaster in two world wars, one of who engineered the single most evil genocide in history. I am sorry but watching from over here, and discussing the matter with German friends and others, I am becoming more and more convinced that there is something seriously wrong with him. I do not know if he is a sociopath, if he is mentally ill, or if he in the early stages of some form of dementia, but something is not right with a world leader who acts this way. Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater, Gerald Ford, Dwight Eisenhower, and Teddy Roosevelt all have to be spinning in their graves. Richard Nixon is probably joyful that Trump may end up making him look good by comparison.
Watching these events from overseas with less access and time to follow them as much as I would in the States has made me shake my head as I cannot believe that we have come to this. Likewise, not being as connected in the moment hasn’t been a bad thing, and I probably will cut back on some of my online activities and try not to get caught up in whatever crisis de jure the President. one of his family members, advisors, surrogates, or media advocates have cooked up to distract us from the Muller investigation.
But anyway it is late. We did have another good day in Germany yesterday, and since it is later here I am going to wish you a good night as we have plans tomorrow that will keep me offline much of the day.