October 1, 2017
Post-war Germany always has seemed to be admirable in its ability to acknowledge and reject its Hitler-era past. Apart from the odd neo-Nazi there has been little sign of turning back. That image and history prompted Dirk Kurbjuweit, a writer at Der Spiegel, to declare that, to quote Sinclair Lewis, it can’t happen here, that Germany will never be led by someone like Trump: "Seven decades after World War II, a leader like President Donald Trump would have almost no chance of political success in Berlin.
We, sadly, are different. "Why," he asked," does the U.S. — the political, moral and military leader of the Western world since the end of World War II — now have a dangerous laughing stock, a man who has isolated his country, as its president? Why does Germany, a former pariah, now enjoy a more positive political standing than ever before?" One of his answers is that Germans have a better grip on reality, that, unlike Americans, they do not confuse it with fantasy.
"Ronald Reagan was an actor before he became a politician. Jesse Ventura was a professional wrestler, which is to say a showbiz star, before he became the governor of Minnesota. Arnold Schwarzenegger was an actor before he became the governor of California . . . . Donald Trump was the lead character in a reality show before he became president. . . . The American wall [between dreams and politics] is low, if it exists at all -- the worlds of reality and dreams flow into one another."
Electing actors doesn’t necessarily support that thesis, but add the proliferation of movies and video games about superheroes and aliens, crammed with cartoonish violence, and it’s easy to see his point.
Americans, he thinks, believe in salvation, originally in the religious sense, now the political; "Even today, some people still believe that the One will come and make everything great again." Germans don’t (now) indulge in apocalyptic visions; they "once believed they had found a savior, but then he tried to destroy the world, and now their belief in salvation has vanished." The myth of American exceptionalism feeds that need for a charismatic leader, and the decline of political parties opens the way for demagogues.
Kurbjuweit notes that "there is no truly powerful right-wing [news] medium in Germany," nothing like Fox, to support right-wing incompetents like Trump. He acknowledges that the internet can partially fill that role, and concludes that it "is here where the possibility arises, faint though it may still be, of a German Trump."
He offers a few other observations, some of which are a stretch, and concludes, too confidently, that " ’Germany first’ is not a slogan that could work well in Germany."
The recent parliamentary election has shown otherwise. Alternative for Germany (AfD), which became the third-largest party in the Bundestag by winning 13% of the vote and 94 seats in the recent election, contains some of the same conflicting elements as the GOP: an elite core making common cause with nativist, nationalist forces which are resentful of immigrants and disillusioned with the establishment. "Its ranks, even its leadership, include people who openly court far-right positions, who want to take a positive view of the German military's actions in World War II, who play down the Holocaust and want to abolish the remembrance of it." Its lead candidate in the recent election announced that "we will take our country back," a Trumpian echo. A local AfD leader declared: "When Donald Trump says, ‘America first,’ we say, too, ‘Germany first’," in effect following Trump’s advice at the United Nations: "I will always put America first, just like you, as the leaders of your countries will always, and should always, put your countries first." Another party leader donned a baseball cap reading "Make Germany Safe Again," presumably an anti-immigrant reference. We would like to think of our country as a leader, but not toward the far right.
What the AfD, the radical wing of the GOP and other right-wing parties have in common is a sense of cultural decline, but many of them define decline, and their nationalist response, in ethnic or religious terms. Nationalism also leads to rejecting globalism and alliances, such as the Paris Accords or the EU. We’re still distinctive, though, in the inanity, childishness and incompetence of our leader. Kurbjuweit may be right that Trump couldn’t happen in Germany, or possibly anywhere else, except perhaps North Korea.
42.http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/opinion-a-new-germany-a- 1169634.html#ref= nl-international.