Angela Merkel took a shellacking in German regional elections a week ago, but she’s not about to get tougher on immigration, which is what provoked her bad results. She’s sticking with her open-door policy, even though it isn’t working very well. It is a typical feel-good policy that ignores reality: Merkel, and lots of other German leaders, want to prove that they are fine humanitarians, not the descendants of the Fuhrer. And so they “welcome” hundreds of thousands of refugees and are trying to turn them into good Europeans.
Alas, most of the refugees—including the many who would really love to assimilate—can’t do that. Not primarily because they are culturally alien, but because they lack the wherewithal to work in modern Germany. They don’t speak or write the language; they don’t have the technical skills, like mathematics, necessary to get a job; and they don’t know how to live in a Western city. So, while the Germans give them apprenticeships to learn work skills, the immigrants drop out to the tune of about fifty percent. The dropouts collect unemployment. Bottom lines: the taxpayers are paying for unqualified refugees, don’t like it, and send that message to the chancellor.
I’m old enough to remember the Los Angeles riots of 1992, when street gangs destroyed entire neighborhoods downtown. President George H.W. Bush went out to California to get advice from the locals, and one of the hot ideas of the moment was to empower the gangs, let them run businesses, and put their energy to work for the community. It sounded great, but only briefly. If memory serves me right (always a bit chancy), it was Peter Ueberroth who said “they can’t read or write, how in the world can they run a business?” So they went back to fighting, in which the thugs had advanced degrees.
Assimilation is hard and slow and expensive; you can’t just wave a wand and transform third-world illiterates into productive Western citizens. Maybe in a generation or two it can be accomplished. My grandparents continued to speak Russian and Yiddish, their children mastered English, and some of them even went to college, but it wasn’t until my generation came along, born 40 years after the immigrants cleared Ellis Island, that you had kids who were totally immersed in American culture. And we’re the best at it. Germany’s numbers are off-puting. In about five years, ethnic Germans will constitute less than half the population (lots of Turks).
Merkel’s policy, then, can be expected to fundamentally transform the makeup of her country, and it goes hand in hand with the original motivation for the creation of the eurozone (and hence the EU itself) in the first place. Helmut Kohl, the architect of the euro, accepted the negative stereotype of his people; he believed that, left to their own devices, the Germans would kill again. His great mission was the elimination of Germany from the map, the dissolution of Germany as an identifiable nation or people. The euro was, so to speak, the acid in which Germany—as symbolized by the deutsche mark—was to vanish, becoming just one piece of the new Europe.
Merkel shares this vision. She and her followers are tortured by recent German history. They do not want to lead Europe, let alone play a primary role in the Western alliance. She fears her own impulses, and those she ascribes to her people. The immigration policy is a piece of that self-hating vision.
I think this helps understand why Obama gets along better with Merkel than with most other traditional European allies. They share a very negative view of their national histories, they don’t think their nations are worthy of leading world events, they both have romantic notions about the peoples of failed countries (most certainly including the Middle East), and they prefer to play a secondary role in world affairs (aka “leading from behind).
That is why both have adopted immigration policies that may well fundamentally transform their countries in the immediate future. German and American taxpayers don’t like giving money to people who can’t make it on their own. The sympathetic intellectuals brand the critics “racists” or “chauvinists” or even “fascists,” but actually Merkel and Obama are provoking the citizens’ anger, by insisting on policies that fly in the face of reality.
Both are likely to provoke national decisions very much at odds with their own confused visions.