A Deplorable Vote for Angela Merkel

“You understand nothing about Germany,” a German friend remonstrated after I wrote a blistering attack on the long-serving chancellor’s open-door immigration policy.

I thought I knew something; during the first Reagan administration I spent two years in Germany as a journalist, occasionally shadowing then-Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and other unreliable public figures for friends in Washington. I spoke the language at nearly native level, published scholar articles on Goethe, Schiller, and Heine, as well as popular articles on Judaism’s encounter with German culture and related topics. The German friend in question, whose politics are impeccably conservative, cut me off for good.

As Germany prepares for its national elections next September, it occurs to me that I had something to learn after all.

Deplorably, I would vote for Angela Merkel, and urge my American friends to support the present Christian Democratic-Social Democratic coalition rather than the alternative: a “Red-Red-Green” coalition (Social Democrats plus the successor to the old East German Communist Party plus the Green Party). If Merkel loses. Germany will be ruled by Russian stooges. That’s the opposite of what some of Donald Trump’s closest supporters think. Most of them agree with British gadfly Nigel Farage, who told Germany’s national radio yesterday:

Well, I wouldn't vote for Angela Merkel, that's the first piece of advice I'd give. I mean, look at the catastrophic errors she made: opening up the doors to so-called refugees, it turned out that 70 percent of them were young males, economic migrants. And because she's given up border controls, the most wanted man in Europe if not the world is able to catch a train to France, and then to Italy, without anyone checking who he is.

Farage is right, but he’s wrong. Many of my friends are making the same mistake that the neo-conservatives did; that is, attempting to export American ideas to place where they don’t belong. When they look at any part of the world, Americans ask: Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys? In most places, there aren’t good guys and bad guys. There are just bad guys and worse guys.

Merkel’s migration policy is bad, but it is neither stupidly bad, nor wickedly bad. Rather, it is tragically bad. Germany has a gap in its soul. In between the citizen-of-the-world liberalism that characterizes its elite and the atavistic nationalism that attracts a small fringe, there is nothing there at all.

Nigel Farage is instantly recognizable as a character out of Gilbert and Sullivan, the Pirate King who yields to the chorus of cowardly policeman “because, with all our faults, we love our Queen.” To be specific, Farage is a monarchist who also wants to be a populist, a loyal servant of an imperial sovereign who presides over four nationalities (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) as well as the 52 nations of the British Commonwealth, but at the same time an English nationalist. Brexit, for which he agitated, is an instrument of English nationalism, celebrated under the red Cross of St. George rather than the Union Jack that superimposes the X-shaped Cross of St. Andrew. That is self-contradictory and silly, and the English tolerate him out of benevolent condescension.