The German news magazine Der Spiegel is no fan of Germany’s populist-right AfD, which makes this (very) long piece on the voters who are beginning to turn to the party all the more interesting.
Here’s an extract:
At its core, the rise of the AfD is the story of strife and of growing alienation between the chancellor and a portion of the German electorate. The triumph of the AfD is nothing less than a revolt against Angela Merkel.
It is a rebellion targeting a CDU leader who has continually led her party to the left, stripping many conservatives of a political home. It also targets a chancellor whose open borders policy in the refugee crisis may be attractive to left-leaning Germans, but is one which strikes more conservative voters as high-handed….
Above all, however, the revolt is aimed at the chancellor as a symbol of the country’s elite — an elite which has supposedly lost sight of the people and their concerns. For many in Germany, Merkel has become the personification of a “ruling class” — a class that not only includes the CDU, the center-left Social Democrats and the Greens, but also business leaders, union leaders and the media. The “powers-that-be” now includes anyone who has greater abilities, greater wealth or a louder voice than one’s self.
That last sentence is both snide and stupid, but I guess that Der Spiegel has to reassure its readers that it is not straying too far from the fold.
The point about this ‘ruling class’ is not that it is smarter, richer or louder, but that it is so intolerant of any dissent. To use the useful Swedish word, the Asiktskorridor –the corridor of ‘acceptable’ opinion–is narrowing and, under Merkel, it is skewing relentlessly leftwards: It is that which is resented.
Well that, and a series of catastrophic decisions by that ruling class—from the adoption (and defense) of the euro, to a ruinously green energy policy, to the pathological altruism of the country’s immigration policy…
The AfD is what it is, demonized, but no demon (there’s a useful interview with its leader, Frauke Petry in today’s Daily Telegraph, if you are interested), and it has moved in a harder direction than was once envisaged (there was a nasty party split last year). But, even if I preferred the party’s earlier incarnation, it is not hard to understand the frustrations that have taken it to this point, or to understand the frustrations that have led voters in its direction.
I’ll pull out that Mark Steyn quote yet again:
If the political culture forbids respectable politicians from raising certain topics, then the electorate will turn to unrespectable ones.
Now note this from Ms. Petry’s interview with the Telegraph:
“AfD is a child of Merkel’s politics,” she says, “That is what describes us best. We are here because Merkel’s government failed to deal with important topics of society in Germany and Europe.”
A vital part of any healthy democracy is having alternatives and parties that are distinguishable from each other. At the moment, it’s no longer possible to tell what it is that separates the CDU from the SPD or the Greens. The party is whatever Merkel says it is. There are close to no correctives left in Germany and there is no longer a balance of power. The more Merkel tries to peddle her policies as being without alternative, the greater the anger within the populace will grow….
Merkel has not understood the depth of this alienation, as her closest confidants proved in the wake of the March 13 [local elections]. Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, who has, at times, been seen as a possible heir to Merkel’s political throne atop the CDU, noted blithely that 80 percent of voters cast their ballots for parties that support the chancellor’s refugee policies.
Of course there is still support for Merkel’s approach in the refugee crisis…The vast majority of Germans continue to feel adequately represented in their country’s democracy and hold no grudge against Merkel.
And yet the threat is nonetheless vast. The new AfD milieu, according to election analyses, isn’t just larger; it is also more multi-faceted than had been assumed. The party is more than just a collection of Islamophobes. AfD managed to mobilize tens of thousands of first-time voters in addition to poaching voters from the CDU, SPD and the Left Party. Many of them didn’t vote for AfD just because of the refugee crisis, but because of a general feeling of bitterness that has been growing for years….
With such an emotional undercurrent, all that was needed to transform the silent and embittered into vocal demonstrators and AfD voters was a concrete provocation. In Germany, it came in the form of the refugee crisis, which served as a catalyst for all the dissatisfaction that had been building up in recent years.
Again, Der Spiegel is reinforcing its Gutmensch (a useful word, well worth looking up) credentials. But an increasingly large number of Germans do reject Merkel’s immigration policies, just not to the extent (yet) to break with her party— or out of the Asiktskorridor.
As narcissists confronted with reality tend to do, Merkel is retreating into, well, a bunker.
Merkel had met with party leaders and made it clear that she sees no reason to rethink her course. According to people familiar with the meeting, her words were met with a combination of horror and resignation. When one member of the party leadership committee demanded that the party at least adopt a new communication strategy, Merkel didn’t even find it necessary to respond…
A chancellor who had long been an outsider herself [has] surrounded herself with loyalists in a manner foreign to the old CDU….The group is united by complete faith in the correctness of Merkel’s refugee policies. The more intense the criticism has become in recent months, the more vehemently the chancellor’s confidants have defended her. Criticism, from the likes of Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, was largely drowned out.
While understanding where Der Spiegel is coming from, take the time to read the whole article and then ask yourself how good you feel about the woman who is, to quote The Economist, the “indispensable European”.
Because if that’s true, the Continent is not in good hands.
But then we know that.