Germany, I hope you are paying attention
Like many of you, I had a restless night. I awoke periodically, looked at my phone and sighed. “It's happening again” I thought, Brexit and now Trump. If deja vu is a glitch in the Matrix, surely Trump is a system crash. Even worse it could and possibly is the trojan horse that opens the door to a new right wing extremist agenda. In the UK, the ramifications of Brexit are slowly manifesting themselves. However, in the US there are some essential differences. The UK didn't have a plan for Brexit, Trump has a plan, of that you can be assured, the details of that plan are anyone’s guess. We had xenophobic attacks on Polish migrants by large groups, but they were not armed with legally purchased fire arms. The high court has forced the British government to realise it cannot simply do as it wants, in the US Trump will have the full force of House of Representatives, the Senate and after he appoints a new supreme court judge, Trump may will possess the full power of all branches of the US government. If this was a football match, it would be Germany vs Brazil circa 2014.
What does this mean for the rest of us? Trump is not a fan of NATO, he has pondered why the US wouldn't use the nuclear option and has openly stated we should steal the natural resources of other countries. Here in Germany, the mood is disbelief. Walking to the office, every conversation was about the shocking election result, one person declared “only in America”. Sadly, my German friends, that is not necessarily the case. Germany faces their own election in 2017, at the latest in October. What are the chances of us seeing another earth shattering event? I honestly have no idea, but Brexit and the election of Trump can tells us something, of that I am sure.
What it tells us is that there is increasingly a global shift to the right. What at first appeared to be a European leap into the arms of right wing movements, is now a global question. Germany already has a centre right incumbent in Angela Merkel, in coalition with her left of centre rivals the SPD. Together they presided over the controversial policies that saw thousands of of refugees enter the country, welcomed by the liberal minded at train stations. Provisions required to support the arrival of so many people were given unquestioningly, my wife and I watched with pride as the country did what was required in such a straining situation. Then came the backlash, the attacks in Cologne during New Years Eve celebrations, the frankly horrifying images of terrified refugees being hauled off a bus in front of hostile crowds, the constant stoking of the fires by politicians within the German government and from the AfD and the angry voice of Pegida demonstrations around the country.
My wife, my friends, my family and I have discussed these events in detail. What I have come to understand and worry is that many do not see the correlation between Brexit, Trump and what has occurred in Germany. Let us not forget that many voted for Brexit because of what they felt were unfair laws, imposed by an undemocratic system. Laws such as the freedom of movement for EU citizens, something I have personally benefited from. After Brexit, there were increased attacks on migrants, not just against people that looked different, but equally measured out to those who looked the same as them. Whether immigration was really the deciding factor of the referendum is a debate that is still raging, what we can say is that both Nigel Farage, Brexit totem and Boris Johnson, MP for foot in mouth, both used those fears as fuel for the campaign. Facts were not important, it was what people believed to be true that carried the day.
In the US, statistics suggest that Mexican immigration is actually 0% and has been for a few years, yet it can be argued that Trump's anti-migrant policies such as building a wall on their southern border have carried him into the Whitehouse this morning. Certainly the calls from crowds that attended his speeches suggested racial overtones, as did Trump's actual campaign. It did not matter what the statistics said or the warnings of experts, what mattered was how people felt, what they believed. In both Brexit and the US election, facts were flexible. We apparently live in a post factual political world. Germany, you better believe you are living in this world too.
There is a real fear around Germany about Islam, about integration and about the potential for extremist attacks. Our neighbours have already seen attacks on their streets and although Germany has managed to avoid the scale of Paris or Brussels, they have also had their own. There are people that feel under threat, regardless of what the facts say or the assurances of the political establishment. What is different in the case of Germany is that the liberal and conservative establishment will face a two pronged attack, both evidence based and factually flawed. Right wing politicians can decry the refugee “crisis”, they can speak to the fears of normal people of terrorist attacks and point to factual evidence. Additionally, they can now simply twist facts. Honesty is the corner stone of German culture, but we have to ask ourselves which honesty we now believe. What's more, as both Brexit and the US show us, polls are not able to predict elections any more. People say one thing and do another. They might say they welcome outsiders, but tick the box of the right wing when it comes time to vote. Simply treating those with fears of refugees or fears Muslims with contempt and ignoring them is no longer an option, if we continue to ignore them they will win. In many ways around the world, they have already.
How we proceed forward is hard to tell and certainly above my pay grade. What Germany must do is look to learn from the last months of 2016, learn from the mistakes that were made, engage in the discussions with those who conflict with us. More importantly, the left of centre and the right of centre cannot assume that everything will go their own way, we can no longer trust what recent decades have told us, otherwise we might face our own personal reckoning in 2017.