As a distraction from the mosh pit of our national politics, I am following the politics of England and Germany. Not that they are politically tranquil, but neither is going over a cliff. Policy disagreements have not collapsed into bitter partisanship; their heads of state do not demean critics or go for the jugular in policy disputes. The political establishments—legislators, journalists, and public figures—are critical but not demagogic (I except England’s Boris Johnson), though they too have suffered a resurgence of right-wing populism.
Both countries are divided over immigration, sovereignty, and economic uncertainty. Both have enriched themselves with global trade while segments of their populations have suffered the erosion of wages, social benefits, and economic opportunity. Both heads of government, Prime Minister Theresa May and Chancellor Angela Merkel, have been dancing on the rim of volcanoes, with Merkel beginning to dance away.
Prime Minister May bargains with her cabinet over Brexit while bickering with the European Union. Will England exit with or without Scotland and Northern Ireland? Will prosperity follow? Who will replace workers from Eastern Europe? Which UK enterprises will vote with their feet and depart for the continent? As negotiations come down to the wire, will there be a second referendum? Or, if May fails to reach an agreement with the European Union, her party, and parliament, will there be a “hard Brexit” or no Brexit at all? Then everyone could gracefully abandon a bad idea, and the prime minister, once a “remainer,” might say, “I did my best.” There will always be an England!
Merkel, meanwhile, has struggled to keep the European Union on a steady path while trying to sustain a Bundestag coalition of the willing against anti-immigrant passions and fatigue with a decade-long “Grand Coalition.” Electoral losses in Bavaria and Hess led her to announce that she will step down as head of the Christian Democrats while serving out her last term as chancellor.
So for the moment, both May and Merkel are negotiating their way to a plausible, if not brilliant, resolution of the multiple challenges facing their two countries. Whatever one thinks of their policies, their caution and that of their fellow politicians is impressive, certainly compared to our own. Conspiracy theories and character assassination are not in their political toolkits.