The somber re-election of Angela Merkel

Results of exit polls released on German television after polls close

The headlines of American newspapers today will read, “German Chancellor Angela Merkel decidedly wins fourth term.” I saw tweets boasting the re-election of the “leader of the free world” from liberals in the United States.

While that accurately depicts the results of the election, it doesn’t convey the undertone of that win. To give you an idea, when the results of exit polls were released at 6 p.m. Sunday night, the Social Democrats watch party I attended went silent.

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Germany Decides: An American view of the German election

In my cab on the way home the other night, my cabbie and I started talking about the upcoming German election. It’s quite unusual for the normally private Germans to speak frankly about politics — so it was incredibly interesting to hear his view.

Martin Schulz speaking at an SPD rally Friday night in Berlin

“They’re all the same,” he told me. “They’ve promised so many things and broken their promises. Like pensions. I’ve worked for 30 years and I should have a good pension, but they’ve not raised the pension amount.”

The tone he used felt rather familiar — he just wanted a way to say to the “elite” that they needed to stop ignoring the problems facing him.

Tomorrow, Germans will head to the polls to cast their vote. I’ve been attending some of the debates and political rallies and, thus, thought it might be interesting to share what I’ve seen so far.

CDU exhibit in Berlin

For instance, check out this crazy exhibit that Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has in Berlin. You go from room to room learning more about the party’s platforms… like this giant beating heart attached to statistics about what Merkel has achieved over her time as chancellor.

I’m not sure how something like this would go over in America, but as one friend said, Merkel’s party can afford to take risks. Pundits have called the election season “boring” as Mrs. Merkel is widely expected to remain chancellor because the CDU/CSU is significantly ahead in the polls.

Yet, there’s still a lot to watch here in my opinion, but it might not be exclusively on election night. The German election system is fascinating because the voters get two votes. On one ballot, they decide which party they want. On the second, they vote for specific candidates. It’s kind of complicated to explain but the number of seats a party gets in the Bundestag is dependent on their percentage of the vote. The first seats are filled by those directly elected and then the party decides who fills in the other spots up to the amount of seats determined by the percentage won during the party ballot.

A party needs 50% of the vote in order to form a government. If they don’t get that amount, they must form a coalition with other parties until they get 50% to form a government.

SPD chancellor candidate Martin Schulz at a campaign event in Berlin Friday

For the past few years, Angela Merkel’s center-right party, the CDU, has formed what’s called the “grand coalition” with the center-left Social Democratic Party, or SPD. These are the two most popular parties in Germany.

From a distance, as an American, it feels refreshing to see two opposing parties getting along to do the will of the people.

But many believe it has caused a weakening of the mainstream parties — especially SPD — because people generally think the two parties are the same and hold both responsible for decisions made by the government. In addition, it’s hard for the SPD to criticize Merkel’s policies because their party was part of the decision process and thus, if the decision is so bad, why didn’t they stop it?

That has led to an opportunity for fringe parties to recruit voters as people look for ways to voice their displeasure with the status quo.

Deutsche-Welle debate between the parties last week

As you’re watching the results, I think there are two important things to observe. First, the percentage of the vote the fringe parties receive — notably the Alternative for Deutschland, or AfD. The AfD is the nationalistic/populist and far-right party. They’ve had some pretty offensive, sexist and Islamophobic campaign ads and when I was at the Deutsche-Welle debate a few weeks ago, the representative’s rhetoric sounded very Trump-like. (The debate is in English if you care to watch.)

They’ve also had a fair amount of Russian bots and trolls pushing their message through social media, though Germans don’t use social media as prolifically as Americans and generally are more skeptical of news reports. (One German suggested to me that is the legacy of East Germany propaganda media.)

Couple guys taking an AfD sign that was on the ground to the trash

AfD needs 5% of the vote to be allowed in the Bundestag (German Parliament) and they’ve failed to get that in the past, yet, now they’re polling at 10%. I think it is possible that number could be higher as you see a “Trump effect” of people not admitting to how they’re planning to vote as well as those who will want to use their vote to send a message the main parties that they are unhappy.

The second thing to watch is which party Merkel’s CDU/CSU, which will likely get a large percentage of the vote but not 50%, will choose to form a coalition government. SPD has said there is no chance of another “grand coalition,” so which fringe party will CDU team with to form a government? The Economist had a great explainer about the several options.

Finally, it’s impossible to compare the political parties here to the political parties in the U.S. But if you want to see which party your views would align with there is a “Wahl-o-mat” where you can answer questions and see which parties represent you. “Wahl” in German means “choice” or “election.” (Tip: Put it into a Google chrome browser so you can get it to translate the questions. Some questions may not make sense because they deal with internal German politics.)

I’ll be watching the results with one of the parties tomorrow and heading out to a polling place. If I get some time, I’ll post here again after the results.

A short walk through history

Nearly every minute of my walk to the grocery store I encounter a reminder of Germany’s dark past.

Not long after I leave my home, I pass these three “Stolpersteines” (German for stumbling stones) memorializing a family deported to separate concentration camps under the Nazi regime.

For the past 20 years, artist Gunter Demnig has crafted and placed these small memorials outside the last known address for victims of the Nazis reign.

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Seven weeks until the German Elections!

Willkommen von Deutschland! So, it’s been a little harder to keep up with this blog than I anticipated — as well as with what is happening politically in the United States. Seems I wake up every morning to a dozen push alerts and messages from friends. (Though, I’m glad I might have health insurance when I return home! It was weird to watch that vote over breakfast.)

Plus, I’m in language school eight hours a day. Which is fun… but… a lot.

I want this blog to be a “value add” so I think I’m going to just post here when I see something that I think might be of interest. That said — the German Parliamentary Election (or Bundeswahl 2017) season officially kicked off this weekend and I thought people might enjoy hearing how quaint it is. It lasts seven weeks.

Yes. Seven weeks.

Over the weekend, campaign posters popped up around Germany and in my neighborhood.

They’re so… tame…. and issue-focused.

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PPDB von Germany: The G20

Hello from Deutschland! The G20 summit is happening today and tomorrow in Hamburg and I happen to have just arrived in Berlin, Germany. Between the jet lag and getting settled into my new place, it’s been kind of a hectic week.

I will be here for the next year as I am a 2017-2018 Bosch Fellow. Each year, the Robert Bosch Stiftung (a private European foundation) selects 15-16 mid-career Americans to bring to Germany to learn more about the transatlantic relationship between the U.S. and Germany. I’ll be here for the next year studying German, learning about German government and institutions, and helping strengthen ties between the U.S. and Germany. (If you know someone who might be interested in this sort of program — please pass along the link to the application process! Next year’s application closes in November.)

It’s a heck of a time to be here! I hadn’t even get off the plane when a German let me know her thoughts on the current administration. “I’ve lost respect for America,” she said.

I guess that bluntness cultural difference is accurate.

However, I’ve also been encouraged by how much I have heard from Germans and those connected to the German government in regards to learning more about Middle America. (I hope I’m a good ambassador for flyover country over the next year!) Continue reading

PPDB: The Tweet Stops Here

The biggest story overnight should be The Wall Street Journal’s scoop that a “GOP Operative Sought Clinton Emails From Hackers, Implied a Connection to Flynn.”

Yet, talk continues regarding President Donald Trump’s deplorable comments about “Morning Joe” host Mika Brzezinski. She and Joe Scarborough are out with a very measured (and I think appropriate) op-ed in The Washington Post responding to the president’s attacks entitled “Donald Trump is not well.”

I know there are those who say, “This is no surprise. Let’s move on to health care.” But I respectfully disagree. This is an online attack against a woman delivered from the highest office — that of the President of the United States. That office is supposed to fight to protect human rights and the dignity of all. There are clearly people who are horrified by this behavior, yet continue to enable it. It should be embarrassing for all Americans—whether you are a Democrat or Republican.

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PPDB June 26, 2017: Health care and more

The report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which will evaluate the impact of the Senate’s health care bill, could come out as early as today. That CBO score should give us a better idea of exactly how many people might lose insurance, how much premiums might rise for working Americans under this plan, and the impact on those covered by Medicaid.

There are reportedly five GOP holdouts on the bill including staunch ObamaCare opponent Ron Johnson from Wisconsin. (Those of you from Kansas: Sen. Jerry Moran is reportedly “on the fence.”)

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PPDB: Senate Health Care Bill

I’ve been offline a bit this week as I have been in the middle of a pretty exciting and substantial move. I hope to be able to announce more about that soon, but I hope you’ll accept my apology for being out of the loop a bit this week. In the meantime, I wanted to take some time to do a roundup on the issue of health care.

The Senate Republicans finally released the text of the “Better Care Reconciliation Act” — the health care plan that 13 male members have been drafting in secret. I thought I would do a quick rundown in regards to what is being said about this bill, as well as point everyone to resources that spell out the differences between the Senate Bill, the House Bill and ObamaCare.

First of all, here’s the link to the full bill if you want to read the complete version.

The Washington Post and LA Times both have great breakdowns of all three bills and how they might affect your loved ones.

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Some Notes From the Swamp PPDB: June 16, 2017

Before I get started on the week in review, I want to say something about Washington, D.C. in the wake of Wednesday’s shooting. I’ve been in D.C. for almost two years now and I can’t help but think about the contrast between the rhetoric you hear about D.C. versus the people I’ve actually met here.

There’s been a narrative characterizing D.C. as the “swamp” and that people are corrupt. I can say there is some swampy activity here. No doubt. However, the vast majority of people I have met came to D.C. because they wanted to make a difference in the world. They’re working on projects like curing the Zika virus, figuring out how to combat climate change, and making sure that veterans and seniors get the benefits they need.

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