A few comments on the German elections (or, What to talk about tomorrow that’s not Trump)

A few comments on the German elections (or, What to talk about tomorrow that’s not Trump) November 22, 2017

from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flag_of_Jamaica.svg

So I’ve generally been a fan of proportional representation in elections.  After all, imagine if our primaries had operated on proportional representation.  On the Republican side, Trump might have gotten the plurality of the votes in various states, but he wouldn’t have had an absolute majority, and thus, wouldn’t have gotten entire states’ delegate slates, in winner-take-all states.  We might then have had the contested convention after all, and if the anti-Trump side was truly NeverTrump, they’d have compromised on some candidate or another.  In fact, purely proportionate delegate-selecting system would mean that it would be more normal for nominations to be contested, and it would be accepted by the public for there to be negotiation among the delegates.  On the Democrat’s side, the lack of Superdelegates might have meant that Bernie would have had a better shot (and who knows what the outcome would have been if the DNC hadn’t taken sides), but, presuming that Clinton still won, as she ultimately did even among the elected delegates, the sense of unfairness that the Sanders’ supporters felt that led them to stay home, would have been mitigated.  What’s more, I had proposed, back a year ago, a way that the Electoral College system could be modified to keep the principle of the thing but shift over to enable the votes cast for smaller parties to count whenever a candidate doesn’t have an absolute majority.

Anyhoo —

The Germans, as readers who follow such affairs will know, had an election two months ago in which Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats took the plurality of the votes, but very weakly so.  The second-place Social Democrats, current coalition partners in a Grand Coalition, rejected keeping such a coalition because their participation, in Merkel’s first and third terms in office, only seemed to weaken their standing.  This left as the only feasible option a so-called “Jamaica Coalition,” that of the Christian Democrats (the CDU), the Greens, and the Liberals/Free Democrats (FDP, a traditionally “swing” party with free market emphases), so named because the traditional colors of the parties, black, green, and yellow respectively, or the colors of the Jamaican flag.  And these negotiations fell apart earlier this week when the FDP abandoned the talks, announcing that it was impossible to find sufficient common ground between the parties — as is not really as surprise, since the FDP is to the right, and the Greens, to the left, of the CDU, on multiple key issues.

Among the issues is that of climate change action; the Greens were demanding a much accelerated pace of closure of coal-fired power plants relative to what the FDP was willing to accept (as well as the CSU Bavarian sister-party to the CDU), citing concerns that Germany couldn’t handle such drastic steps without risk of power outages.  In addition, the Greens demanded a phase-out of gasoline-powered automobiles, which the FDP considered as a threat to personal mobility.

Another unbridgable divide was on the issue of immigration.  Here’s Deutsche Welle’s description:

After much infighting, the CDU and CSU agreed that a new government should pursue a limit of no more than 200,000 people entering Germany for humanitarian reasons. The FDP has proposed an annual target of between 150,000 and 250,000 people.

The question of family reunification has also been a stumbling block for talks. Some critics warned that allowing unlimited reunifications could result in refugee numbers increasing by up to 70,000, while others foresee an increase in the hundreds of thousands. The outgoing government had put the topic of family reunification on hold for the next two years.

While the CDU/CSU wants this moratorium extended, the Greens are calling for family reunification for refugees with asylum status as well as so-called “subsidiary protection.”

They argue the move would deter human trafficking. The FDP has said it would consent to such a move only if certain conditions were met. Meanwhile, the CSU appears unwilling to compromise, opting instead to send the signal that future immigration in Germany will be strictly controlled.

What next?  Unless the Social Democrats relent on forming a Grand Coalition, or Merkel is willing to manage a minority government (that is, with no coalition, but seeking votes for each piece of legislation from whichever party will give their support), there will be new elections.  And the conventional wisdom, at least as cited by Der Spiegel’s English site, is that the FDP will take the blame for walking away from coalition talks, and suffer in new elections, and the right-wing AfD would benefit.

But speaking as someone who knows pretty danged little about German politics, and hasn’t the time to study the topic extensively, but tends to have an opinion anyway, it seems to me that just the opposite should be true.

Yes, the AfD had tremendous gains in the September election.  It was a massive display of anti-establishment feeling, with particular resentment over the other parties’ response to the mass migration of Arabs/Muslims.  But shortly after the election, the AfD fractured, into the extremists and the maybe-not-so-extremists, and to the best of my knowledge, they never sorted that out.  So why shouldn’t the FDP make a pitch to disaffected German voters, saying, “we’re so opposed to generous refugee/immigrant policies that we walked away from a coalition because of it” and pursue AfD voters?

After all, the CDU/CSU won 246 seats and the FDP 80, where they needed 355 seats for a majority.  If the FDP were able to get 29 of the AfD’s 94 seats, by stealing that proportion of their voters, from among the “we’re not deranged extremists” set of AfD voters, then they’d be able to go back to a more normal two-party coalition, with the FDP as a junior party but with a fair amount of negotiating strength.

So this is, at any rate, my invitation to you on Thanksgiving.  If your pro-Trump uncle starts talking about how Roy Moore should hold his ground because nothing’s been proven, or your anti-Trump nephew brings a chart along to “prove” that the House tax plan is all about giveaways for the rich, just start talking about German elections with them.


Image: from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flag_of_Jamaica.svg

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