eyes on the U.S.

Just Nasty Enough, Why Too Much Consensus Is Bad Politics

While the United States' political system is gridlocked by ideological poison, the German coalition government limits the benefits of bickering. A search for that perfect dose of acrimony.

Merkel and her allies voting for another coalition government in 2013
Merkel and her allies voting for another coalition government in 2013
Hannes Stein

-OpEd-

BERLIN — It's annoying to live in a country with two political parties that can't even manage to fight with each other.

Two parties, one of which believes at the very mention of general health insurance that Bolshevism has broken out while the other believes it's okay if the state keeps running up debt. One sees illegal immigrants as a threatening horde. The other fails to grasp that while it is very easy for members of the white, middle-class to be generous, the poor view immigrants primarily in terms of competition. One is perfectly serious in its belief that you can make some kind of deal with the blighted old men in Tehran. The other can only come up with muddled foreign policy concepts that often cancel each other out.

Two parties that — at least at the federal level — have lost sight of a wonderful definition that comes from Great Britain: that democracy is a system in which the members of different political clubs fight it out in Parliament then go have a drink together at the pub.

It is often annoying to be an American. At least if you are one of those Americans at the political center, someone who could be defined as a right-wing Democrat or left-wing Republican and who would probaby prefer to vote for a party that doesn’t exist in America: a party with a cool head and a hot, compassionate heart. A party of compromise, common sense and humanity. A party that doesn’t espouse kicking kids out who seek protection in the U.S. from the carnage in their home countries but that does know that with the best will in the world not all immigrants can be let in. A party that has learned that international political enemies can't be turned into friends by diplomatic flattery, and that it is in fact unfair to awaken hopes for the future that can't be honored long term. A party that also understands that every dollar we put into education from young childhood on will pay back a hundred-fold. And so on.

The political divide in America has become a serious problem. It is the plague that has paralyzed Washington where elected decision makers actually can’t decide anything anymore because every piece of draft legislation can be shot down in the courts.

The split poisons the country’s political atmosphere. It finds expression demographically as well: Democrats often live in areas only inhabited by other Democrats while Republicans live in their own areas. Thus it becomes ever rarer for people meet up at a BBQ or street fair, exchange views, and realize that the other guy is just as human as you and me.

Tell us how you really. Photo: Fibonacci Blue

Nobody knows how to solve this problem. Writer Stephen King once suggested that Democrats be legally obliged to watch Fox for a week, and Republicans to spend seven days watching left-leaning MSNBC. The educational impact would be terrific. People would see that except for the ads, everything is different. Then, aghast, would come the question: "What the hell is going on?"

In a third step, an exciting domestic debate could take off. As such a law wouldn't reach the majority on either side — that's one thing both Democrats and Republicans can agree on — the alternative could be for an American multibillionaire (whether left-leaning Bill Gates, or right-leaning Sheldon Adelson) to donate the money for a holiday camp to which Democratic and Republican families could go spend free vacations together. That might be the last chance, however makeshift, to repair this torn land. Yes, it's a pain to be an American.

Feeding the fringes

But it's also becoming a pain to live in Germany. Because Germany has exactly the same problem, just the other way around. Here there's too much political consensus. The most visible expression of this is Angela Merkel, who, because she knows her stuff, knows that she can only feed Germans the truth in small doses. She has already earned herself the prize of most boring speaker of the 21st century (that's world historical progress — Germany is led by a politician who puts people happily to sleep after five minutes!)

German political consensus is a steady "Yes, but..." of washing over and cheating through. A tenacious and malicious putting off of decision taking. That's not a criticism. On the contrary: what a civilized country it is that keeps putting off its political decision-making battles until tomorrow! But this on-going consensus has a price, which is that craziness is forming at the edges of the political spectrum.

On the right extreme are the people from Alternative für Deutschland and the Pegida demonstrators in Dresden. On the left are the reactionary leftist parties and participants in the Monday Peace Marches. Nobody need be surprised to find that these two camps have all manner of things in common, such as a deeply-felt love of Vladimir Putin. The only surprising thing is that it took so long before Germany developed a right-leaning populist movement. In that sense, France and Britain are far ahead.

What about in the long run? Is it worse to have too much or too little consensus? The short answer of course is that both options are bad. But longer term the answer has to be that it is better for differences of opinion to be dealt with publically, even if all hell breaks loose.

So you could wish for Germany to become more American, so that the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) wouldn't refuse alliances with right-wing populists and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and Greens would link up with the leftist party. There would then be two clear political blocks, neither of which is sympathetic, facing off against each other. Then Germans could finally know that silent desperation felt by Americans at the political center.

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Spencer Tunick Nude Installation in Israel

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Salam!*

Welcome to Monday, where the UK pays homage to slain MP David Amess, Myanmar frees thousands of prisoners, and Facebook gets ready to build its "metaverse." Please fasten your seatbelts: Worldcrunch also takes stock of the long-lasting effects — good and bad — the pandemic has had on the air travel industry.

[*Azeri - Azerbaijan]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

Myanmar to free political prisoners: Myanmar's junta chief Min Aung Hlaing has announced the release of 5,636 prisoners who had been jailed for protesting the coup that ousted the civilian government in February 2021.

• Powerful Haiti gang behind the kidnapping of U.S. missionaries: The notorious 400 Mawozo gang is believed to be behind the kidnapping in Haiti of a group of Christian missionaries, including 16 U.S. citizens and one Canadian. The brazen kidnapping on Saturday comes as crime is spiking since the killing of President Jovenel Moise in July.

• UK to pay tribute to David Amess: British lawmakers will pay homage in parliament to colleague David Amess, who was stabbed to death Friday in what was described by the police as a "terrorist incident." Officers arrested a 25-year-old suspect whose father, Harbi Ali Kullane, worked as a media adviser to a former prime minister of Somalia.

• COVID update: Russia has registered more than 34,000 cases of new infections in the past 24 hours, a new record since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, police in the northeast Italian city of Trieste used water cannons to clear striking dockworkers protesting Italy's new requirements that all employees be vaccinated.

• At least 26 killed in floods in India: Torrential rain has triggered floods and landslides in India's southern coastal state of Kerala, killing at least 26 people.

• Facebook to hire 10,000 in EU to develop "metaverse": The U.S. social media giant plans to hire 10,000 workers in the European Union over the next five years to build a "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet that the company touts as the future.

Punishing parents for children's bad behavior: After limiting gaming hours for minors, China is now considering legislation to reprimand parents if their children exhibit "very bad behavior" or commit crimes.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Colombian daily El Espectador dedicates its front page to Alex Saab, "owner of the secrets" of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The Colombian businessman, wanted by U.S. authorities for allegedly laundering money on behalf of Venezuela's government, has been extradited from Cape Verde to the U.S. where he is scheduled to appear in court today.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

4.9%

China's economy registered its slowest pace in a year as the country faces a looming energy crisis with power shortages and increasing pressure on its property sector. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the period between July-September rose 4.9%, the weakest numbers since the third quarter of 2020 and significantly lower than forecasts. The world's second-largest economy faces a debt crisis linked to the China Evergrande Group debt crisis, while energy shortfalls have dropped factory output to its weakest since early 2020, when heavy COVID-19 curbs were in place.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

7 ways the pandemic may change the airline industry for good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

⛽ Cleaner aviation fuel: With air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel. In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials

.🛃 Smoother check-in: The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

✈️ The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less? At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel, in particular, is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"The crimes committed that night are unforgivable for the Republic."

— Emmanuel Macron became the first French president to commemorate the killing of as many as 200 Algerian independence protesters by Parisian police in 1961. For 40 years, French officials ignored the massacre, which took place a year before Algeria gained its independence from France after an eight-year war. In 2012, French President François Hollande acknowledged the killings for the first time on a visit to Algeria, and Macron took it further by attending Sunday's commemoration at the site where the events happened in the French capital. Still, many had hoped the French President would go further and take responsibility for a "state massacre," for a crime many historians consider the most violent repression of a peaceful demonstration in post-War Europe.

📈💥  IN OTHER NEWS

​Low trust, high risk: The global rise of violence targeting politicians

The deadly stabbing of British Parliament Member David Amess confirms an ongoing study on trust and governance in democracies around the world: It's bad. In The Conversation, James Weinberg — the study's author and a lecturer in Political Behavior at the University of Sheffield — writes:

⏪ The assassination of Amess, who was stabbed to death in his constituency on Friday, is a tragic moment for democracy. What makes it even more devastating is that such a catastrophic failure is not without precedent or predictability. Labour MP Jo Cox was shot at her constituency surgery in 2016. Before her, another Labour MP, Stephen Timms, survived a stabbing in 2010. And Andrew Pennington, a Gloucestershire county councilor, died in a frenzied attack in 2001 while trying to protect local Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones.

☝️ Beyond these critical junctures in the public debate about politicians' safety, elected representatives must live with an increasingly insidious level of popular cynicism that threatens violence on an almost daily basis.

🇬🇧🇳🇿🇿🇦 Not only are these experiences of abuse or threats of physical violence felt across both sides of the political aisle in the UK — they also appear to be growing more common in other democratic contexts where the climate of politics has been presumed to be both calmer and more volatile, from New Zealand to South Africa.


Read the full piece from The Conversation, now on Worldcrunch.com

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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