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Angry Germans

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Volker Wagener
November 18, 2016

Trump voters are a lot like AfD supporters. The rise of the angry is also a hot topic in Germany - and could have unexpected consequences in next year's elections.

Dresden - Pegida
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Kahnert

The "angry citizen" has been a fixture in Germany for a few years now. The anti-immigrant Pegida movement and the Alternative for Germany (AfD) political party have articulated an almost uncontrollable rage over Berlin's policies in general and on the topic of refugees in particular.

Until Donald Trump's election victory, politicians and media opinions had repeatedly stigmatized both movements on a moral basis. Now it is dawning on many that not all who see themselves as right of center are racists, or right wing extremists. Enraged citizens are the first result of a maximum alienation between political leaders, established media outlets and the population. Such people are largely ignored by the major parties charged with representing the people, and thus these people feel they are not being adequately represented.

The nation is no longer a sanctuary

And when the uncontrolled influx of more than one million refugees began, fear gripped those who were already living in economically precarious circumstances: The unemployed, low-wage workers and poor families. Against this backdrop, the willingness to provide financial support to take in refugees was seen as an humanitarian necessity, but it was also disastrous in terms of its political repercussions. And the state's temporary loss of control injured many citizens' sense of security - especially those in conservative circles.

Wagener Volker Kommentarbild App
DW's Volker Wagener

The fact of the matter is: the role of the state as a concerned and watchful father has been damaged. In a time in which political leadership has needed years to establish a minimum wage, and in which retirement benefit expectations are in free-fall, the generosity of accepting refugees has become a highly controversial issue for a large segment of society.

Furthermore, over the last several years, irritation over the consensus and feel-good oasis Berlin, in which those who oppose gay marriage are labelled homophobes, has grown palpable. The mainstream media, above all, has been monotonous and one-sided in its reporting, essentially telling people how they should think. This blatant and overbearing schoolmarmish attitude is annoying. A similar phenomenon was partially the cause for Donald Trump's election in the USA: many rural Trump voters in the South and the Midwest were tired of being derided as bumpkins by East and West Coast elites.   

Multiculturalism: An article of faith for academics

Nothing illustrates this more clearly than support for the ideal of a multicultural society, something that has become part of the ethical inventory of political correctness. It is not an ideal that has grown from the bottom up, but rather one that has been handed down from above as a moral imperative - especially from those with academic degrees, city dwellers and the majority of the liberal left. The concept corresponds with their way of life - eating at an Indian restaurant, shopping at the organic grocery store, steadfastly sorting waste and preferring to book a therapeutic fasting cure in the Black Forest instead of an all-inclusive vacation to Mallorca.

All that, and much more, has nothing in common with the reality of everyday life confronting the socially frustrated. Those who reside in the half-depopulated East German countryside and have to deal with unemployment, a lack of bakeries and pharmacies and have to drive 50 kilometers (30 miles) to get to the next doctor, have no understanding for the welcoming culture being decreed from chic, multicultural Berlin. Further: they feel as if they have been duped.

Civic duty number one: be politically correct

More and more, people are growing annoyed with the concept of political correctness as the behavioral compass of our society. Those who want to swim against the current of the mainstream need inner strength. And not everyone has it. For the longest time, the well intended and morally honorable slogan "We can do this!" was impossible to object to. If it was, those who did so soon found themselves at the eye of social media attacks. And those who were not interested in women's quotas on the job market, simply because they themselves were caught in a struggle for survival, were also thought to be out of bounds politically. It is clear that our society, too, is deeply divided. To paraphrase Willy Brandt, now might be the time to dare more pluralism. In any case, the holier-than-thou lecturing that has so far defined public discourse is unworthy of an enlightened twenty-first century democracy. If politicians and the media don't take that to heart, then we can expect big changes - in next year's elections at the latest. 

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