In political discourse, the word narrative has willingly been used for some time. Yes, it’s about stories, not facts – they are often lumped together and stirred up with “alternative facts” until you no longer know what’s true. It’s hardly about these or those political demands – they like to be confronted with the mainstream’s lack of alternatives, so that you don’t embarrass yourself with your own stupid thoughts. But what are we being told right now? Is this all about confusion? Or is there a central theme in the popular narrative?
At present, the news presents us a political landscape in the context of which the word deconstruction comes to mind first. As if it were not enough that some SPD grandees actually do not behave as expected of political professionals, no, the press sprinkles salt into the wounds of the entire political business day in, day out with zest. And if it does not find any new wounds, it will strike them itself.
At first, the FDP caused head shaking after breaking off the Jamaica exploration, then the SPD leadership itself did a lot to avoid being taken seriously. Finally, a Merkel dawn is being talked up at the CDU. In between there is the usual AfD bashing, just like the circus where the break clown stumbles through the ring. Interestingly, the Greens and, for the most part, also the Left are spared from this negative staging.
So that no misunderstanding arises: Here is not to be advertised for pity for shaken top politicians. It’s about the question: Which drama is being played? It is striking that the political centre in particular, which can normally be sure of media support, is currently being intensively and cross-party scrutinised. Although after a short negotiation period there is a coalition agreement for a CDU/CSU-SPD government that would have received applause at other times. Of course, this treaty contains many general declarations of intent and little binding plans – something for everyone to rejoice and annoy – nothing that would proclaim great enthusiasm and a spirit of optimism towards fertile shores. But on similar occasions in the past this was no reason to withhold media approval and accompanying propaganda. What’s going on there?
In the Maybritt Illner talk show on 15 February 2018, to name but one example, an unknown SPD member named Gründinger, introduced as a representative of the younger generation, gets more speaking time than the current party leader. Unlike usual, he is hardly interrupted in his critical remarks about the old generation of politicians. Elsewhere, a Jens Spahn is talked up as the CDU’s new bearer of hope, a man who nobody knows from the political work for the citizens, unless one is at home in the depths of the party apparatus or transatlantic networks (https://www.heise.de/tp/features/Ausgemerkelt-Jens-is-waiting-3975098.html?seite=all). The temporary disappearance of the Green Cem Özdemir from the front edge of the stage, however, is generally regretted.
One notices that, according to surveys, the SPD is now roughly on a par with the AfD. Since we now know that the opinion-forming media have a power that should not be underestimated, we think to ourselves: Is that perhaps intended? Let us summarise: The political actors responsible so far and their parties have a bad press – despite of an economic situation in Germany, which is also widely described as enviable, despite of a coalition agreement that could just as well be sold off as a successful compromise; and even before the new Chancellor is elected, there is loud speculation about her successor. The Chancellor feels compelled to introduce someone herself, but whether Kramp-Karrenbauer will survive against Spahn and the Greens, apparently loved by the think tanks, has not yet been decided.
In this destruction theatre you unavoidably must think of France a year ago. There a new order took place in which the traditional parties, the old political elite, were marginalised, partly caused by their own failure; and there was a polarisation between the Front National and the meteorically media-promoted Macron. The political system of France certainly offered better conditions for this radical restructuring than Germany. But is not something similar being staged in our country right now? With less speed, just with German thoroughness, being tailored to our political system, and still in the destruction phase, yet with parallels.
The narrative, returning now to the initial question, was in France the EU topic as well as international networking here or nation there, so: future or past, light or shadow? If we take a close look at our country, you will find parallels. Content debates indeed hardly take place, the less, the longer they are demanded instead of personnel debates. However, the commitment to the EU as a future project and side blows against those who want to go back to the nation state (as if it was not existing any longer!), are present everywhere. Likewise, the neo-liberal concerns against too many social benefits and the promotion of investment in more equipment for a supposedly undersupplied “Bundeswehr”.
The AfD is welcome to the media as a representative of yesterday, as a dark background the bright counter-image is to shine against. However, presenting this counter-image is still difficult: on the one hand, the EU is not popular with the citizen, even if the propaganda of the anti-national has already taken strong root. Probably Martin Schulz has been an attempt to score with the EU in federal politics; but he was too clumsy personally; on the national stage, he proved to be only an amateur actor.
The story is not yet over. If the considerations being suggested here are correct, we will see further attempts to void political debates and to focus on the issue of EU or nation, combined with further bashing of the social state and the need for military rearmament. Soon a political leader of the younger generation will be presented to us who will launch the EU project even more aggressively than before. Or no: it is likely that it will be, different from presidentially shaped France, a young leadership clique in various political colours. A brilliant hero like Macron or Kurz is still missing, so it will be more of a cross-party team, which in fact can also arouse sympathy.
The anti-national narrative will remain connected to the topic of war against Hitler’s meanwhile countless revenants, sorry, with the topic of international responsibility and humanitarian aid. That will not be the first time that would be levelled political differences of opinion amongst the people. I no longer know any parties... this sentence of the Emperor in 1914 would probably mean today: I no longer know any nations, I only know Europeans. At the Munich Security Conference, the acting Foreign Minister Gabriel recently put it in a similar way: “Europe is not everything, but without Europe everything is nothing.” Oh, really? And what did he take his oath of office on?
The political destruction as well as before long the new construction project will probably not as easily to be implemented as in France – because here our party system even has a positive braking effect; and probably not as easily as in Kaiser Wilhelm’s time – there is too much counter-publicity now. But coming together and working together is crucial. And figuring out the specific polarisation which is being built right now, that is the primary thing about the anti-democratic and warmongering propaganda we are exposed to. •
* Christian Fischer holds a doctorate degree in engineering and he is author of two books on German democracy (“Demokratisches Manifest 21, Souveräne Bürger – direktere Demokratie”, 2012, ISBN: 978-3-8301-1558-8 and “Demokratie buchstabieren”, 2014, ISBN: 978-3-7357-9273-0). He lives in Cologne.
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