From the leftist idea to Biden’s checks (

Strict look at the conservative Democrat Senator: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (second row, middle) and Joe Manchin represent the ideological poles of the US Democrats.

Photo: REUTERS / Jonathan Ernst

A left side idea has moved into the center of the debate about help in the corona crisis in the USA in recent months, or rather: actively pushed. “Twitter is not real life,” moderate Democrats had warned in 2019 against the online particularly active and also over-represented in the said short message service supporters of Bernie Sanders in view of his primary election defeat.

But sometimes left online activism can be successful, one could add as a finding from 2020. For months, the party left mobilized with tweets, memes and cynical comments – in short, a real campaign – for the “2,000 dollar checks”. Now they could soon become a reality.

After the $ 600 direct money payments, which were decided in the US Congress at the end of December, there should be another $ 1,400 for every American under Joe Biden, as part of the new president’s $ 1.9 trillion aid package against the Corona -Pandemic. According to the logic of the Biden team, this fulfills the promise of $ 2,000.

“2000 dollars means 2000 dollars and not 1400”, summarized the progressive Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in relation to the Washington Post, her criticism of it. Together with other party links, she put pressure for higher payments, as in the previous months.

Direct money payments have been part of the political debate in the US for months. The major parliamentary aid package against the corona crisis of March 2020, the CARES Act, contained them because of pressure from progressive Democrats: direct money payments of $ 1,200 for adults and $ 500 for children. The economic stimulus instrument was thus part of the “public imagination”. The US left immediately set about demanding new “checks” – and bigger ones.

The democratic socialist Bernie Sanders even demanded, similar to the German ZeroCovid initiative, which propagates consistent corona containment accompanied by massive welfare state measures, monthly payments of 2,000 dollars for the course of the pandemic. This should be linked to free pandemic health care. The $ 2,000 direct money payments became a catchy slogan.

During the negotiations in the US Senate on a renewed aid package against the corona crisis in the fall of last year, the Republicans, who actually only wanted to help companies, poured plenty of water on the idea. Moderate Democrats like Joe Biden were only too happy to make concessions. The corona crisis aid package negotiated by all parties just before Christmas was only left with a direct money payment of $ 600.

But the subsequent intervention by Donald Trump, who wanted to wipe out a feud with Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the US Senate, created a new political dynamic almost overnight. The $ 600 is “ridiculously low,” said Trump. Only hours later, the Democratic party leadership around Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer reacted, put pressure on the Republicans, and declared that it was now possible to pass a “cross-party” resolution of $ 2,000. The party left Ocasio-Cortez wrote a short draft law in no time at all.

In the US Senate, Bernie Sanders declared that he would use procedural tricks to delay the urgently needed passage of the budget law until there was a vote on the checks, but had to give way shortly before New Year’s Eve. Georgia Democrat candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock campaigned offensively with the measure.

Joe Biden also adopted the idea, declaring that if the Georgia Democrats win “the checks will go out.” Ossoff and Warnock actually won what political strategists see as evidence of the effectiveness of progressive messaging and “universal” social policy. It is still unclear when the checks will actually be approved.

Checks to all Americans cost over $ 400 billion. Around the turn of the year, liberal and left-wing liberal economists debated whether there might not be better ways to help suffering Americans, such as more funding for social programs for supposedly “really needy” people. In fact, there is, for example, the SNAP grocery stamp program was increased by 15 percent – a measure that new President Joe Biden wants to extend. Barack Obama’s ex-Treasury Secretary Larry Summer said the payments were “a terrible idea.”

The economist Paul Krugman is skeptical of the idea. He argued resignedly that more aid for the unemployed is actually more important, but not popular enough and “politically invisible”. The checks would help to ensure that an aid package with numerous other measures for those in need is accepted by the population.

Left-wing advocates of the »checks«, on the other hand, held that, unlike welfare state programs with complicated and sometimes humiliating applications that deter or overwhelm some entitled persons, they would provide help quickly and easily.

The left think tank Institute for Taxation And Economic Policy (ITEP) calculated in an analysis how much low-wage earners in particular would benefit from direct money payments of $ 2,000. The poorest 20 percent of Americans with an annual income of less than $ 21,000 would have 29 percent more money to spend in the year. The bottom 60 percent put together eleven percent.

In contrast to Sanders and the supporters of the neo-social democratic Modern Monetary Theory, who provide aid in the USA through debt-financed welfare state investments and at the same time want to generate economic growth, Krugman and the Democratic Senator Joe Manchin assume a “limited cake”, tight budget funds that it to distribute.

“Absolutely not,” Manchin said when asked by a Washington Post journalist whether he supported the $ 2,000 direct money payment. Providing funds for a faster corona vaccination is more important. And he also used an argument with which many Republicans oppose the checks: It was immediately clear that the wealthy would also receive $ 2,000 – the checks are reduced in three steps if the annual income exceeds $ 75,000.

Because the Democrats in the US Senate only have a slim majority of 51 to 49 votes with the swearing in of the new Democratic Senators from Georgia and with the help of Vice President Kamala Harris, Manchin’s vote may be decisive. In the past, moderates like him were able to make concessions in their own interests by threatening non-consent.

Even if there might be a few Republican votes in the US Senate – the social-populist conservative Josh Hawley, for example, has spoken out in favor of the checks in the past: the reaction of left-wing parties to Machin’s remarks came quickly and they were angry.

“The Democrats don’t have time to tailor their agenda around Joe Manchin’s wishes,” Corbyn Trent said. The ex-press spokesman for Ocasio-Cortez and other progressives founded the left-wing Super Pac “No Excuses”, which wants to run radio ads against Manchin in his rather conservative home state of West Virginia. In it, the Senator is portrayed as a brake on an idea that “even President Trump supports”.

A short time later, Manchin rowed back – apparently in view of the backlash against his testimony and the cross-party popularity of the payments. Polls show a high level of support among all voter groups, i.e. Democrats, Independents and Republicans. Manchin evasively stated in the CNN interview that he was in favor of “helping the Americans.” It seems doubtful whether Manchin will be the only Democrat to vote against the plan in case of doubt. Whether the Democrats take the risk, too.

The $ 1,400 checks, like Joe Biden’s entire program against the corona crisis, could become a reality either in the normal parliamentary process with Republican loan votes in the US Senate or via the parliamentary technique of “budget reconciliation”, the passage through budget legislation. According to the Biden team, this should be used quickly if there are not enough Republican votes.

The expert in the application of this budget vote, which only requires a simple majority of 51 votes, is the new Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. It could be the end of March, albeit perhaps in a slimmed down, reduced form, if moderates like Manchin prevail.

Also read: Joe Biden wants to break with Donald Trump’s policies. But that won’t always be easy

In the House of Representatives, the Democrats have had a narrow majority with only 221 MPs since the beginning of the year, but before Christmas 44 Trump-loyal Republicans also voted for the CASH Act to pay out direct payments. Because two dozen Republicans would rather not vote against the payments and not show up, that meant a two-thirds majority for the project at the time. Only two conservative Democrats voted “No”, but 231 voted “Yes”.


Allensbach boss Köcher warns: “Many livelihoods have been destroyed”

Renate Quiver

The managing director of the Allensbach Institute is critical of the measures to combat corona.

(Photo: Imago / Reiner Zensen)

Düsseldorf After almost a year of fighting Corona in Germany, more and more German citizens are saying that they are worse off than before the pandemic – “and not materially, but psychologically”. This is the result of the latest surveys by the Allensbach Institute for Demoscopy. Managing director Renate Köcher warns: “It is already clear that many existences have been destroyed.”

Society has not become more solidary in the fight against the pandemic, on the contrary: “The majority rather has the impression that fears, egoism, and sometimes aggressiveness and impatience have increased.”

Coexistence is now “perceived as colder and more uncomfortable,” says the pollster, who is also observing drastic changes elsewhere: In addition to previous social frictions, there is now the growing gap between Corona winners and losers:

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Hubertus Heil on the home office debate: “A very clear message”

Hubertus Heil

The Federal Minister of Labor says: “I am serious about proposals.”

(Photo: dpa)

Berlin Labor Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) has urgently appealed to employers to allow home offices wherever possible. “This is not just any appeal, but a very clear message from the federal and state governments to the economy,” said the SPD politician in an interview with the Handelsblatt.

Many companies acted responsibly. But there are also those who arbitrarily refused to work on the move. “That is irresponsible,” said Heil.

The request to work from home if possible is also directed at the employees – even if he understands that many would like to see their colleagues again. But it is a question of responsibility, and the employees are also deceived.

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Fight for the CDU chairmanship: the refugee is to blame

Fighting poverty à la Friedrich Merz? Please do not. The candidate for the chairmanship of the CDU gives an insight into a world of thoughts that is scary.

Friedrich Merz in September at a meeting of the Junge Union Photo: Peter Steffen / dpa

Poverty is a growing problem in rich Germany. Every sixth citizen lived on the poverty line in 2019, calculated the Federal Statistical Office in the summer. The poverty researcher Christoph Butterwegge was certain: “That is the highest figure since reunification.” According to the Bertelsmann Foundation, around 2.8 million children and young people grow up in poverty. The foundation described the fight against child poverty as “one of the greatest social challenges”.

It does this for a reason; the destructive effects of poverty have been well proven by studies. Poor people die earlier and are ill more often, they have a multiple higher risk of developing diabetes or cancer, suffering a heart attack or a stroke. Poverty humiliates and puts people under enormous stress, it shapes a lifetime. Will the old, used washing machine hold out? How do I pay a birthday present for the six year old? How do I explain to her that she doesn’t get an ice cream like other children? Such questions arise every day for poor people.

So let’s switch to Friedrich Merz, the man who wants to become chairman of the most important ruling party in Germany and the next Federal Chancellor. What would he do to narrow the gap between rich and poor?

When he was asked this on Monday during a CDU talk with applicants for party chairmanship, he replied with a few memorable sentences: “You have to say, though, if we hadn’t had immigration into the social systems in 2015 and 2016 , we would have a million less Hartz IV recipients in Germany today. ”That, he added, is part of the full picture of the debate and is“ unfortunately often enough suppressed ”.

False connection

Well, where do you start? This brilliant idea is by no means suppressed, instead it has been hounded to the point of vomiting in all debates on refugee policy since 2015. Merz assumes: The refugees are to blame that less money remains for poor Germans. This intellectual connection is perfidious on several levels. She implicitly blames Angela Merkel for letting the refugees into the country. It is lying because a Friedrich Merz would of course not plead for higher Hartz IV standard rates even without a single refugee.

Above all, however, he draws on a figure popular with right-wing extremists. “No immigration into the social systems” is a classic of the AfD, which beats the motives of refugees over a cheap bar. In their way of thinking, Syrians do not flee from Assad’s barrel bombs, they are also not ready to work or want to achieve the best for their children. No, they come to make themselves comfortable on the German couch. Merz allows this association.

His second idea about fighting poverty was also of little help. The European Central Bank’s zero interest rate policy will have an impact on savings, he said to the friendly moderator. “If you don’t get any more interest, you can hardly save any more.” Of course, zero interest rates are the problem! That poor people usually don’t save a cent and have to put all their money back into consumption immediately is obviously unthinkable in Merz’s world. This is how you imagine the country’s problems when you fly over it in a private plane.

Merz’s answers are also so grotesquely wrong because they negate political responsibility. The CDU has been the Chancellor for 15 years, so she has headed every federal government for a good decade and a half. Its policy can be roughly summarized in such a way that it gives material consideration to and protects privileged groups, but reliably opposes improvements for poor people. Higher inheritance tax? No way. Wealth tax? Socialism. Low minimum wage? Yeah Increase in Hartz IV rates? Okay, 14 euros, but only because there is no other way.

A new chord

Merz is now adding a new chord to this pathetic concerto by pitting the weak against the weaker. Unfortunately, this is no small matter because he has a real chance of becoming a candidate for chancellor. The question of distribution will be a massive one for the next government. The state has spent hundreds of billions of euros on the fight against corona. The Union lacks the coolness to simply leave the national debt behind. She wants to keep the debt brake, but also tax cuts for high earners.

To make this wish-what possible, the way out is to cut social spending. This is another reason why one should remember Friedrich Merz’s sentences.


People of the year 2020: out of the crisis

(Photo: Merck, Imago, Curevac, dpa (2), A. Brosch, Reuters, ddp, getty, reuters, ap [M])

  • 2020 should be the year of superlatives – in the positive. But everything turned out differently than predicted. Covid-19 got us this year taught a lot and many of ours Vulnerabilities uncovered. Now is not just that Time for a high national debt, for …. As well strong reforms.
  • The Corona pandemic dominated in large parts of our (economic) life this year. But there were many others as well exciting topics and formative personalities.
  • Who is the climber, what is the excitement, which is the start-up of the year? For the 12th time in a row, a jury has chosen the “People of the Year” – and the editorial team asked prominent authors to honor the award winners.

What a year. We started the new decade with high hopes and big goals. We are not talking about the personal New Year’s resolutions for New Year’s Eve, which we usually give up by mid-January at the latest, but rather about the expectations of the economic, technological and social development of our country. We were sure that 2020 would be the year of superlatives.

It turned out different than predicted in many ways and different from what we had imagined. The year was only a few weeks old when we heard of a rapidly spreading virus. A short time later, Covid-19 also reached Germany.

Almost no one had a pandemic of this size on their radar. Virologists and infection researchers had long warned that the consequences of climate change and our constant penetration into the habitats of wild animals increased the likelihood of zoonoses, i.e. viruses that spread from animals to humans. We largely ignored this danger.

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Italy’s path at Christmas is radical, but correct

Masked nativity play in Turin Cathedral

Christmas practically falls out in Italy.

(Foto: action press)

Rom Saving Christmas somehow: That seemed to be the mantra of German politics in recent weeks. First the waiver in the November light lockdown, then as a reward the giving of presents on Christmas Eve. The festival of love as sacrilege, inviolable for the troublesome pandemic.

An absurd idea, as has meanwhile shown. The number of infections is not ebbing as desired, the number of corona patients in intensive care units is increasing rapidly, too many new hotspots are popping up. The political decisions in autumn were far too hesitant – and too gentle.

Italy’s government has chosen the harder but more honest path: On Thursday evening, Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte announced the end of all illusions that some Italians may have had: From December 21st to January 6th, citizens are only allowed to visit their region in a few exceptions leave.

Premier Giuseppe Conte

Italy’s prime minister announced drastic corona measures on Thursday evening.

(Photo: ROPI)

Nobody should go from Rome to Venice to visit their parents, nobody should set off from Liguria towards the Alps to celebrate the New Year in a holiday home. Skiing and cruising are also prohibited. What sounds drastic, becomes even more extreme at the festival: Italians are not even allowed to leave their community on the holidays and New Year. Christmas is practically canceled.

Even if the citizens’ freedom of movement is massively restricted, this step is absolutely necessary if Italy wants to prevent a third wave. The example of Germany shows that even closed restaurants and bars do not prevent increasing numbers of infections. People like to go inside on cold, dark days. And too many do not stay among themselves there.

A part of the population that should not be underestimated takes the corona warnings lightly, meets with one household today, with the other tomorrow, and on the weekend grandma can cuddle the grandchildren.

Corona fatigue creeps in

It is similar in Italy, too, where “la famiglia” is even more important, where many generations often live in one house where a kiss-left, kiss-right is part of the national identity.

For months, most Italians were disciplined, adhering to the strict rules, accepting one edict after another. But slowly a certain Corona fatigue creeps in here as well. The vaccines are coming soon, can’t the mask sit a little looser at Christmas?

The images of military transporters transporting coffins in Lombardy in March have been burned into the collective memory. They should be a steady warning for what could happen if the third wave piles up too high. The second is not even over. More than 750,000 people in the country are still infected with the virus.

Sad record


Corona deaths within 24 hours were recorded in Italy on Thursday

On Thursday, 993 people died within 24 hours – a gruesome new record. Some hospitals are still overloaded, operations have been postponed, and there are too few places for patients without Covid-19. But the curve is slowly ebbing, the number of intensive care patients is falling – also because of the tough new measures that have been in place in large parts of the country since November.

Anyone in Germany who complains about not being allowed to go to the restaurant or the cinema should realize that many Italians have been locked in their apartments for more than a month, almost like they were in the drastic spring lockdown. Even those who live in the red zones of the country this winter are only allowed out for work, shopping or visits to the doctor, always with a self-assessment in their pocket. There is still a curfew from 10 p.m. across the country.

This weekend many regions will change the emergency color to yellow or orange, but the strictest rules only apply to Abruzzo. Conte’s Christmas plan makes it clear that the country is not allowed to breathe a sigh of relief. Even if Italy longs for a dignified, solemn end to this socially and economically painful year: Right now the people must go along.

The bitter realization: Christmas has to be canceled

The number of sensible people predominates who want to celebrate Christmas in smaller groups. But even the small circle is still too big. Even if it is difficult to accept: This festival will be completely different from usual – it has to be canceled in large parts. A hard truth that the Italian government, unlike the German, dared to speak.

Rome has also turned the bitter knowledge into politics. It may not be a perfect fit and fair everywhere: Milanese or Romans are much less restricted by the size of their city than Italians in the country. But the principle of allowing as little contact and as little movement as possible is absolutely correct.

The government has not issued a ban on meeting the extended family. But it appeals intensely to the common sense of the citizens. And yet, despite the travel ban, people are looking for their loopholes. Train bookings for the last weekend before the travel lockdown have already skyrocketed.

It is a typical reflex to circumnavigate new bans. What is not prohibited is somehow allowed. But this year, egoism should take a back seat, whether in Germany or Italy. Christmas is the Celebration of Love. And this love for the family, the elderly, the whole of society, is not expressed this year through closeness, but through the greatest possible distance.

More: How different the strategies of the countries look like with the corona vaccination plan.


After the US election, Scholz warns of a split in Germany as well

Vice Chancellor Scholz

“Here in Germany, too, we can see that society is diverging. That some feel like second-class citizens, ”explained Olaf Scholz.

(Photo: Reuters)

Berlin Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz considers the tight election result and the polarization in the USA to be a warning to Germany. It was not only a political thriller that lasted for days, but it was also an urgent warning of where it could lead if a society could be divided, writes the SPD politician in a guest post for “Bild am Sonntag”. In the USA, it is not just the contrast between rich and poor that divides the country. It is the growing contrast between city dwellers and the rural population.

“Here in Germany, too, we can see that society is diverging. That some feel like second-class citizens, ”explained Scholz. The finance minister therefore called on the Germans to show more mutual respect. “This question will also be the focus of our political debate over the next few weeks and months.”

Bundestag President Wolfgang Schäuble expressed concern about the state of democracy. “Our model of a free democracy based on the rule of law is under great pressure. Almost everywhere in the West – in many places in Europe, in the United States, “said the CDU politician of the newspaper.

The reason is that the cohesive forces of the popular parties are dwindling and the fragmentation and polarization of western societies due to globalization and digitization are increasing. The corona pandemic is compounding that. “At the same time, Western democracy is in the competition of systems with the authoritarian Chinese model.”

More: Berlin reacted relieved to the election of Biden – experts warn of high expectations


“Without growth we cannot fight poverty”

Frankfurt Amartya Sen likes Germany. “I was there sometimes during my years as a professor in Cambridge,” says this year’s Peace Prize winner of the German book trade. Once he interrupted the journey on the Rhine from Cologne to Mannheim in Rüdesheim and started talking to German students there. Barely ten years after the end of the war, he talked to them about German politics. That was always his life as a scientist: seeking conversation, exchanging opinions and staying away from any ideology.

He also remembers Baden-Baden and the Black Forest. “I hope the trees there are not too damaged by climate change,” he said in a video interview from Harvard, where he has been teaching economics and philosophy for decades.

And that brings us to the topic: Crises and disasters have always preoccupied him. Born in 1933 in Bengal, then still under British rule, he experienced a brutal famine as a child. He later became known with his thesis that hunger, for example in Ireland in the mid-19th century, practically always has political causes.

Malnutrition, poor medical care, the lack of educational opportunities, especially for women – these are the topics he researches, which earned him the 1998 Nobel Prize for Economics. You can read them in German in the newly published book “Economics for People”, in the original under “Development as Freedom”.

Today the corona crisis is in the foreground. “It is important to react early, to inform the population and to get them to cooperate,” he says. That failed in the USA. He mentions South Korea and Vietnam as positive examples. In addition, the policy of the state of Kerala, where the number of infections is relatively low, has once again proven its worth during the crisis. There it comes to the fore that a large part of the population can read and that basic social and medical care has long been available that benefits women in particular.

This has also proven itself economically. “In the 1960s, Kerala was one of the poorest states in India and is now one of the richest,” says Sen. However, he criticizes the corona policy at the federal level in India. “There the lockdown was imposed with just four hours’ notice,” he says. “That left a lot of people without an income, and many migrant workers couldn’t go home.”

Corona has shown how important functioning state institutions are. Similarly, in connection with the climate crisis, the discussion is flaring up again about what the market can do to solve the problems and how much government we need. Capitalism itself is coming under more criticism again. In addition, the question arises whether an effective climate policy can even be reconciled with economic growth or whether much more “de-growth”, i.e. economic shrinkage, is the order of the day in order to protect the foundations of life.

Sen makes it clear: “We need growth, otherwise we cannot fight poverty.” He also considers many discussions about “capitalism and socialism to be useless” because he is convinced: “We need the right mix of institutions.” For Adam Smith, the Scottish enlightener and founder of modern economics, said it was a matter of course that there had to be well-functioning public institutions alongside markets.

Awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade

Sen was switched from Boston to Frankfurt in the Paulskirche.

(Photo: dpa)

Sen also attributes his theory of justice to Smith, to which he dedicated an entire book in 2010 with “The Idea of ​​Justice”. There, too, the point is not to define the term abstractly, but to align it with human needs. But he can’t do too much with “Climate Justice”, the climate justice that plays a major role today in the “Fridays for Future” movement. “Justice has to encompass all of life,” he says, and the consequences of the climate crisis are only part of it.

The third major crisis of our time is populism occurring worldwide. Sen cites “deceiving people” and “sowing hatred of minorities” as his essential elements. It is often the immigrants against whom this hatred is directed. In doing so, he states for America: “The USA is currently thriving through immigration.” He has also written a book on this complex: “The Identity Trap”.

The book is the opposite of the alleged “clash of civilizations” that Samuel Huntington wrote about. The “identity trap” arises when others want to narrow us down to one characteristic. Sen, which should not be overlooked, has a lesson ready for the well-meaning: Not every migrant wants to be addressed as a migrant, no matter how friendly, and not every Muslim is constantly addressed as a Muslim; many simply want to be Germans among Germans without having to deny their roots.

Justice must encompass all of life. Amartya Sen.

The concept of freedom is central to Sen – and he takes it very broadly. In his writings he describes freedom as an opportunity to shape life according to one’s own ideas. He describes “the ability to survive and not to die” as “very elementary”. In addition to political freedom and basic civil rights, he mentions “the possibility of entering into exchange relationships” and, more generally, “the freedom of individuals to act as they see fit and to decide for themselves where they work, what they produce, what they want to consume”.

Conversely, hunger, malnutrition, poor health care, the lack of sanitation or clean water, the occurrence of preventable diseases, deficiencies in vocational training, the lack of well-paid jobs and social security, and inequality between men and women are considered to be unfreedom.

You can see that with this approach, which he shares with other US left-wing liberals like Martha Nussbaum, he has introduced a comprehensive social concept into the concept of freedom: a frontal attack on the right-wing liberals, who always present social security as the opposite of freedom. At the same time, however, it has little to do with the kind of leftist, who dislike economic growth and free markets on principle.

Amartya Sen: Sharing the world. Six lessons on justice.
C.H. Beck
Munich 2020
128 pages
12 Euro

In line with the award of the Peace Prize, Beck-Verlag is bringing out a narrow volume with essays by Sen under the title “Dividing the World – Six Lessons on Justice”. The essays deal with mistakes in the fight against malnutrition, the importance of the media for freedom, school education and “Poverty, War and Peace”.

He is still looking for a German publisher for another book: He has written down “memories” of his life in India, Burma, Oxford and Cambridge; not an autobiography in the classic sense, but a relaxed narration of experiences. However, this book ends at the age of mid-30s. Sen: “I won’t go any further, otherwise it will be too fat.”

More: Amartya Sen: Peace Prize for the Fighter for Justice


“Donald Trump is not an outlier in history”

Herfried Münkler

The political scientist says: “There are also some in Europe who see developments in the US under Trump as exemplary.”

(Photo: image images / Reiner Zensen)

Berlin “What do we actually want to talk about?” Asks Herfried Münkler at the beginning of our conversation about the US elections. The unclear result forces the 69-year-old political scientist from Berlin’s Humboldt University to use the subjunctive more often. Nevertheless, Münkler puts his finger in some open wounds of American democracy.

He considers the right to vote outdated. It favored polarization in the country. The dispute that has already begun over the outcome of the election could also result in violence. The political scientist hopes that Europe will bring more self-confidence towards the USA. The outcome of the election will determine how big the gap to America will be.

He advises Europeans to keep more or less distance from the new government in Washington, depending on the outcome of the election.

Mr. Münkler, have you been surprised by the election results so far?
No, not really. If the US presidents are elected, that always has consequences for Europe and especially for Germany. This often brings you into a conflict between your own wishes and the necessary distance from them. After the surprise success of Trump in 2016, my skepticism about opinion polls increased again. In addition, the American electoral system makes forecasting much more difficult than in other countries. So election night didn’t surprise me, but it shook me back and forth.

Are the rules of the game of the oldest democracy still appropriate?
The founding fathers of the United States always spoke of a republic, not a democracy. In America we are dealing with a constitution made up of aristocratic elements and citizen participation. The idea of ​​electors in the electoral college dates back to the age of the stagecoach and seems completely out of date today. In addition, in a large country like the USA, the votes of the large states carry more weight than those with large metropolitan areas. In many federal democracies this leads to a structurally conservative consolidation. A reform would change the current distribution of power and therefore meet with stiff resistance.

Why did so many people vote for President Donald Trump, even though the US is being hit harder than most other countries by the corona crisis and Trump cannot get the crisis under control?
This shows that there are fewer swing voters in the US than many believed. Rather, we are dealing with entrenched political camps stabilizing with their own narratives. Trump is seen as a hero who opposes a corrupt system. And during the election campaign, the president deliberately stirred up enemy images from his political opponents, which led to further polarization. He branded his adversary Biden as a socialist. The US has found itself in a position that its constitution fathers absolutely wanted to avoid: permanent political civil war. We are currently experiencing a live lesson in the history of democracy.

The rift between the political camps is getting deeper

How does the country get out of this ordeal?
Many hoped that the elections could heal the division in the country, relying on Joe Biden, who is more of a man of center and balance. That will not be the case after this election, regardless of who becomes president in the end. The dispute over the election result will preoccupy America for a long time. If it goes well, the matter goes to the Supreme Court. If not, the dispute could also be violent on the streets. If Biden won, he might reconcile the country. Now the US is facing a lengthy healing process. The constitutional fathers of the USA warned against the collapse of the republic if two camps were irreconcilable.

What does this choice mean for the US image in the world?
The messy situation is not exactly exemplary for a liberal democratic constitutional state. On the other hand, populist politicians will follow this example. Trump’s approach can certainly be copied, as we have already seen with the Brazilian President Bolsonaro. But that could also set an example in Europe. Liberal democracies are not as invulnerable as many have thought we were since the 1960s. Abuse of power is not always punished with disempowerment, as we can see now in the US.

Will anti-liberal forces in Russia and China see themselves confirmed by the election?
I do think that the system competition will be further intensified by the election. Especially in countries that have not yet clearly decided on a social model. Basically we are dealing with a two-part west. If you put the European West and the USA next to each other, in the eyes of many you can no longer speak of the West. The ability to copy the Trump model is more likely to fuel autocratic aspirations around the world. The liberal democracies in Europe are at a loss when it comes to this.

Does that also apply to the community of values ​​with the USA?
We Europeans certainly still feel more connected to the USA than to China. But when it comes to the implementation of international treaties such as the Paris Climate Agreement, China is proving to be a better discussion partner at the moment.

More about the US election:

Is Europe’s place somewhere in the middle between the great powers?
Even against the background of our history, equidistance is not in fashion. But there is much to be said for pressing ahead quickly with what Angela Merkel once called the “strategic manufacturing autonomy” of Europe. No matter how the election turns out, it is clear that Trump is not an outlier in history.

What impact will the election result have on the policies of a possible President Biden?
The outcome will most certainly affect his policy. In addition, a conservative Supreme Court could repeatedly throw clubs between his legs. Even Biden will not be able to completely free himself from domestic political pressure to pursue American interests much harder. The voters in the rust belt of the USA, who presumably decide the election now, have put political handcuffs on him.

Can Europe do without America as a model?
There are also some in Europe who consider developments in the US under Trump to be exemplary. Think of the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán or the Polish conservative Jaroslaw Kaczynski. The USA has long served as a role model for Europe and now we have to look around where we can find other role models. It is quite possible that we should look less at the present USA. It is possible that there will be a European path that will keep a certain distance from developments in the USA. The outcome of the election will provide information on how big this gap with America should be.

Do you have another tip for Angela Merkel, should Trump be re-elected?
I believe that the Chancellor has now developed a whole range of mechanisms for dealing with a vain US president who is looking for immediate recognition. Always knowing that everything Trump has promised can be forgotten tomorrow. We had four years to practice this – and it could take a little longer.
Mr. Münkler, thank you very much for the interview.

More: The outcome of the US election shows how little Europeans understand the US, comments Jens Münchrath.