Merkel, a Modern American
It has come to this: The leading Republican presidential candidate struts like a martinet and has taken on the persona, if not the rhetoric, of a hater, while the leader of Germany, an altogether humble woman of clear moral vision, is performing in the Western tradition of enlightened tolerance. How did we lose this war?
Of course, we have not -- not yet. But the rhetoric of Donald Trump, seeded with insults and schoolyard bravado, has somehow managed to propel him to the front of the Republican pack. So invincible does he seem that the next in line in the polls, the sweetly clueless Ben Carson, will not denounce him although if Carson runs on anything it is a platform of morality. He says he is not a politician, but when it comes to a bit of courage, he has the adjustable backbone of a hack.
You can imagine -- or can you? -- what the world would be like if German Chancellor Angela Merkel talked like Trump. Instead of leading her country in a righteous humanitarian cause, instead of assuring Germans that they really have the wherewithal to take in anywhere from 800,000 to 1 million migrants, what if she had seized the political opening? What if she denounced the migrants as rapists and criminals -- concluding, of course, with the oily lie that, as harsh it may sound, it is the truth?
Or maybe Merkel would promise to build a wall -- as impregnable as the one Trump promises for Mexico -- across Germany's eastern borders. Look, she could say, it has been done -- a wall down the middle of Berlin, separating east from west, and it worked. Everyone honored it. Ronald Reagan challenged the Soviet leader: "Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" The wall stood for another two years.
Trump represents the nadir of American politics. He personifies the empty notion that somehow the nonpolitician makes the best politician. He insults and bombasts and lies. He disparages Carly Fiorina's looks and then says he didn't. He belittles John McCain's heroism and then says he means nothing by it. If the San Andreas Fault was a polygraph, Trump's lies would knock California into the sea.
At bottom, the difference between the leading Republican candidate and the leading German is an appreciation of history. Merkel knows that the new Europe skates on the thinnest of ice. She knows that Europe is awful at dealing with minorities. She knows that ethnic peace has been achieved by ethnic cleansing and population transfers that the Nazis and the Soviets initiated and the World War II victors continued. Winston Churchill had it about right when he told the House of Commons in 1944 that "expulsion is the method which, insofar as we have been able to see, will be the most satisfactory and lasting. There will be no mixture of populations to cause endless trouble. ... A clean sweep will be made."
That clean sweep is now being unmade. France is anywhere from 8 percent to 10 percent Muslim; for Austria, Belgium and Germany, the figure is upward of 5 percent. In France, the large numbers of Muslims (and black Africans) live in the (BEG ITAL)banlieues(END ITAL), suburban slums where radicalism and crime fester. Germany has a substantial Turkish community. With more Muslims on the way, the ethnic equilibrium of Europe will be tested. Some politicians will no doubt take advantage.
Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister, is building a fence topped with razor wire in an effort "to keep Europe Christian." As any forlorn village priest can attest, it is far too late for that.
Merkel understands what Trump does not: that to pander to prejudice is to reap the whirlwind. His scapegoating of immigrants is playing with fire. We are a tolerant nation, but our better angels have sometimes flown the coop. We incarcerated Japanese-Americans during World War II, locked our doors to desperate European Jews running from Hitler, enslaved black people and held them in peonage, and nearly eradicated the Indians. Unlike Germany, which unflinchingly stares at a history both repellent and frightening, for the longest time we either shamelessly ignored our history or rewrote it to conform to myth. On an airplane recently, I watched a bit of "Gone With the Wind." Its depiction of slavery made me retch.
Donald Trump is rebuked by Angela Merkel. She has the political gravitas that he lacks and the respect for history that he disdains. It has indeed come to this: A German leader is showing American politicians how to be an American.
(c) 2015, Washington Post Writers Group