Donald Trump and Brexit are no longer identical twins

Britain’s approach to the world more closely tracks the EU than America

Gideon Rachman

Images from Theresa May's early visit to the newly annointed US president became a symbol of the closeness of Trump’s America and Brexit Britain - but the countries have drifted apart over time © Getty

The Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump will forever be linked in history. The two events took place within a few months of each other. Both were populist revolts that appealed to similar constituencies.

After Mr Trump’s election, Theresa May, Britain’s prime minister, was the first foreign leader to visit the new US president. A photograph of the two leaders walking hand in hand quickly became a symbol of the closeness of Trump’s America and Brexit Britain. For mainstream politicians in Europe, “Trump and Brexit” became shorthand for the forces that they were trying to combat.

But, as the months have passed, it has become clear that Trump and Brexit are not, in fact, identical twins. They are more like distant relations who are growing further apart with the passage of time.

The differences between the Trump phenomenon and Brexit are a matter of both style and substance. Mr Trump violates the conventional expectations of how a US president should behave on a daily basis. Mrs May, by contrast, is scrupulously correct in her behaviour. She is about as likely to attend an EU summit in her pyjamas as to tweet that she is a “very stable genius”.

Early in her period in office Mrs May suggested hopefully that she might get on with Mr Trump because “opposites attract”. But that pretence has now been dropped. When the president retweeted posts from a British far-right group, Mrs May was forced to condemn him. Predictably Mr Trump lashed back, although he initially directed his ire at the wrong Theresa May, lambasting a British housewife with just six Twitter followers.

The slapstick comedy of this incident obscured a serious political difference. In office, Mr Trump has embraced anti-Muslim rhetoric that Mrs May has carefully avoided. That difference is part of a broader divide between the radical nationalism of Mr Trump and the cautious and conventional globalism of Mrs May.

For although many Europeans and Remainers are convinced that Brexit is a nationalist spasm, and little else, the May government is determined to present it in a different light. The prime minister’s argument is that leaving the EU is an opportunity to forge a new future as “Global Britain”. She has emphasised her support for the international, rules-based, liberal order. By contrast, Mr Trump remains a proud, “America First” nationalist who is deeply suspicious of all international institutions, from the UN to the World Trade Organization.

These very different international visions have led to policy disputes between Brexit Britain and Trump’s America. Neither side has much interest in playing up these differences. But on a succession of issues, Britain has sided with the EU rather than the US. When the Trump administration repudiated the Paris climate accord, the UK stuck with the agreement and the European consensus. The same pattern repeated itself when the White House announced its intention to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. And while Mr Trump is itching to rip up the Iran nuclear deal, Britain has joined the rest of the EU in supporting it.

Perhaps the most consequential policy division is over the WTO. The Trump administration is quietly hobbling the world trade body by blocking appointments to its court. But a functioning WTO is critical to Mrs May’s plans to make Brexit work. The UK has stressed that, if it cannot strike a new trade deal with the EU, it will fall back on WTO rules. Mr Trump’s agenda could wreck the body that Britain is relying upon as its insurance policy.

Some of the ideologues behind Brexit remain wedded to the idea that Britain is part of an “Anglosphere” of English-speaking nations, with the US and the UK at its heart. But Britain’s foreign policy choices since the Brexit vote suggest that the UK is actually more comfortable with the Franco-German worldview than the American one. The repeated low-key clashes between the May government and the Trump administration emphasise the extent to which Britain is now “in play” as a foreign policy actor. If the Brexit negotiations come to a reasonably amicable conclusion and Mr Trump remains in the White House, post-Brexit Britain could easily end up closer to the EU than the US.

The more ardent Brexiters would argue that this is simply because the British establishment has failed to understand the populist moment. But opinion polls suggest that Mrs May’s policy decisions reflect wider sentiment in Britain. A Globescan survey last year showed that only 33 per cent of Britons believe that the US has a “mainly positive” impact on world affairs; compared with 84 per cent positive ratings for Germany and 66 per cent for France. Some 79 per cent of Brits trusted President Barack Obama’s judgment, compared with 22 per cent who trust President Trump.

These numbers underline the differences between Brexit Britain and Trump’s America. British political debate since the Brexit vote has been bitter, but it has been conducted in largely conventional terms. By contrast, Mr Trump’s White House increasingly feels like a deranged episode from a reality TV show. The vote for Brexit and the election of Mr Trump may have sprung from similar instincts. But they have ended up in very different places.

Moderate Voters, Polarized Parties

The author of ‘Unstable Majorities’ argues that if the electorate seems fickle, it’s because the politicians are too ideological.

By James Taranto

Most observers of American politics predict 2018 will favor the Democrats. The party has a good chance of taking control of the House in November, and even a Senate majority is within reach, although Democrats are defending three times as many seats in the upper chamber as Republicans are.

Here’s a safer prediction: If the Democrats do triumph on Nov. 6, they and their supporters will emerge triumphalist, proclaiming their majority permanent and President Trump a lame duck. Ten months in advance, Morris P. “Mo” Fiorina has a bucket of cold water to throw on such claims.

Mr. Fiorina—no relation to 2016 presidential candidate Carly Fiorina or her husband—is a 71-year-old Stanford political scientist and author of a new book, “Unstable Majorities: Polarization, Party Sorting and Political Stalemate.” As the title suggests, he believes the U.S. has entered an era in which no party can hold a majority for very long. “We can change our pattern of government every two years,” he tells me on a recent visit to the Journal’s offices, “and we started doing that.”

Did we ever. The party controlling the House, Senate or White House changed in seven of the nine elections between 2000 and 2016—the only exceptions being the presidential re-election years, 2004 and 2012. “I sort of trace it back to ’92, the end of the Republican presidential era, and then ’94 is the end of the Democratic congressional era,” Mr. Fiorina says.

Those were long eras. Republicans held the White House for 20 of the 24 years following the 1968 election. The Democrats dominated Congress for the better part of a lifetime: During the 62-year period after the 1932 election, the party had a majority in the House for 58 years and the Senate for 52 years. The Democrats took the House in 1954 and held it for 40 years straight.

                    Illustration: Ken Fallin 

Those old enough to remember the decades before the ’90s, then, may tend to see permanent majorities around the corner because they expect a return to normalcy. Mr. Fiorina, by contrast, argues that frequent shifts in political control are now the norm because of the way the parties have changed. He rejects the common view that American voters are “polarized.” Instead, he says, the parties have become polarized, in a process he calls the “sorting” of the electorate.

“We have these two now cohesive, different parties,” he says. Democrats and Republicans today are as ideologically distinct as “the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats in Europe at the height of their power in the 20th century. And the problem is, we’ve got a much more heterogeneous country, and there’s only two of them, and they just don’t fit the electorate.”

He arrives with a PowerPoint presentation that visualizes the data behind his theory. A pair of bar graphs show the ideological distribution of lawmakers in the 87th Congress (1961-63) and the 111th (2009-11). In both eras Democrats were the liberal party and Republicans the conservative one. But the pattern is markedly different: In 1961-63, both parties’ lawmakers tended to cluster in the middle. In 2009-11, there were two clusters—Democrats to the left, Republicans to the right. “There’s no longer any overlap at all,” Mr. Fiorina says. “The center is empty. That hasn’t happened in the electorate.”

A line graph illustrates the electorate’s continuity. The share of Americans identifying as politically moderate has remained fairly constant—around 40%, and usually a plurality—since at least 1974. In the same period, another chart shows, independents overtook Democrats as the biggest partisan grouping. As the parties drifted from the ideological middle, centrist voters disaffiliated from the parties.

That creates what Mr. Fiorina calls “the ping pong pattern” of unstable majorities. One party manages “to win, narrowly, and then they immediately respond to their base. So Bush says we’re going to have personal Social Security accounts, and voters—some say, ‘I didn’t vote for that.’ Or Obama says we’re going to do government health care, and a lot of them say, ‘I didn’t vote for that.’ ” Lawmakers from the party in power “suffer for it in the next election, when they lose the marginal voters,” as Republicans did in 2006 and Democrats in 2010.

That seems plausible enough, but there’s an obvious complication: Most legislation that makes it through Congress, even on a party-line vote, is not all that extreme ideologically. Take health care. Mr. Fiorina pulls up a chart titled “Issue Centrists Still Dominate,” based on data from the American National Election Studies. It shows that in five issue areas, the centrist position is by far the most popular.

“This would be single payer right here—these 12%,” Mr. Fiorina says, pointing to one end of the health-care distribution. At the other end, the “leave-everything-to-the-market people” are approximately as numerous. The peak, at 28%, is right in the center. “On issue after issue, it doesn’t matter what you ask, people sort of clump up in the middle,” he says. “Goldilocks—they want some of both.”

But isn’t that what they got with ObamaCare? The Affordable Care Act shifted policy leftward, but nowhere near the extreme of single payer. Its central element, the recently repealed individual mandate, was first proposed by the Heritage Foundation in 1989 as a “market-based” alternative to more-statist approaches, including outright socialization.

Similarly, the tax reform Congress enacted last month won only Republican votes, but it was hardly an exercise in ideological extremity. Even Barack Obama had said corporate rates should be lower. (As for George W. Bush’s Social Security idea, it was never written into legislation.)

Mr. Fiorina answers this conundrum by referring me to the work of another political scientist, Frances Lee of the University of Maryland. She has a theory to explain why the minority party balks. “Frances talks about how if you have two closely balanced parties that are fighting for the majority in every election, they change their strategy, and this all becomes position-taking and trying to embarrass the other party, and it’s not about legislating,” he says. “They’re perfectly prepared to shift positions on a dime if it embarrasses the other party, because the payoff now is the electoral victory and not legislative.” To judge by their book titles, Mr. Fiorina and Ms. Lee are kindred spirits. His is “Unstable Majorities,” hers “Insecure Majorities: Congress and the Perpetual Campaign.”

If unstable majorities are a problem, what might be the solution? In parliamentary systems with proportional representation, a multiplicity of parties represent a spectrum of views and often govern in coalitions. That won’t work in the U.S., Mr. Fiorina says, because “the majoritarian electoral system and the Electoral College” ensure that “only two parties can really compete.”

What should a party do if it aspires to an enduring majority? “Go back to being a more sort of open—no litmus tests,” Mr. Fiorina advises. “The Democrats are all talking about their chances of winning next time, but if you keep trying to run antigun and pro-choice candidates in areas like West Virginia . . . you’re committing suicide.”

This advice has one crucial shortcoming, Mr. Fiorina acknowledges: “They can’t do it.” One reason has to do with money. “The donors are most ideological of all,” he says. In the 1970s and ’80s, “a big majority of contributions to congressional races came from individual contributions within your district, and now the money is coming from outside. Texas is an ATM for Republicans, California and Manhattan for Democrats.”

He adds that “30 years ago, an Ohioan Republican and an Oregon Republican would have faced very different primary electorates that run different kinds of races. Now, you look at their campaigns—they’re going to be the same. They’re getting their money from the same kinds of people.” The Republican in Oregon, a more liberal state, is likely to prove unelectable. For this problem there is probably no remedy. “The only thing I can see mattering would be unconstitutional,” Mr. Fiorina says—to wit, a law requiring that “all campaign contributions have to come from within the jurisdiction of the race being held.”

Then again, there is Donald Trump. He won the Republican presidential nomination against several opponents with more money and far stronger ideological credentials. His victory demonstrates, according to Mr. Fiorina, that partisan sorting “at the Bill Kristol level”—meaning among pundits and intellectuals—“is way higher than the sorting at the level of even the primary voters.”

Mr. Fiorina holds out some hope that Mr. Trump will break the ping pong pattern. “In the book, I characterize Trump first as a de-sorter and then as sort of a disjunctive president, and in Silicon Valley terms a disrupter,” he says. “I thought if there’s a positive on Trump, it would be his potential to disrupt both parties.”

So far, though, Mr. Fiorina finds the president’s policies too conventionally conservative. “My ideal scenario originally was that Trump would come in and propose a big infrastructure bill, which would split the Republicans and split the Democrats,” Mr. Fiorina says. “He didn’t do that.”

When I ask what Mr. Fiorina thinks will happen this November, he demurs: “I could make a case for a Democratic wave, a Democratic disappointment, or anything in between, but I don’t put high probability on any of the scenarios.”

One of his observations, however, is suggestive of a wave. “The incumbency advantage is all but gone,” he says. “The incumbency advantage has been declining in House elections since the ’80s, and it was at 2% in the last election. People are voting—however they vote for president, they vote for the House as well.”

That doesn’t mean all incumbents are vulnerable. A Democratic lawmaker in a heavily Democratic district, for example, will almost certainly win. The diminution of the incumbent advantage simply means that, all else being equal, a Democrat in an open-seat race would likely win by almost as wide a margin as an incumbent. In the 1980s, Mr. Fiorina says, incumbency per se was good for 10 to 12 points on average. Nowadays, “how your president is doing” matters much more.

In 2017 there were special elections for five House seats vacated by Republicans—in Kansas, Montana, Georgia, South Carolina and Utah. The GOP held all five, but all its candidates underperformed the previous incumbents’ 2016 margins of victory, by between 5 and 25 points. If Mr. Fiorina is right about the diminution of the incumbent advantage, these results would seem to bode ill in November for Republicans—incumbent or not—in marginal districts.

On the other hand, if the Republicans do get wiped out this year, there’s a good chance they’ll stage a comeback in 2020. Or 2022 at the latest.

Mr. Taranto is the Journal’s editorial features editor.

Longer Cycles for Gold and the Dollar

By: Surf City

By now you know that my swing trading approach is to focus on the 5-6 Month Intermediate Cycle Low (ICL) to establish positions.  It seem’s that everything that I track has the 5-6 month low to low cycle.  Sometimes the ICLs come sooner at 4 months or later at 7+ months but the average is 5-6 months.

Everything also has a Yearly Cycle Low (YCL) which is nothing more than two 5-6 mont ICLs.

Cycles longer than one year, however, vary by asset. The USD and Bonds have a 3 Year Cycle low to low and Stocks have a 7 Year Cycle low to low.  Gold’s longer Cycles include a 4 Year Cycle and an 8 Year Cycle, which is simply two 4 Year Cycles back to back. Remember that longer cycles typically dominate shorter ones, meaning that if the longer cycle is in a bullish phase, most of its 5-6 month Intermediate Cycles will be right translated in terms of Time while making a higher high and a higher low (i.e. stair stepping up so to speak).

My first chart is a 28 year Gold weekly that shows Gold’s 8 Year Cycle pattern using the Purple Cycle tool on StockCharts. Cycles, however, are not exact, in terms of Time so I have added my Blue Arrows showing you that I believe Gold’s last 8 Year Cycle low came in early 2016 closer to the 7 year mark.  The chart also shows a Blue Fork, that while not technically correct (handle does not attach), it does show you the long term Price channel I am tracking out of the 2001 low.

Why is this important?  If Gold’s 8 year low to low pattern holds, the next one should be in the 2024 time frame. I also believe the USD’s longer 15 year Super Cycle has topped in Year 9 in early 2017.

If correct, we should see downside price action in the USD for another 5 years, give or take a year.

While the inverse correlation for the USD and Gold does not always hold, my expectations are that it will for much of the next 4-5 years as the USD moves into its longer term 15 year low. If correct, my expectations are that Gold will easily take out its previous high from 2011.

sábado, enero 20, 2018



Breaking Bannon


Donald Trump and Stephen Bannon

WASHINGTON, DC – The just-released book about Donald Trump and his dysfunctional presidency (Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House) has left much of Washington reeling. Despite the White House’s constitutionally dubious threat to try to quash the book, the publication date was moved up four days. But the bulk of Fire and Fury’s disclosures, though deeply disquieting, aren’t all that surprising.

It’s not yet clear how Michael Wolff, the book’s controversial author, obtained some of his information, but it must be assumed that he taped many of his interviews, particularly those used for the long conversations found throughout the book. What Wolff has achieved is to get attributed quotes from high officials about how the president functions, or doesn’t.

But the book mostly tells us what most of political-journalistic Washington already knew: that Trump is unqualified to be president and that his White House is a high-risk area of inexperienced aides. The only surprise is that more calamities haven’t occurred – at least not yet.

A good portion of what was released before the book’s publication concerns a battle between two of the most talkative, argumentative, self-regarding braggarts US politics has ever seen: Trump and his one-time chief strategist, Stephen Bannon. In the summer of 2016, with his campaign lacking a leader, Trump made Bannon – a scruffy, scrappy former businessman who was then the executive chair of Breitbart News, a website preaching white nationalism – the campaign’s chief executive. Bannon was full of big ideas about what a right-wing “populist” campaign would look like.

In many ways, however, Bannon’s ideal campaign closely resembled what Trump was already saying and doing: appealing to blue-collar workers by attacking immigration – for example, saying that he’d build “a big, beautiful wall” along the border with Mexico, for which the Mexicans would pay – and trade agreements that Trump alleged were unfair to the US. These voters came to form the core of Trump’s base, and his success in wooing them, combined with Hillary Clinton’s stunning failure to do so, goes a long way toward explaining why he is president and she is not.2

The problem for Trump is that the citizens he was wooing have never added up to a near-majority of voters. His famous “base” is well under 40% of the public. But Trump and Bannon apparently preferred not to think about that.

Trump is prone to taking out his frustrations on others – he is never to blame for his failures – and inevitably these landed on Bannon, who bragged more than was good for him about his power in the White House and asserted more than he should have. Bannon was ousted from the administration and left in August. Though he and Trump stayed in touch, in retrospect, an eventual falling out seems to have been inevitable.

Trump and Bannon were like two overweight men trying to share a single sleeping bag. Their political world wasn’t big enough for both. They disagreed bitterly over whom to back in the race to fill a Senate seat from Alabama; but, at Bannon’s urging, Trump ultimately backed the erratic former state Supreme Court judge Roy Moore, who’d been removed from the bench twice, and who lost the race. Bannon was seeking to shake up the Republican “establishment” by backing similar “outsider” candidates in this year’s midterm elections, which, if successful, could make it all the harder for Trump to obtain victories in Congress.

Despite his denials, it was Trump who more or less agreed to allow Wolff, whose reputation for slashing his subjects Trump presumably would have known from his years in New York City, to interview the White House staff for a book. Some aides say they believed they were talking to Wolff “off the record,” meaning that they wouldn’t be publicly associated with their remarks. But, even if that were true, it was hardly soothing to a furious president: they had said these things.

In Trump’s view, Bannon’s great sin with regard to Wolff’s book was to say highly negative things about the president’s family. Trump was particularly infuriated by Bannon’s description of a now-famous meeting that his son, Donald Jr., and other senior campaign staff held in Trump Tower in June 2016 with some Russians who said that they had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Bannon told Wolff that the meeting was “treasonous.” But, depending on what actually transpired in that meeting, Bannon might not have been so far off. (Trump himself participated in a meeting aboard Air Force One, as he returned from his second presidential trip abroad, to draft a statement to cover up what happened in that Trump Tower meeting.)

Trump was also reportedly furious that Bannon had described the president’s favorite child, Ivanka, as “dumb as a brick.” Wolff also reports that Ivanka and her husband, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, had agreed that after their expected smashing success at the White House, it would be Ivanka who would run for president.

Overstating matters, as is his wont, Trump claimed, in effect, that Bannon had had nothing to do with his election victory, and that the two had almost never talked one on one. And, as is his wont, Trump threatened to sue Bannon. Trump has a long track record of threatening lawsuits without ever filing them, but even the threat can be costly to the putative target.

Yet the momentary obsession with the feuding within the Trump camp shouldn’t obscure other realities. Behind the drama, Trump has certain clear goals, and cabinet and agency heads who share them – and who don’t get distracted by the publication of a juicy account of the president’s behavior.

While much of Washington and its press corps were discussing the latest revelations, the Department of Justice, which is supposed to be somewhat independent of the White House, was being turned into a partisan instrument for pursuing the president’s grudges. Indeed, last week, it was disclosed that the DoJ was reopening an investigation into the already thoroughly investigated matter of Hillary Clinton’s emails. The FBI, it was also disclosed, would be looking into the Clinton Foundation.

The use of a government agency to punish a president’s previous opponent recalls the behavior for which Richard Nixon was impeached, and suggests a very different form of government than a democratic one.

Elizabeth Drew is a contributing editor to The New Republic and the author, most recently, of Washington Journal: Reporting Watergate and Richard Nixon's Downfall.

The American Void

Time for Germany to Learn to Lead

By Christiane Hoffmann

Washington's move to abandon its global leadership role marks the end of Germany's foreign policy innocence. Berlin will soon be faced with difficult choices that could dent its moral standing.

It is often a single sentence that goes down in history, one that epitomizes an idea, a movement, an era or a personality. Two sentences from Angela Merkel come to mind. One, focused on domestic politics, was an entreaty: "We can do it." It was a pledge and a plea to all Germans in the face of the huge influx of Syrian refugees who entered Germany in 2015.

The other, focused on foreign policy, was earthshaking. "The times in which we could completely depend on others are, to a certain extent, over," Merkel said on May 28 during an appearance in Munich. She did everything she could to make the sentence seem as offhand and trivial as possible. She wasn't speaking in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin -- she was at a festival in Munich, the smell of beer hanging in the air. She hemmed and hawed, she relativized, toned down her language and spoke of "others," even though it was clear that she was referring to the United States.

Still, the sheer impact of her words was undeniable. The German chancellor had essentially announced the end of an alliance that had guaranteed Germany's security for half a century and shaped its politics and values. When she made the statement in May, Germany was in the middle of an election campaign, which informed the manner in which it was interpreted and discounted. Even today, its radicality has been largely ignored -- perhaps because to do otherwise would be too painful or unsettling. Germans prefer to avoid such introspection. The U.S. remains our most important partner, government officials are fond of saying, and the NATO alliance is still intact. That may be true. But for how much longer?

Germany has been busy with its own affairs since May, when its election campaign started in earnest ahead of a September vote that has yet to produce a new government. But once Berlin again has a governing coalition capable of conducting international affairs, it will face circumstances that have changed dramatically. The liberal world order that the United States spent seven decades building is disintegrating. The U.S., meanwhile, is withdrawing from the global stage on three different fronts: militarily, morally and a key leader of the international community. It is withdrawing from its role as a reliable guarantor of European security, as a shaper of global policy and as the leading power of the free West. What does a future hold without the U.S. at the helm? What does a future hold when the most important constant of German foreign policy is no longer there? What will a future look like if all countries seek to emulate "America First?"

For Germany, it means the end of what has essentially been a sheltered foreign policy, one in which others have often made the most difficult decisions for us. In recent years, Germany has shown a greater willingness to take on the responsibility commensurate with a country that is the most economically powerful and populous in Europe. Thus far, however, Germany has preferred reaction over (pro)action, as seen in Ukraine and the euro crisis.

For years, Germany was able to get away with a foreign policy that didn't call for it to assume much responsibility. West German sovereignty was limited and German reserve was understandable for historical reasons. The divided country was also too small to play a role in international politics. Looking ahead, though, Germany will have to lead. But where to? The most radical consequence of the new state of global affairs is that Germans now have to become clear about what it is that they want. That may sound banal, but it isn't.

Germany's global abstinence has permitted it to have the luxury of basing its foreign policy largely on values, while others took care of the realpolitik dirty work. Merkel's refugee policies, which placed humanitarian principles over the cohesion of the European Union, is only the most radical example of this German tradition. The new global situation will also mean a departure from the good Germany. When principles collide with pragmatism, when values clash with interests, Berlin will be forced to make difficult decisions. But how far should we go? What means are we prepared to employ in order to defend Europe, to bring the Middle East closer to peace or to stabilize Africa?


German foreign policy experts are still debating how radically the estrangement between the U.S. and Europe has become. Atlanticists are calling for optimism, even though Trump, so far, has served to affirm the worries of the pessimists. They continue to cling to the illusion that, Trump aside, trans-Atlantic relations are actually still entirely intact. They see the U.S. president as a painful, but temporary illness. They believe that once America returns to health, the status quo will return to trans-Atlantic relations.

The problem with that view, however, is that America's retreat from its role as a shaper of global politics began before Trump -- and it won't end with his departure, either. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel went even further in reiterating Merkel's beer-tent sentiments in an important foreign policy speech a few weeks ago in which he stated that Germany might also have to get by without America if need be.


What does it mean when the U.S. abandons its global leadership role? The idea that Germany might assume that role was nonsense from the beginning. The notion that the German chancellor would step in as the leader of the free world and that Germany, as actor and philanthropist Richard Gere put it, would be the "wise, stable, forward-thinking moral country on the planet" was the desperate hope of a handful of American romantics. They flattered Germany and fueled the naïve illusion that values can be upheld without having to defend them.

Germany may view itself as a major moral power, but politically and economically, we're not nearly strong enough -- and militarily, we possess only moderately equipped armed forces without any nuclear deterrent.

Furthermore, Germany's inability to form a governing coalition this fall and winter has shown that Berlin is not immune to the crisis of liberal democracy. Germany cannot rescue the West but, together with France, it could do a lot more in Europe and its backyard than it has previously done. Four years ago, Joachim Gauck and Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany's president and foreign minister at the time, both called for such a focus four years ago, saying that Germany must act "earlier, more decisively and more substantially."


In his works, the German historian Heinrich August Winkler has described the triumph of the West, its values and its ideas. But even he has been at a loss since America ceased upholding these values. His most recent book, "Is the West Crumbling?" can't even answer the question it asks. Winkler has become a chronicler of an historical even that he is no longer able to interpret.

The crisis of the West is particularly painful for Germany. The country's long journey to the West described by Winkler ended as the West's decline began, like some train that has arrived at a station that has just been decommissioned.

As the West's position of power eroded, it's claims of moral leadership only grew louder. This divergence was particularly apparent to those watching from outside of Europe. There, the West had long since been viewed as presumptuous and arrogant. It was a tone they didn't care for, and they reacted with rejection and defiance.

Authoritarian systems have now entered into open rivalry with the West, pitting their models against ours. The narrative -- disseminated by China, above all -- is one of efficient, benevolent half-dictators who promise prosperity and progress in contrast to cumbersome, inefficient and crisis-plagued democracies.


Europe must stand up for its values. To that end, it would be helpful if it changed its attitude and tone and shed its arrogance, shifting away from gestures of finger-pointing and rebuke. Europe must allow its virtues to speak for themselves. It has to stand its ground in the competition with other societal models. With Emmanuel Macron at the helm of France, we now have an opportunity to make Europe attractive again.

One of the favorite bits of wisdom adhered to by Merkelism is that politics begins with observing reality. But that's not so easy these days. Germany's foreign policy lacks a strategic approach that describes, analyzes and shows possibilities. So long as the most critical coordinates had already been set, Germany didn't have to think so critically. Others used to do this for us, but those times have passed. A few years back, the Foreign Ministry set in motion a review process and the Defense Ministry also began working on a new policy "white book." That's all fine and good, but it doesn't go far enough. Germany needs more foreign policy minds who in turn have greater influence. The smartest thinkers in politics should not be entering the corporate sector as many have done. They should instead be going to foundations and think tanks.

It's also no longer sufficient for each nation to plan and think for itself. If Berlin and Paris want to lead together, then they will also need to think together. The German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), Germany's most important foreign policy think tank, recently proposed the creation of a joint German-French "white book." That, at least, would be a start.


Values and interests aren't mutually exclusive by default. It's in Germany's interest to promote rule of law, human rights, multilateralism and the adherence to global agreements. Even so, it can still be necessary to accept limitations to achieve foreign policy goals. German foreign policy must weigh morals and interests against each other. For example: The EU Association Agreement with Ukraine represented a sovereign decision by Kiev to link itself more closely with the European Union. But was it in the European interest given the ultimate cost -- a war in Ukraine and a row with Russia? In the end, the unwillingness to budge served neither Ukraine nor the EU.

Another example: Was it right to insist to Britain that the principle of freedom of movement was non-negotiable, thus paving the way for the Brexiteers? Surely the free movement of labor forces is a central principle of the single market. But out of fear that the principle would be abandoned, there was never even a discussion over whether a compromise could be made.

Yet another example: In the conflict over Catalonia's quest for independence, Germany and the EU have held strictly to the principle of not intervening in a member state's domestic politics. But it would indeed be in Europe's interest if Berlin or Brussels -- or whoever -- could find a way to serve as an intermediary between Madrid and Barcelona.

Part of our consideration has to be accepting things that we do not have the power to change. Germany must prepare for the fact that democratic developments are unlikely in Russia in the foreseeable future. And yet we still need policies that bind Russia and Turkey to Europe. In the Middle East, we need to come to an understanding with a Russia that has filled the void left by the U.S. And when it comes to China, we need a European policy that limit's Beijing's influence.

And, finally, there's Poland. The question could soon rise there about what's more important? That Poland remains in the European Union or that it complies completely with the principles of rule of law. It may be unrealistic to expect both. In such a situation, it might be in Germany's interest to ensure that the Eastern Europeans remain in the EU, even if they do not conform to its standards on every value.

Germany will have to endure these conflicts in the future while at the same time making decisions that could be decisive. It's a mistake that there is little in terms of honest discussion about them. We should have much sharper debates -- and they should be as pointed as they are public. Instead, however, German politics is still focused on the illusion of being a moral power. If Germany wants to lead, then it also needs to have a realistic view of the world. The era of foreign policy innocence has passed.