The German election is over, and I have some questions.
Why does Angela Merkel think it will be Christmas before Germany has a functioning government? And to accomplish this government, why does she have to make nice to a bunch of techno-libertarians and environmentalists? And why is everyone in Germany talking about “Jamaica”? Is Merkel a Beach Boy now?
And also: Why’s Merkel stressing? Didn’t Mutti just win a fourth term? (Literally, Germans call Merkel “Mom,” the nightmare of every female high-school chemistry teacher in the world, except I guess she kind of likes it?)
All right, let’s give this a try. “Jamaica” refers to the possible (maybe) coalition between Merkel’s Christian Democrats, the Free Democrats (led by Christian Lindner, whom I wish I didn’t find attractive but whom, alas, I definitely do), and the Greens. Every political party in Germany has an official color (of course it does), and these three together look like the Jamaican flag—which, by the way, offers some unfortunate fodder for the tackier members of the German press.
This would be like if Susan Collins, Rand Paul and Elizabeth Warren formed a super-party together with…well, some other president, honestly, but still, you get the improbability.
AND YET, if these parties—one of whom loves both progressive taxation and refugees, another of whom built literally its entire (unfortunately very sexually attractive) campaign on being against those two things, and a third of whom will get right back to you on this shit as soon as it’s done getting high—don’t find a way to play together, as Daniel Tiger would say, the far-right Alternative for Germany party will get to do all sorts of legitimizing shit that the rest of Germany would very much not like to see them do.
Okay, deep breath. Here we go. Germany, like most of Europe, is a parliamentary democracy. This means that instead of two shitty parties, its government has like twelve shitty parties. Because no party ever gets a bare majority of votes, in order to govern, the winning party has to coalition with at least one other.
Who are these jokers, you ask? This time around, “only” six parties earned enough votes to gain seats in parliament, which Germans call the Bundestag, from the root word Bund, literally “union” but here meaning “Federation.” They are:
Our mom’s CDU, with the plurality (33 percent). This means that they “won,” and Merkel will be Chancellor, somehow, eventually.
The beleaguered SPD, or Social Democrats, whose flaccid campaign and past cooperation with the CDU positively hemorrhaged voters, giving them the saddest second place ever with just over 20 percent.
Now here’s where it gets interesting. All of the headlines of the world briefly alighted upon the second runner-up. For, thanks to decades of simmering racial resentment (particularly in the former East), and a decidedly mixed reaction to Merkel’s decision to welcome a large number of refugees, the Fatherland got swept up in global entho-nationalist fever, and for the first time since the Second World War, into the Bundestag will goose-step a far-right party. This is the aforementioned AfD, whose god-awful piglet posters really seemed to resonate with 13 percent of German voters, garnering the party almost a hundred goddamned seats in the Bundestag. (Hopefully they’ll all get to take the train there, since they seem to love it so much.)
Behind the AfD with 10 percent comes my secret side piece Christian Lindner and his FDP, followed closely by the communist Linke (or The Left) and the Greens.
So HERE, at long goddamned last, is the deal. As the third-largest party, the AfD would be the voice of the opposition in Parliament, and get to give speeches that everyone would have to listen to, and generally creep in from the murky shadows and have to be treated as legitimate. They would get to do this, if the two bigger parties, Mutti and the weak-sauce Social Democrats, formed the “Grand Coalition” they’d been governing with before.
And that’s why, in a move that involves both taking one’s ball and going home (and thus possibly giving the SPD the illusion of a backbone again) and cock-blocking a bunch of fascists, the SPD are not going to coalition with our mom, and are instead going to lead the opposition.
Merkel’s showing was so grim that without the Social Democrats, she needs not one, but two other parties to form a majority. Historically, the FDP has been the obsequious little “fiscal conservative” College Republican to the CDU’s grown-up Republican (if our Republicans believed in not depriving people of healthcare for fun). But Lindner and his “feisty” personality has made it clear that he’s going to make it as difficult as possible for Merkel, because otherwise what kind of free-market capitalist would he be if he just compromised his shitty principles for the good of humanity?
And the FDP will be the easy one to recruit. There’s no way auf der grünen Erde Gottes that the Linke, essentially Germany’s Bernie Bros, will join with either Lindner’s Silicon Valley posse or Merkel’s centrist status quo, and again, everyone with a soul in the Bundestag would rather defenestrate themselves than partner with the AfD. So that leaves us with the Greens. Ergo, Jamaica.
Here’s where it gets so German it’s not even funny. Everyone knows this is the only way forward that doesn’t involve giving a terrifying minority the official voice it cannot be granted under any circumstances. AND YET. The parties’ closed-door coalition wrangling will consume the German government for literal months, with each party basically taking turns calling shit off because the other has committed some unforgivable offense and made progress einfach unmöglich (AYN-fokk oon-MOOG-lick), or simply impossible. Even though it is possible, and, indeed, is the only thing possible.
But this sort of shit happens in Germany all the time. You’ll happen upon a situation where someone in charge straight-up won’t do something (or let you do something) that is literally necessary for survival, because it breaks some sort of rule or whatever. Like, the door to your apartment building will be blocked by some sort of construction equipment, and you’ll ask the guy to move it, and he’ll be all like, Zet’s not possibull, and you’ll be like I HAVE TO GET TO WHERE I LIVE MY INSULIN IS THERE, and he’ll just look at you and half-shrug, and then eventually like three hours later, and after with a Yalta conference with four supervisors, he’ll scoot it to the side, because hey, it was easy to push the whole time.
As such, Germany’s coalition wrangling, like German everyday life, is the live-action version of famous non-German Franz Kafka’s parable “The Trees”:
For we are like tree trunks in the snow. They seem to rest sleekly, and a little push should be enough to set them rolling. No, it can’t be done, for they are firmly attached to the ground. But see, even that is only appearance.
The word Kafka uses for “attached” here is verbunden.
The root word, of course, is Bund.