PHOTOS: The leader of the free world, listening to Neil Young on sound cancelling headphones. Click here for the soundtrack to this post. The confused looking elderly man with a comb-over to her left is thinking: “Who is that person?” Probably not in those exact words, though. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons.) Below: Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin, thinking, Been away so long I hardly knew the place … back in the D.D.R.!
The U.K.’s Independent newspaper seems to have gotten an early start declaring that as a result of the serial idiocies of Donald Trump, the American president, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, is now “leader of the free world.”
At any rate, the Independent put this conclusion in a headline back on Feb. 1, so at least it was ahead of the curve on what now appears to have become the planetary consensus thanks to Dr. Merkel’s qualified victory in the German election last night and the unqualified disaster of Mr. Trump’s presidency.
Despite some qualms about some of the people she’ll be sharing space in the Bundestag with in Berlin, yesterday’s German election seems to have been the Teutonic equivalent of the Real McCoy. That is, no one is screaming about Russian interference, real or imagined. But then, Dr. Merkel is said to speak excellent Russian, and Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, speaks fine German, so maybe they were able to reach an understanding in advance of any hysteria.
After all, Dr. Merkel (PhD, quantum chemistry, whatever the heck that is) was raised in the D.D.R. – surely there must be a song in that – and Mr. Putin used to work there. So they probably have something to chuckle about. Plus, it shouldn’t surprise us that Germans – unlike our American cousins – can actually run a proper election if they put their well-ordered minds to it.
As for the judgment of the Independent, it isn’t really a newspaper any more, it’s become an entirely online operation, and it’s owned by a couple of Russian oligarchs to boot.
What’s more, the free world isn’t as easy to define as it was back during the first Cold War, when the expression warranted capital letters. Back then, there was the Free World (us, headquartered inside the Beltway in Washington, D.C.) and there were the Commies (them, or as they presumably put it in their own memos, the Free World, based inside the Ring Road in Moscow).
Nowadays, thanks to neoliberalism, CCTV cameras, electronic voting machines, the death of Net neutrality, and the daily rantings of the mentally ill billionaire TV personality occupying the White House, the free world just doesn’t seem as free as it used to. Plus, there are now no Commies to speak of, anywhere, hammers and sickles and Lenin pins all having been reduced to retro fashion accessories. And it would be darned hard to come up with a map showing Us and Them, seeing as almost everyone’s alliances seem to shift every 60 seconds or so, and the occupant of the While House can’t decide whom to threaten next anyway.
We seem to be in a cold war again with Russia – now renamed “Russia” – but that’s not actually either us or the Germans so much as it’s something called NATO.
NATO is not just Cold War nostalgia, mind you. It’s the real WWW – World Wide Welfare. That is, NATO is the only thing standing between the United States’ sole remaining viable industry, which is making stealthy jet fighters that aren’t actually very stealthy and need a multi-million-dollar paint job every time you change the sparkplugs or need to pull out the dipstick, and the demise of the U.S. dollar.
Nobody can say those guys in Russia aren’t capitalists nowadays and, quite possibly, better at it that we are! Which is why they’d better watch out for NATO, which has borders, and airspace, and everything! Exactly like the Free World. Except with no elections.
Where were we? Oh yeah. Notwithstanding our doubts about the Independent, we knew Dr. Merkel really had become the acknowledged leader of the free world yesterday morning when my neighbour Thomas Lukaszuk, the former Deputy Leader of Free Alberta, Tweeted it.
When I checked the Interwebs tonight, though, I discovered thanks to Mr. Google’s free service that 1.71 million websites now appear to have reached the same conclusion as Thomas did earlier in the day.
Dr. Merkel is also, according to the international punditariat, the most important leader of the free world, the reluctant leader of the free world, the real leader of the free world, and not the leader of the free world. The latter, outlier opinion being that of the Economist, the magazine for people who aren’t rich but wish they were. Subscriptions, as a result, are quite steep.
The New York Times, striving as ever for balance whether it was needed or not, concluded that thanks to yesterday’s victory, Dr. Merkel has made history, but that her victory was dimmed by the success of the far-right Alternative for Germany party. (I actually phoned Germany yesterday afternoon, and someone I know there called them “f**king Nazis” in excellent English.)
We are told here in Canada that Dr. Merkel leads a centre-right party, but it would be very helpful if some pundit who knows about this stuff could tell us whether that means, in the Canadian context, that Dr. Merkel is to the right of the NDP, or to the left.
My contact in Germany did explain in Canadian terms how Martin Schultz, the German Social Democratic leader who was far ahead of Dr. Merkel’s party in the polls last spring, managed to blow his lead. “He ran a campaign just like Tom Mulcair’s.”
Regardless of that opinion, I think that it’s safe to say that if large numbers of Americans had got to vote in the German elections yesterday, things could be … let’s just say, a whole lot worse.
Getting back to this corner of the free world, and the question of who’s in it and who’s out, I wonder what the United Wildrose Party has to say about that?
Does the UWP have an opinion about who the real leader of the free world ought to be? (I bet they do; probably Brad Wall.) Before they picked “Unite the Right” as their slogan, did they consider Alternatives for Alberta? (I bet they did.)
Has this post gone on long enough? (Ed. – Yes!)