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!)

Join the Conversation


  1. Merkel and Putin are said to have excellent relations. That is like an old bickering married couple. Putin is able to call her up, give her hell, and slam the phone down when he dosen’t like what she’s saying.

    BTW has anyone noticed that Trump has surrounded himself with a trio military of generals now directing traffic. Who knows, it may be a refreshing change from the usual fare of Goldman Sachs hounddogs and their coked-up legions on Wall Street. A little military discipline is what everyone needs.

    The Trump presidency an “unqualified disaster.” Sure it is. And that may be a good thing. Trump is really a “third party” president with little support inside the swamp that is DC politics. He was bound to upset the apple cart.

    With all this hyper-politics lately maybe it’s time to take a trip to Sugar Mountain.

  2. As you pointed out Merkel and Putin both lived the first part of their lives under communism, neither are communist now. Both had a front row seat in East Germany to the fall of the Soviet Union and this has probably provided both with many enduring lessons about the fragility of supposedly invincible global super powers.

    I think the decline of the Soviet empire, as some called, it began in the 1970’s and 1980’s when its geriatric leadership failed to transition well to a newer younger generation. Their vision was mainly of the past, not the future and they got caught up in an arms race with the US, in which they held up in fairly well, but at too big an economic cost.

    In the early 1990’s it seemed like the west or the free world, as some like to call it, had decisively won the cold war. However, several years later the US got caught up or bogged down in a number of military conflicts. Initially politically popular, they provided a diversion to intractable social and economic problems at home, but eventually the diversion of resources to those conflicts only made those economic problems worse. Now, we have a US leader whose vision is also more stuck in the past, than in the future and what is left of the free world needs to try go on without much US leadership. Even if it still wants to, the US is too exhausted, confused and distracted to lead much now.

    Merkel leads a country that has embraced democracy after its terrible experiences with alternatives. Putin became a part of the Russian government under Yeltsin, who had a few democratic inclinations, but led a country that had none. Putin is not much more democratic than the Tsars. It is possible the EU will soon surpass the US as leader of the free world. The UK may be having second thoughts about Brexit and Canada is already building a closer economic relationship with Europe.

    Perhaps the US will eventually rid itself of the dotard, as some have described their current president. That description is a bit harsh, but also somewhat true. However, by then the rest of the world will have moved on and as Putin has discovered it is very hard to rebuild an empire.

  3. A few key points, if I may:
    – clearly, German voters are not too stupid to figure out how a proportional representation electoral system works, a concern that appears to be the reason many Canadian politicians and political opinionists oppose PR here; I for one don’t think Canadian voters are stupider than German voters
    – the “free world” formulation is anachronistic, since it harkens back to the Cold War confrontation between two opposing political/economic/ideological systems, Western Capitalism versus Soviet Communism. The so-called Third World then consisted of the non-aligned nations who were part of neither bloc. Today’s world is far more complex and non-binary.
    – Russia has never been truly free in its history; first the Tsars, then the Soviet Union, and now the Putin oligarchy. Where the current regime differs from the Soviet era is in foreign policy. The Soviet Union attempted to export its flavour of Communism around the world, whereas Putin-era Russian expansionism is more about its semi-local sphere of influence and the traditional Great Power game; in this way it more resembles the 19th century than the 21st. There is no ideology, other than raw power.

  4. David, I believe Dr. Merkel was born in Hamburg, then in West Germany, but moved with her family to East Germany as a child. She was certainly educated in East Germany, and once won a prize for her mastery of the Russian language.

    1. Thanks, Simon. You’re right, of course. I’ve fixed this, though it rather spoils the line about the song, which I left in anyway. Raised in the D.D.R. just doesn’t have the ring of born in the D.D.R. As always, I depend on my readers for their editing services, and I am always grateful for them when they’re required. DJC

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