Donald Trump is the anti-Angela Merkel
One is a boor, the other a bore.
The Trump Show co-starring Ben Carson, Bernie Sanders and the casts of CNN, MSNBC and Fox News has to be the goofiest political mini-series ever broadcast. It has the feel of a summer replacement series certain to be cancelled before the regular season. Still, the popularity of the show and its stars is worrisome to many. Maybe it has a longer life than anyone thought. The ratings are awfully good.
At the same time, weirdly, the most successful democratically elected leader in the world is taking heat for being too boring.
Angela Merkel has been head of her party since 2000 and Germany’s chancellor since 2005. She has been re-elected twice since, in 2009 and 2013. That’s the longest reign of any leader of the world’s big democracies.
Despite a financial crisis deeper than ours, her approval ratings have been positive throughout her terms, usually wildly positive by U.S. standards. She is often called the de facto boss of the European Union and Forbes has named her the world’s most powerful woman seven times. She and Pope Francis are the ones killing it on the global screen.
Yet Merkel always has been knocked for being dull and a rhetorical bore. Even the friendly conservative Süddeutsche Zeitung disparaged her “wooden Merkel sound” and lamented that she is a “coarse mechanic of the word.” Google will find you scads of stories with headlines like this one from The New York Times: “Is Angela Merkel Too Boring For Germany?”
The charge of gross boredom seems to be leveled at most German politicians. “The situation of political rhetoric in Germany is pathetic,” the Süddeutsche Zeitung declared.
There’s good reason for this, the paper notes: “Goebbels still stands beside all theatrical politicians on the podium.” Since Hitler, the German rhetorical style has been intentionally anti-rhetoric — dry, plodding and off-putting.
The Zeitung is fed up with it. “In America, it’s different. In America, speech creates reality, speeches are events,” it said. “Obama founded his career in 2004 with a party speech.”
The grass is always greener.
German pundits may see President Obama as an impressive orator and political performer, but the rap here is that he’s become a stiff — too controlled, too stoic, not empathetic and schmoozy enough. Every once in awhile he puts on a hot show like in Charleston this summer when he broke into song.
Apparently, President Obama hasn’t amused us kids enough.
So, enter The Donald. He is the ultimate anti-Angela.
Trump is politician as satirist. It’s unintended performance art. And anyone with a healthy sense of mischief has to get a kick watching robotic, scripted career pols cavort on the debate stage with this manicured Don Rickles.
And only a real humbug can’t get a giggle at the spectacle of rumpled socialist Bernie Sanders challenging the coronation of Hillary Clinton.
There is obviously more to the appeal of these so-called “outsider” campaigns than pure comedy. They feed off the vast and understandable disgust Americans have for the phoniness of politicians and politics. Whoever looks, sounds and smells the least like a member of Congress is most popular – if only for a few episodes in this marathon campaign. I suspect that one of the boring candidates will win come November but will have no more success retaining good will and support than the last few presidents.
Angela Merkel has apparently used her very boringness, her proud lack of pizazz, to escape being seen as just another phony pol, to garner authority and credibility in office. Obama has not been able to do something similar and I wonder if it is possible here. Our expectations for leaders are infantile: We want to be amused, inspired and agreed with.
The Trump Show is the gaudy epitome of the worst celebrity culture news-entertainment media and mass alienation from politics can produce.
I sat in my office one day this week looking at two television monitors. CNN was relentlessly hawking its big GOP debate (four months before the first primary, remember) complete with an actual countdown clock in the lower-left corner. On the other screen, CNBC was speculating non-stop about who would be the new CEO of Twitter. CNN and CNBC were using the tricks and format of sports and tabloids. Professions far from the spotlight 25 years ago now produce celebrity superstars: chefs, lawyers, investors, CEOs, journalists, doctors and scientists. This is risky business.
The Trump bacteria are perfect for this kind of media, which is now the dominant media.
I don’t know if the leaders we truly need and want can survive in that petri dish. I suspect not. But I also doubt that a Trump or Trump variant will ascend to high office anytime soon. Although stranger things happen all the time.
Angela Merkel’s neighbor in Italy for many years was Silvio Berlusconi, who makes Trump look like Thoreau. And the British Labour Party just chose Jeremy Corbyn as its leader. He makes Sanders look like William Buckley.
Maybe it’s better to embrace the bores than flirt with the boors.