The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has now been in power for over 12 years. This is now her fourth term. She has approval ratings of over 60 percent. This tenure of power for her has spanned three U.S. presidents, four French presidents, and two Spanish, four British, six Italian, and seven Japanese prime ministers. She is now the longest-serving head of a major European government since her fellow German Helmut Kohl. Forgive me if I say she must be doing a few things right.
The changes she has made she has sold to her electorate as just what her country needs in an uncertain world. It’s difficult, of course, to argue with success. She has managed to fend off a succession of crises, destabilized rivals, and cemented her power through dozens of interviews with past and present aides, politicians, and voters throughout Germany.
Through all of the recent uncertainties, she has made herself a symbol of stability for Germans who have been unsettled by the challenges brought to the postwar order by the U.S. president, by the Russian President Vladimir Putin, and by European populist movements.
Abroad, she is seen as a liberal. In Germany, she draws support from voters of all kinds. Of five political competitors to Mrs. Merkel, three of them, including the business-friendly Free Democrats and the environmentalist Greens, are potential coalition partners. She has only ruled out left-wingers and fringe nationalists.
She won’t be swayed from such core commitments as the trans-Atlantic alliance and the need for Germany to be at the core of an integrated Europe. Germany’s strong economy and low unemployment make her a safe choice.
She is suspicious of charisma. She doesn’t tweet, make grand promises, or give rousing speeches. Germans know all about those things from their past. She shops at the supermarket, cooks, and retires to her country cottage for the weekend. Asked what makes her German, she once replied, “My love for potato soup.”
Our nuclear president
In the unlikely event that I would want to hear about anything that any of our politicians have to say, I believe I’d opt for the silent version that one gets from the printed page. Even the printed page version, in which one thought was recently mentioned more than 20 times, is unlikely to motivate me to have it explained to me again.
Depending upon who the speaker might be, an additional reason for not wanting to hear it is to not have to recover from how some things are phrased or spoken.
Up till now, no president was required to formulate threats in English. We knew, and the world knew, what could be assumed, regarding what each party would be doing, given each of the possibilities. Now, we are not so sure.
There may be details about which not everyone is really adequately informed. That a trajectory from North Korea could now travel some 6,400 miles, for example. If people from New York are a bit blase about this, people in Los Angeles will be a little less so. A 250-kiloton bomb from Friend Kim would be about 17 times as big as what was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. This could be maybe not just an intellectual abstraction.
The policy of “first use” of nuclear weapons, long in use, was not adopted by Mr. Obama. Also worth keeping in mind is the fact that comments in the recent speech by our president violated a sort of international gentlemen’s agreement, causing NATO to refuse for 70 years to adopt any no first use agreement. NATO members are, without question, well aware of the fact that in our world there are, and have always been, substantially more “gentlemen’s agreements” than gentlemen.
Any successful negotiating with North Korea for and by the free world will require enormous negotiating talents and abilities. This by, at least, an Angela Merkel. Maybe more.
At the moment, I can’t think of anyone else who might fill the bill, and be someone having a higher-up with the wisdom to keep his mind open and his mouth shut.
There are people in this world who literally crave disorder.
They never say that something is done. They say, “We’re working on it. It will be ready in a few days. We’re going to change a few things. I can’t tell you about it yet. We’re making great progress. It’s going to be great. I can’t tell you how great it’s going to be. Just really great. You can’t believe how great it’s going to be.”
No details. And not a thing has been done. Nothing. The main thing is to keep everything hanging up in the air. And everything subject to change.
The whole thing, you may have noticed, is described with a vocabulary of about five words. Which give no details. Absolutely none.
Granted, not everybody is a Winston Churchill. But accepting the current level of vocabulary used makes a mockery of English, and the teaching of it at that level a total waste of time.
The prevailing thought is apparently, “If that’s good enough for the highest office in the land, why do we need anything better?” Just stop your groaning any time you hear, “Me and her went downtown,” and just go on about your business.
If the purpose of a language is to convey thought, is it much of a surprise to learn that not much thought is conveyed? What gets conveyed to the leaders of other countries? What do our allies think of us? What do our enemies think of us?
For the allies that we have, we can be thankful. We can expect them to be reasonable people, and to act accordingly. With some of our enemies, it would be folly in the extreme to rely on their being reasonable.
It is not at all unreasonable to see those who crave disorder as a way of life, even in little things, to be exactly those who pose our greatest danger. They are exactly those who, through reckless speech in front of unstable enemies, could trigger exactly what we least desire.
(Robert E. Regut is a graduate of West Point and a teacher with 20-plus years of experience in the teaching of foreign languages, specializing in the teaching of spoken German. He can be reached at P.O. Box 101, Nobleboro, ME, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)