Learning from Angela Merkel

By Shlomo Maital

It was all over for Angela Merkel. She announced her retirement as head of the Christian Democrats, in Germany, and more or less disappeared as Chancellor.

   And then – came the pandemic.   Writing in the New York Times, Anna Sauerbrey * explains how Merkel is hugely popular, her party leads by far in the polls – and Germany has weathered the pandemic far better than the US, for instance, where President Trump, a born misogynist, persistently mocks “Angela”. [The New Yorker reported: The first Trump-Merkel encounter in the Oval Office began with almost comically awful optics: Merkel offered a ceremonial handshake for the cameras, which Trump seemed to rebuff. After the photographers left the room, Trump reportedly announced, “Angela, you owe me one trillion dollars.”].”.

Here is a selection from Sauerbrey’s piece: “Now, in early July 2020, Ms. Merkel is riding high. The country, with a notably low fatality rate and a high-functioning test and trace system, has contained the pandemic — a success many attribute to the chancellor. In a recent poll, 82 percent of Germans said that Ms. Merkel was doing her job “rather well.” And the Christian Democratic Union is once again far ahead of its challengers.”

   Please recall that Merkel is a highly trained scientist – a quantum chemist, someone who understands deeply both physics and chemistry. A perfect person to lead a nation through a crisis that demands deep scientific understanding.  

       Now, let’s assume that the United States has a President who is wise, open-minded, modest, humble, intelligent, and desperate to lead his country through the crisis in an admirable fashion.   The US and Germany have much in common. Both have a federal structure – the 50 states in the US, and the German federal states.   Both in Germany and the US, the state governments have major powers. The wise US President says, let’s find out why and how Germany is doing so well, and adapt its policies.

     Here, the similarity ends. In the US, Republican ‘red’ states [Florida, Arizona, Alabama, etc.] have opened prematurely, triggering a disastrous wave of new infections.  In Germany, Merkel’s knowledge and background gave her credibility, and she deftly coordinated policy, so that the German states followed her guidance carefully. No “Florida’s” or “Arizona’s” in Germany.

     The federal government in Germany manages and directs the test and trace system, with massive resources and trained personnel. A model of excellence.

     Not so in the US. And the US President? His shocking, racist speech at Mt. Rushmore barely mentioned the pandemic. Maybe, he thinks, if I ignore it – it will just go away.

     The people of Germany are fortunate to have Merkel in a strong leadership position during the pandemic.

     The hapless people of the United States are desperately unlucky to have Trump leading them, even though three million more people voted for his rival.  

* How Germany Fell Back in Love With Angela Merkel. New York Times, July 8, 2020.