On September 26th, 2021, Germany held an election which was unlike any other in the country’s last sixteen years. Angela Merkel is retiring after an overwhelmingly successful career that has shaped the scope of German and European politics for the foreseeable future. The election was competitive and resulted in a surprising outcome: Merkel’s party did not come up on top. Additionally, the far left and far right (Die Linke, AFD) lost percentage points. On the other hand, the SPD, the center left party in Germany, was able to gain the greatest number of seats in the Bundestag and is currently in the process of negotiating potential coalitions with other parties.
What is extraordinary, from a US viewpoint, and in light of the democratic erosion framework, is not so much the fact that the SPD was able to garner more support than the party of Europe’s most popular politician; it is instead that the election, in contrast to the American 2020 and 2016 elections, was largely accepted as free and fair. Not only was the result unquestioned; the parties are seemingly able to civilly negotiate coalitions and policy issues without threats of unsavory political action and “constitutional hardballs” (Levitsky and Way 2018), such as a government shutdown, that attempt to gather political support at the cost of the citizens’ welfare.
Perhaps even more extraordinary for an American perspective is the fact that individual politicians of the “losing” party accepted and even took responsibility for their defeat. The CDU’s campaign leader, Armin Laschet, said “I would have preferred to be first, I understand, of course, that I bear some personal responsibility for this result.”
At first sight, this appears as expected, proper, or ordinary—a common occurrence in consolidated democracies. This situation directly contrasts with recent results of United States’ elections, which highlights the stability of Germany’s democracy. How Democracies Die by Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky mentions that systems of democracy may deteriorate when the democratic rules of the game are rejected or poorly adhered to, which has come about with Trump’s refusal to accept election results.
After Joe Biden’s win in November 2020 the election result was, and still is, disputed by many republicans and the de facto party leader, former president Donald Trump. In fact, the former president filed dozens of lawsuits claiming wide range voter fraud—despite abundant evidence to the contrary.
Donald Trump not only continuously alleges voter fraud, rallying his supporters for a speculated 2024 bid under the “fact” that the 2020 election was stolen, but he also led an armed insurrection at the Capitol building on January 6th, 2021. Again, this goes to the heart of Levitsky and Ziblatt’s argument in how democracies fail. As a clear example of the democratic rules of the game being rejected, insurrections, including that of January 6th, has a role in undermining democracy. Trump’s attempt to overturn democratic norms for the sake of himself and his constituents has proven detrimental to the country’s already fragile democracy. With that being said, Germany has evidently not experienced the same lack of faith or attempts to overturn democratic processes, such as elections.
After January 6th, no politicians were arrested. Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Andy Briggs, Mo Brooks, Paul Gosar, and many others ought to be arrested and tried for treason. They organized what was plainly an attempt on the organized government of the United States and its officials. But no such arrests came. No, those arrested were the rioters who had been gaslit and duped by false promises of reform by right-wing extremist politicians.
This shines a foreboding light upon the democracy of the United States, and by extension, the democracies of the Western world. Political leaders can callously and plainly break the law and betray their country without legal punishment. Still today with ample evidence of corruption and treason there is little hope that Donald Trump will be prosecuted for he is protected by money, influence, and popularity. Through this we have set a dangerous precedent where actors can challenge elections and flagrantly break laws with the reassurance that others will take the fall and accept the repercussions.
It is hard to believe that such a thing would happen in Germany. America and the rest of the world ought to look to Germany as a beacon of democracy in an ever-failing democratic system which shows no signs of improvement any time soon.
Armus, Teo. “A ‘Stop the Steal’ Organizer, Now Banned by Twitter, Said Three GOP Lawmakers Helped Plan His D.C. Rally.” The Washington Post. WP Company, January 14, 2021. https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/01/13/ali-alexander-capitol-biggs-gosar/.
Cummings, William, Joey Garrison, and Jim Sergent. “By the Numbers: President Donald Trump’s Failed Efforts to Overturn the Election.” USA Today. Gannett Satellite Information Network, January 6, 2021. https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/politics/elections/2021/01/06/trumps-failed-efforts-overturn-election-numbers/4130307001/.
“German Elections 2021.” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper. Accessed October 3, 2021. https://www.economist.com/german-election-2021.
Tharoor, Ishaan. “Analysis | Germany’s Election Casts U.S. Democracy in Harsh Light.” The Washington Post. WP Company, October 1, 2021. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/10/01/germany-election-us-democracy/.