Following Sunday’s election results in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s political drama of 2017 has seen significant character development. Martin Schulz, boss and candidate of the Social Democrats, now has to act as if he has a plan, while his party mustn’t let its despondency show. The SPD’s other leading men and those in the candidate’s inner circle -- including Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, Hamburg mayor Olaf Scholz and Justice Minister Heiko Maas – have to feign support for a leader who has no direction. This calls for theatrical finesse: the concealed dagger must be within reach but without glinting.
Leaders in the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) also have demanding new roles to play. First and foremost, they must hide any confidence in victory in September’s federal election. German voters expect modesty and hate triumphalism. The CDU elite will have to put questions regarding their respective political fates on hold for now. Right now, it’s about Germany. Trading political offices comes in a later act.
After twelve draining years in charge, Angela Merkel now needs to embody the endlessly energetic leader –no easy task for someone who long been running on reserves. Behind the curtains, stagehands have their work cut out for them. Ad agency Jung von Matt is tasked with selling a political sunset as the dawn of a new day.
The drama’s director expects Federal Democratic Party (FDP) leader Christian Lindner, currently in the role of a young Wagnerian hero breaking the swords of rivals, to curb his impatience. If it were up to Lindner, he would have organized a moving van to Berlin already. Within the party, FDP vice chairman Wolfgang Kubicki will have the most challenging role: for the next four months, he must disguise his rowdiness and play up his reliability.
Of course, the media also have to play their part, painting what is already an obvious election outcome to be a wide-open race. Call it voter deception in the name of fairness and democracy. Whipping themselves into a frenzy, the media project new constellations of coalitions and options for wielding power. After all, they need to keep up the suspense. Only after Angela Merkel has secured the chancellery, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has retained his watch over Germany’s coffers and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel continues to be the face of German diplomacy will we know that we’ve reached the final act. Quo vadis, Germany? Status quo. The curtain falls. The audience, exhausted and relieved, fall back into their seats. Of all forms of government, democracy is the most entertaining. Cloakroom tickets, please!
It’s not until we’re on our way home that it dawns on us: in the original manuscript, the drama of democracy is about audience participation. Maybe the leading actors on the political stage weren’t so bad after all – we were simply too lazy to play our part. Oscar Wilde was possibly referring to us, the voyeurs of democracy, when he said: “The play was a great success, but the audience was a disaster.”
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