Germany’s election gives the country a reality check

German Chancellor Angela Merkel won a fourth term in office on Sept. 24, but overall support for Merkel’s party declined. The country’s far right party, Alternative for Germany, took third place. (Reuters)

Perhaps it’s a useful dose of realism: As it turns out, Germany is not so exceptional after all. It’s true that German voters have just given the ruling Christian Democratic Union yet another majority. It’s true that Angela Merkel will remain chancellor for a remarkable fourth term, according to exit polls. But Germany did not escape the Western populist wave altogether.

The full election result is hard to express simply, but here goes: Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats did worse than before, and worse than expected. The center-left Social Democrats went the way of the center-left across the continent and did much worse than before, and much worse than expected. Smaller parties, such as the liberals, the Greens and the far-left, did better than before. And the Alliance for Germany (AfD), the anti-immigration, anti-European Union, anti-NATO party, did better than ever before, winning a projected 13.5 percent of the vote.

The upshot: As in the Netherlands, Austria, France, Poland — and, let’s face it, the United States, Britain, Hungary, Sweden, Finland, Italy and just about everywhere else — the nationalist far-right will now have a loud voice in mainstream politics in Germany.

The impact will be felt most strongly in Germany itself, because several dozen brand-new, far-right politicians will be members of the Bundestag. This is a cohort with no particular devotion to the norms of the German political system, with its traditions of collegiality and compromise, so German politics might get less agreeable. Already, an online conspiracy campaign, linked to the AfD, is beginning to push a line about “election fraud,” and a leading AfD politician has said his party will now “hunt” for Merkel full time. It’s also a group that is…

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