Angela Merkel Is Wrong

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is wrong. At a meeting in Potsdam, Merkel told young members of her own party, the Christian Democratic Union, that attempts to build a multicultural society in Gremany have “utterly failed.” A few days earlier, Horst Seehofer, who heads the Christian Democratic Union’s Bavarian sister party, told his party that “Multiculturalism is dead.” Merkel, who faces pressure from within her party to take a harder line on immigration, blamed immigrants for not doing enough to integrate into Germany, arguing in particular that they need to make more of an effort to learn German. Merkel’s remarks come just a month after German central banker Thilo Sarrazin stepped down after releasing a controversial book called Germany Abolishes Itself, arguing that Muslim immigrants make the German population “dumber” because they are less educated, rely too much on German social services, and don’t do enough to integrate into German society.


Germany obviously has a particularly nasty history of racism. But there’s no question that Muslim immigrant communities are a source of friction in Germany. With some 4 million Muslims in Germany—around 5% of the German population—it’s a serious issue. As globalization attracts large numbers of often less-skilled workers to rich countries, tension is to be expected. But while some immigrants probably could do more to get ease those tensions, Merkel is wrong to say that the problem is that they aren’t doing enough to adopt German “cultural norms.”

Merkel’s comments are part of a broad German backlash against immigration. While Sarrazin’s book was controversial, it sold over a million copies. In fact, it was probably his claim that “all Jews share a certain gene” rather than his views on Muslim immigrants that forced him to step down. As Gavin Hewitt points out, when German President Christain Wulff said that with so many Muslims in Germany Islam had become part of German culture, the German paper Bild accused him of “sucking up to Islam.” And Joachim Herrman, the Bavarian Minister of the Interior, said that “Germany does not want to integrate Islam, but to retain its own cultural identity.”

We are seeing a similar nativist backlash in the U.S. As I have written, the controversy surrounding the so-called “Ground Zero mosque”—as well as around mosques in other places—shows that many Americans see even American Muslims as foreign enemies. The Republican candidate for Senate in Nevada, Sharron Angle, has falsely suggested that sharia law had taken over two American towns—one of which it turns out isn’t even a real town.

The hostility to Muslims is just part of what I have argued is a broader tendency in the U.S. to blame our social and economic problems on foreigners and non-whites. Recently both Angle and Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), who is running for reelection this year, used the same stock photo of Hispanic-looking men in ads talking about the dangers of illegal immigration. At a Hispanic Student Union event at a Nevada high school, Angle said that she she wasn’t sure the men in the commercial actually were Latinos, and accused Sen. Harry Reid’s (D-NV) of “racial politics” for suggesting otherwise. In spite of the fact that Angle’s other ads explicitly talk about the danger posed by Mexican immigrants, Angle suggested the dark-skinned men in the ad were actually supposed to represent the danger of terrorists sneaking into the U.S. from Canada. Angle even tried to demonstrate her own obliviousness to race by telling her largely Hispanic audience that as far as she could tell some of them might be Asian. What she didn't mention was that her supporters have tried to buy ads on Spanish language television telling Hispanics they shouldn't vote this fall.

The truth is that while immigration does pose real social challenges, it’s not the reason so many Americans are out of work. It’s easy to blame people who are different from us for our economic and social problems. But it’s wrong to say, as Merkel does, that the problem is that immigrants have not done enough to adapt to us. The truth is that both here and in Germany, we have to adapt to new immigrants just as they have to adapt to life in America. What integration requires is that we tolerate the difference of others, not that they eliminate those differences. It’s not easy, but our own history shows that it can be done, and that in the long run it’s well worth the trouble.

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Politics & Current Affairs

Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.