Morality as the new guiding culture: Germany is getting excited!
Most recently, it was the German Minister of Defense, Christine Lambrecht, who drew ridicule and scorn from politicians and media representatives with a personal video at the turn of the year: "There is a war raging in the middle of Europe. And in connection with this, I was able to gain many special impressions, many, many encounters with interesting and great people. For that, I would like to say a heartfelt thank you," said the minister to a deafening background of firecrackers and New Year's Eve grenades. An unfortunate setting, according to some. Unacceptable for a defense minister, say others.
Criticism, ridicule and indignation are coming from all sides. Politicians of various stripes feel obliged to add their two cents. The leading media fuel a discussion that is not really a discussion at all by reproducing the comments in their echo chambers. Official Germany does what it does best, it gets excited. It's all about majority opinion, even if it may have no counterpart in society. It is about being on the "right" side, even if there can be no "right" or "wrong" side.
Political messages - devoid of meaning but morally correct
In its lack of content, Ms. Lambrecht's New Year's message is prototypical of a generation of politicians we encounter in several EU countries. Circumnavigating "moral lapses" seems to have become a quality characteristic in dealing with the area of tension between media, politics and society - especially in Germany. The media elites have discovered a "new guiding culture" in what they call "morality". Politicians are guided by this "code of values" and produce policies that they believe will please the media and thus conform to majority opinion
This egg dance between politics and the media leads to abstruse messages on social media networks. Even though these messages are often devoid of meaning, they do trigger one thing: collective excitement. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock tweeted shortly before Christmas, "Today we are taking a step that was long overdue: we are bringing twenty #BeninBronzes back to their homeland #Nigeria. This won't heal all the wounds of the past. But we are showing that we are serious about coming to terms with our dark colonial history." Nigeria a German colony - learn geography and history, Madam Foreign Minister, she was promptly directed. Official Germany did what it does best, it got excited in a completely pointless debate about genocide, looted art and coastal strips that should actually be counted as part of the German colonial empire and are located on the territory of today's Nigeria.
Another worthy representative of this "new leading culture" is Claudia Roth, who, as Secretary of State, is responsible for all questions of culture. How to circumvent "moral lapses" culturally can be read in the coalition agreement of the current German government, it must be "barrier-free, diverse, gender-just and sustainable." By her own account, Claudia Roth was the first member of the government to visit the Ukrainian port city of Odessa in June 2022. There, she not only defended German arms deliveries (so that Ukraine can defend its culture against the Russians), but also immediately visited a memorial to the Jews murdered in Odessa during World War 2. According to new German reading a masterpiece of morally unassailable cultural diplomacy!
Only a few days after this visit, however, Mrs. Roth went into hiding. After the opening of the documenta in Kassel, the pendulum of "German remembrance culture" swung back, as the artist collective "Ruangrupa" from Indonesia shook the political-moral standards with an allegedly anti-Semitic work by the group Taring Padi. In his opening speech, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier tried his hand at the inevitable egg dance: "It is striking when no Jewish artists from Israel are represented at this important exhibition of contemporary art. And it disturbs me when, worldwide, representatives of the global South have recently been refusing more frequently to participate in events, in conferences or festivals in which Jewish Israelis are taking part."
The hysterical public uproar made it clear that Germany had entangled itself in "circumnavigating moral lapses." The shot backfired. The dilemma was summed up in a commentary in the Tagesspiegel: "If one defends our non-negotiable positions - this includes the fight against anti-Semitism - and withdraws problematic works from circulation, this may be understood as censorship."
Majority opinion that is not opinion
Consistently, this pattern of collective public agitation continued when German scholar Richard David Precht and sociologist Harald Welzer published their book "Die vierte Gewalt. Wie Mehrheitsmeinung gemacht wird, auch wenn sie keine ist." The two authors criticize the ominous effects of the so-called "mediocracy": "The media system colonizes (...) the political system and increasingly makes it function according to the same rules of the battle for attention. Mass-media hounded and driven politicians who, moreover, have to check every utterance, indeed every facial expression, through anticipatory self-censorship in order not to be scandalized, are unlikely to have the necessary composure to pursue a far-sighted and reasoned policy. And the public sphere as a place of incessant sensationalization and scandalization leaves little room for credibility, expertise, closeness to the citizen and drive (...). So the growing influence of the media not only changes its power, but it also changes politics at the same time."
The authors state that the leading media in Germany are not enforcement organs of state power but rather of their own power to shape opinion. They observe an increasing tendency to polarize, simplify, moralize, authoritarianize and defame: The media form their very own echo chambers of a scene that always looks at what the other is saying or writing, anxious not to deviate from it.
So which politician fits into this system of polarizing, simplifying opinion-making? Which personality type is willing to make itself available as a plaything and projection surface? Whom can the media praise to the skies at will, only to subject him or her to a gauntlet immediately afterwards?
It is probably politicians like Annalena Baerbock, Christine Lambrecht, Claudia Roth, Olaf Scholz or Franz-Walter Steinmeier who fit into this system as puppets. They have neither a special profile nor particular expertise; they lack political skill and do not convince with a statesmanlike approach. Their political programs read as empty of content as their media messages. However, the mediocracy needs them, and it abuses them for its own opinion-making. It remains open who is the parasite and who is the host.