When Trust Disappears
By Friedrich Schorlemmer
[This analysis originally broadcast on: DeutschlandRadio Berlin December 20, 2003 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.dradio.de/dir/sendungen/feuilleton/220565/. Friedrich Schorlemmer, born in 1944 as the son of a pastor, received the Carl von Ossietzky medallion in 1989 and the Peace prize of the German Book trade in 1993. In East Germany he was one of the oppositional forces urging more civil liberties. An interview with pastor Schorlemmer "Icy Times" is available on http://www.mbtranslations.com and www.freewebs.com/mbtranslations.]
The most important asset of democracy is the trust of its citizens in the reliability of its rules and the persons representing these rules. Democracy needs general approval, not merely partial approval for a party in elections. Democracy is endangered where citizens become negative and withdraw resigned, indignant, bored, frustrated or disappointed without finding their way to the polling station (not to mention abstinence in joining a discussion about political programs or concrete decisions!). Democracy rests on the insight of free citizens. All pressure remains the inevitable exception to the rule. Free obedience to the law of reasonable and devoted citizens is the backbone of the liberal order.
From elected officials and public employees on all planes, voters expect competence in their areas of responsibility, citizen-oriented advocacy and a certain measure of agreement between speaking and acting (that is, credibility) and a full measure of unselfish engagement. In the visual media age, politicians are seduced more and more to work intensely at their outward appearance or image and keep the substance of what they defend increasingly flexible or vague so they are really committed to nothing. What is neglected in the cause should be compensated in the image. This is simply a costly deception or delusion.
A good impression should be mediated to people. They should believe a party or a person can do something. Representatives of parties, interests or firms think they must only appear good and be at the top of popularity polls. To that end they keep highly paid image consultants, coaches who give them an outfit highlighting their hairstyle, glasses and wardrobe. The main thing is the effect, the beautiful appearance, not real agreement between thought and action. If the addressants do not understand these image campaigns, they will not expect anything any more and will act as Martin Luther once diagnosed: "The frenzied mob only ask that life be different, not how it will be different... They get bumblebees for flies and hornets for bumblebees. A raving mob is a desperate thing that no one can govern as well as tyrants."
This precarious joy in submission occurs again and again. The strong man ends the fuss of democracy in an authoritarian way and prescribes a few home truths even when they are painful. Democracy is really hard. The postponement of democracy in the constant wrangling is exhausting. Democrats usually act as the gravediggers of democracy when citizens have the impression that their representatives long ago lost the road grip, skillfully keep a distance to problems, fill one rhetorical bubble after another with empty phrases and orient themselves as a diving rod in populist approval. Those addicted to approval let themselves be driven by the spirit of the times even when this is marked by superficiality. Still the people have a right to know and a right that office-holders exercise their office with competence and dignity.
Everything is lost when the highly paid boss of the German Labor Office seeking to transform the office into a modern service enterprise doesn't only have a brilliant salary but treats co-workers harshly and deals with the money as though it were his own firm. The worst part is that he doesn't see this. Between conceitedness, hidden helplessness and callous arrogance, he represents an institution maintaining the unemployed and social security recipients. This isn't self-evident.
What brings the German chancellor to sell scrapped fuel rod facilities to China and plead for suspending the armament embargo? Human rights are trivialized.. The Chinese market is ultimately insatiable. All principles are sacrificed. How incredible is the closing of the Hanover experimental theater!
Where the citizen thinks everything is only lies and deception on all planes, he only looks how he can participate to his own advantage in the lies.
Let us not forget: Our democracy rests on common accepted values. Everyone should be concerned about their practical authority, first of all those who represent those values. There is a stench in the German state from top to bottom.