Berlin -- At Mariannenplatz, huge sycamore limbs are down in the park after a hurricane swept through Berlin last week. Seven people died in the storm. But clean-up is underway and the park's huge cottonwoods are still intact.
It is a metaphor for the recent German elections. The far-right Alternativ für Deutschland (AfD) party blew through to gain seats in the German Bundestag, but the basic German social and political institutions are still functioning. A coalition government is in the making, united against the AfD. Sanity prevails in the chancellorship.
American institutions are not doing so well. Everywhere one looks our institutions are fraying -- schools; churches; universities; news media; state governments; especially the federal government. America's version of the AfD, Trumpism, is ascendant. The vaunted checks and balances of the American system may not he up to withstanding the winds of autocracy.
It is worth reflecting that German stability is creditable to the foresight of the U.S. government in the post-WWII era and is, in a way, itself an American institution that is still holding forth strongly. Germany's post-war constitution, drafted under the aegis of the Allied occupiers, created a parliamentary democracy in the framework of a federal system. Goverments can be dissolved and reconstituted when leadership fails. The German states are directly represented in the Bundesrat (the upper house) by their minister-presidents (governors), as a check on the power of the national government. The Marshall Plan of George Marshall and President Truman set a robust economy in motion after the war. The North Atlantic Treaty provided international security.
There is now a German Marshall Fund that reciprocates aid, in gratitude. German companies are rushing to the aid of Puerto Rico to restore power after Hurricane Maria. Germany leads the European Union in defense of democratic ideals. German news media led the fight against Russian interference in its elections.
It is the height of irony that the American institution now proving itself ready to meet today's challenges to democracy is found in Berlin.