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The Last Stand Against Populism

JERUSALEM – There was a time, immediately after German reunification in 1990, when many French feared Germany. Today, the roles are reversed. But Germans are not afraid so much of France as for it. In the wake of June’s Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom and Donald Trump’s triumph earlier this month in the United States’ presidential election, France, too, could fall victim to destructive populist forces, if voters choose the far-right National Front’s Marine Le Pen as their next president.

Germans may be pleased to see Chancellor Angela Merkel referred to by American media as “the liberal West’s last defender” – an island of stability in an ocean of chaos. But it is one thing to be described as the best pupil in class – Germany is used to that; it is quite another to feel like the only pupil showing up at all.

With the US out, there are indeed few decent pupils left. Though Trump has backed away from some of his more radical campaign promises, he is unlikely to drop his “America first” approach; as a result, the US may be about to break decisively with the universalism and global engagement that has characterized the last 70 years.

The situation is no better in Europe. Poland is following in Hungary’s illiberal footsteps. Austria, another German neighbor, may well be about to elect the far-right nationalist Freedom Party’s Norbert Hofer as president. And the British are on their way out of the European Union altogether.