Richard Spencer Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Nazis and Hipsters

As a possible successor to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, German Deputy Finance Minister Jens Spahn's recent defense of traditional national identity is noteworthy for what it reveals about the trajectory of German politics. But Spahn's apparent bet on the rise of Trump-style populism is risky.

BERLIN – In recent weeks, bizarre political controversies have dominated the American and German media. The United States is still debating President Donald Trump’s equivocating response to violence committed by white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia. And Germans have been responding to an essay published by German Deputy Finance Minister Jens Spahn, in which he complains that English-speaking hipsters in Berlin are eroding German national identity.

These debates shed light on how history and national identity inform each country’s politics. In Charlottesville, 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed when a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of people. He and many other white supremacists were in Charlottesville to protest a decision by the city to remove a statue of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee. When they were met by counter-demonstrators, some responded with violence.

Clearly, the politics of cultural identity has eclipsed that of socioeconomic class in the US. By defending contested monuments and asserting that “both sides” were to blame in the Charlottesville tragedy, Trump is signaling his predominantly white support base that he will fight for their rights as a “threatened majority.” His campaign promise to “make America great again” was, after all, always code for opposition to an increasingly multiethnic America.

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