The Leader of the Free World Gives a Speech, and She Nails It

Angela Merkel doesn’t do drama and she doesn’t give speeches on TV. So the mere fact that the German chancellor faced the camera across a desk and spoke to the nation Wednesday evening made the gravity of the situation clear. “Es ist ernst,” she said—“This is serious”— and those three bland words had more power than a hellfire sermon. Then she pivoted from statement to plea: “Take it seriously.” Quickly, she moved on to historical context, the reason for her unprecedented impromptu appearance: “Since German unification—no, since the Second World War—no challenge to our nation has ever demanded such a degree of common and united action.”

默克尔不演戏,她也不在电视上发表演讲。所以,仅仅是德国总理周三晚间隔着一张办公桌面对镜头向全国人民发表讲话这一点,就可以看出事态的严重性。”Es ist ernst(德语)”,她说—”这很严重”—而这平淡无奇的三个字,却比地狱火的布道更有力量。然后她从陈述转为恳求。”认真对待”。很快,她转入历史背景,即她史无前例的临时出现的原因。”自德国统一以来,不,自第二次世界大战以来,我们国家所面临的任何挑战都没有要求采取如此程度的共同和联合行动。”

Merkel made no specific announcements and called for no nationwide curfews or additional closures. Yet what gave her address its force was her tone, which was direct, honest, and searingly empathic. She laid bare not just the test we all face but also the solace that leadership can provide. Without accusations, boasts, hedges, obfuscations, dubious claims, or apocalyptic metaphors she did what a leader is supposed to do: explain the gravity of the situation and promise that the government’s help would flow to everyone who needed it. She gave full-throated thanks to front-line medical workers, assured Germans that there is no need to hoard, and paused to offer gratitude to a group of workers who rarely get recognized by heads of state on national TV: “Those who sit at supermarket cash registers or restock shelves are doing one of the hardest jobs there is right now.”


This is a war without a human enemy, and Merkel lay no blame. She asked for the sacrifice of discipline, for heroic acts of kindness. She acknowledged the paradox in calling for solidarity and apartness at the same time. She understood how painful it is that just when people desperately want to come together, families and friends have to endure separation. To Americans, Merkel’s appeals to democracy, and her sadness at having to use the full weight of her authority, come as a welcome shock. No German could listen to her calls for self-policing without recalling that she grew up in East Germany under the eye of the Stasi. “For someone like myself, for whom freedom of travel and movement were hard-won rights,” she said, “such restrictions can only be justified when they are absolutely necessary.” No American could hear that statement and fail to contrast it with our own leader’s ringing words: “I don’t take responsibility at all.”

这是一场没有人类敌人的战争,默克尔没有埋怨。她要求牺牲纪律,要求英勇的善意行为。她承认,在呼吁团结的同时,也要有孤独感,这是一个悖论。她明白,就在人们极力想走到一起的时候,家人和朋友却不得不忍受分离,这是多么痛苦的事情。对美国人来说,默克尔对民主的呼吁,以及她对不得不动用全部权威的悲哀,是一种可喜的冲击。没有一个德国人在听她呼吁自我监督的时候,会不想起自己是在东德的斯塔西眼皮底下长大的。”对我这样的人来说,旅行和行动自由是来之不易的权利,”她说,”只有在绝对必要的情况下,这种限制才是合理的。” 没有一个美国人听到这句话,不能不与我们自己的领导人的铿锵话语进行对比。”我不承担任何责任。”


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