Something happened in Germany this week, and it bears watching, not because of what Germany is up to, but because Biden could attempt the same. What Germany’s federal government did is constitutionally dubious, even for Germany – and reminds us, beware of concentrated power.
The government passed a federal law, effectively amending their Constitution to create broad federal powers to limit social interactions and shut down their economy, over COVID. Surprise, surprise, riots erupted across Germany – including big spikes at Brandenburg Gate, in Berlin.
This is an interesting turn, as Biden promised seemingly unconstitutional “federal mandates” for mask-wearing, social distancing, and business-shutdowns. Like our 10th Amendment, the Germans had restrictions on federalizing power. Still, their government – against strong opposition – “enshrined in law, powers to impose … curbs on social contact, rules on mask-wearing, drinking alcohol in public, and shutting shops.” Boom, those are now federal powers.
In the name of public health, the new law gives Germany’s federal government powers to curtail civil liberties, transferring powers that resided at state and local level to the federal level.
“The aim of the amendment, drawn up by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, is to prevent legal challenges to the measures that have so far mostly been enforceable at the state or local level.” In other words, legal safeguards against federal overreach were sidelined.
Like most Americans, Germans are concerned about COVID, a second wave, how fast vaccines are advancing, and their nation’s economy. They are also concerned about use of public health to aggregate federal power, permanently changing the balance with states, giving the federal government the ability to place basic civil liberties at risk.
Accordingly, Germans went to the streets to resist an act they view as nearly unprecedented. One report noted, “although most Germans accept the latest ‘lockdown light’ to curb spread of the novel coronavirus in a second wave, critics say the amendment endangers citizens’ civil rights.”
I say “nearly” because German conservatives – rather ironically – see in this move shadows of pre-WWII power centralization. They see Merkel, Germany’s Chancellor since 2005 in a coalition with “Social Democrats” (sounding familiar?), pushing power concentration.
They see parallels between the current amendment and the ominous “Enabling Act of 1933,” which paved the way to Hitler’s dictatorship. The 1933 law, dubbed a “Law to Remedy the Distress of People,” gave Chancellor and Cabinet power to override constitutional guarantees. Opposition lawyers and legislators were intimidated. The rest is history.
The analogy is sobering. Critics may be right or wrong, but German streets filled with those concerned about an unsettling turn of events. In Berlin, more than 190 people were arrested, nine officers injured. Those arrested … were conservatives.
Not a surprise, German media made much of the protestors – here, conservatives – not social distancing or wearing face masks. They quoted federal officials saying the move – which halts objections to crackdowns – is a “once in a century phenomenon.” Hmmm.
Across the water in America, we watch a candidate and party declare themselves victors, with allegations of fraud lingering and before the Electoral College votes. We see constitutional guarantees derided, lawsuits seeking transparency disparaged, and lawyers pursuing justice in impartial courts intimidated.
The intersection of an unusual German amendment, the earlier German “Enabling Law,” and events surrounding our election – and Biden’s promise of federalize mandates, violating our Constitution’s 10th Amendment is this: Power concentration – federalizing what should stay state and local – is a flashing red light.
Whether the concentrator of power, for seeming good aims, is fascist, communist, or socialist matters less than concentration does. What party commits an act of taking power from The People, trampling on a Constitution, is secondary.
Germany is not the United States. Germany’s Constitution is not ours. The history of our countries is very different. That said, Biden’s team is eyeing Europe – you can be sure of that. They are watching what happens in Germany. They have made pledges that are leftist, face pressure from “progressives” to aggregate power, are thinking about constitutionally questionable acts – in the name of ending COVID.
Warning: Beware federal governments intent on making state and local prerogatives their own. Crises trigger temporary responses. But if these become permanent, or require constitutionally dubious action, suspicion should rise.
Ronald Reagan said it best and is worth remembering. He spoke profound words at the Brandenburg Gate, but also noted: “Concentrated power has always been the enemy of liberty.” It was in the 1930s, was in the 1980s, and remains so today.