It’s 3:47 a.m. on a Monday morning. It has been a great weekend – sweltering for late September — especially in my non air-conditioned Kings Court English College House dorm room, but like most of my fellow Penn students, I spent my weekend well, as we all enjoyed the summer-like feel of Locust Walk, some time on a tennis court or football pitch or along the banks of the Schuylkill River. A presentation for my 10 a.m. was left till much too late, but is now prepped and printed, and I’m finally ready to put some polish on my bi-weekly opinion piece for Tuesday publication.

But somehow my well-argued essay discussing my views on Penn’s task force policies seems a bit stale and small. Whether due to lack of sleep or the quiet of the sultry Philadelphia night, I can’t quite get Angela Merkel’s victory in Sunday’s German Federal Election out of my head. I can’t help thinking “Might Merkel matter?” 

I know that my Tuesday piece should focus on topics central to Penn students, faculty and staff. But might Merkel matter not only to the millions of migrant refugees who clamor to enter the Federal Republic, to Germany’s 82 million citizens and to neighboring European countries, but also across the Atlantic, to Philadelphia, to me and most importantly the Penn community?

This election does matter as it represents the continuation of Germany being the clear leader among liberal Western democracies, in a time when many countries are shifting significantly towards nationalism and authoritarianism. Furthermore, the United States has a tremendous amount to learn from the German election process, both in terms of voter turnout and policy-oriented campaigning.

With the domestic birthrate stalled, the ethnically German population is shrinking, so it may be small wonder that some Germans fear being outnumbered by immigrants and becoming foreigners in their own country. Like in the United States, anti-immigrant sentiment is higher and more vocal than it has been at any other time in the post WWII era. And the far-right, nationalist AfD, or “Alternative For Deutschland," party has won an unprecedented number of seats in the Bundestag (Germany’s parliament). But whether because of the unexpected Brexit result or the 2016 US Presidential upset — or because many Germans fear repeating the catastrophic consequences of its xenophobic policies during the 1930s — most Germans thankfully voted for moderation.

So how can all this possibly matter to me or, more significantly, to you? Especially because, like most of my Penn peers, I don’t have the right to vote in Germany, so my caring one way or the other about German politics is quite irrelevant. My opinion really does not matter. But in our ever more connected world, what’s happening across the globe reverberates widely.

I think the German election is particularly relevant to Penn students because it highlights the importance of all citizens being politically engaged and active. We should attempt to emulate the commendable voter turnout statistics found in Germany, where 71.5 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot, compared to the dismal 56.9 percent here in the States.

Furthermore, the substance of the political debate in Germany was fundamentally more thoughtful, less shrill and more policy oriented. Instead of obsessing over what Merkel was wearing or how her hair looked, as was often the case regarding Hillary Clinton, Germans considered the positions and platforms of the candidates. We as Penn students should help to shift our countries political dialogue towards substance, not style, on the local, state and national level.

Since 2015, Merkel’s call to action has been that Germany can do it, or “Wir schaffen das!”, when it comes to the challenges of sharing their country and its resources with its fellow global citizens. Perhaps more of us could follow this example, and reach out to the economically struggling West Philadelphia population.

But most importantly, the German election and Merkel’s victory matters because it represents the importance of finding a sound and politically moderate course. It should remind all voters worldwide, that policy, not media presence or campaign glitter should inform and sway the electorate. It should also remind us to think beyond our borders when we cast our ballots.

As the first grey light of dawn pokes through my window, I sense my thoughts slipping back home. A few hours sleep will have to suffice before another busy week at Penn packed with academic, club and social responsibilities. But I am glad that I’ve had my “Merkel moment” to remind me to pay attention to what’s happening beyond the horizons of Philadelphia. Perhaps I’ve inspired you to do the same.

SPENCER SWANSON is a College freshman from London, studying philosophy, politics and economics. His email address is sswanson@sas.upenn.edu. “Spencer’s Space” usually appears every other Tuesday.

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