Category Archives: cliché

The folly of von der Leyen

A mixture of cliché, slogan, and evasion

The president-elect of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, is quoted as saying:

The last four years have taught us that simple answers don’t take us far. All that one heard was ‘Close the borders and migration will stop’ or ‘We must save everyone on the Mediterranean.’ We have seen that the phenomenon of migration has not stopped, and that there is a limit to the ability to integrate [the migrants]. Therefore a global approach is necessary. We must invest massively in Africa to reduce the pressure to migrate. At the same time we must fight organised crime so that we ensure that the Schengen agreement [which allows free movement of people between countries party to it] can function because we protect our external borders [i.e. the EU’s borders].

Dalrymple comments:

This evades almost all the difficult questions about immigration. With a superb indifference to practicalities, von der Leyen fails to tell us how either the push or the pull that drives migration is to be lessened, apart from ‘massive investment in Africa’.

Von der Leyen, he notes,

does not tell us who is going to bankroll this massive investment. Is it to be financed via the forced contributions of European taxpayers and be administered by European bureaucrats? The history of massive aid investment on the part of Europeans in Africa has not been happy.

Dalrymple asks:

If the massive investment is not to come from government, with its almost infallible ability to turn investment into liability, who is it to come from, and for what purposes?

The answer

must be the private or corporate sector. But why is it that the private or corporate sector, supposedly ever on the search for commercial opportunity, does not already make such investments? How is it to be persuaded to do so? Is the purpose of its investment to make a profit or to reduce migration?

Dalrymple observes that cliché has

entered the very fabric of von der Leyen’s mind. Surely it must have occurred to her that it is a little late in the day for investment, however massive, to halt the pressure that has led a third or more of sub-Saharan Africans—who will soon be three times more numerous than the Europeans—to want to migrate to Europe.

Besides, he says,

it is not the poorest of the poor of Africa who arrive clandestinely in Europe; it is those who can — or whose family can — pay the air fare, giving them the chance to overstay their visa, or pay people-traffickers (often several thousand dollars) to smuggle them in. Many migrants enter under family reunification schemes inscribed in European law.

A rising standard of living in the emigration centres of sub-Saharan Africa brought about by massive investment, were it to occur (which is far from certain), would

more probably increase than decrease the migratory pressure, in so far as more people would have the means to undertake the migration.

This thought

does not in the slightest inhibit von der Leyen from using the language of the imperative—a way of thinking that might result in the compulsion of reluctant countries to pursue a futile policy at great cost. Moreover, it is very difficult to see how any effective or selective migration policy could be carried out without a closure of borders.

A demagogue and a terminal bore

Chávez bestrode his country like a colossus inflated with gas

Resentment, notes Dalrymple,

is the nourishing broth in which demagogues like Castro and Chávez grow and thrive. The worse they make the situation, the better their explanation for it. We were right all along! See what they are doing to us! Since resentment is self-reinforcing, the demagogues are always sure of at least some support, however obvious the disaster they have wrought.

Dalrymple says that he is not prescient, far from it, but

I knew from the moment that Chávez took power that his rule would end disastrously. Whatever the parlous state of the country at the time he took power, he could only make it worse. (I reviewed a book by one of those fools whose wishful thinking flits like a butterfly from revolution to revolution and from radical to radical, and who took Chávez at his own estimate.)

A disaster from which Venezuela will take generations to recover

Chávez

was the kind of leader who could produce a shortage of saltwater in the Pacific. It was only appropriate that he should so have admired Bolívar that he named his ‘revolution’ after him, for Bolívar’s life ended miserably and his plans were utterly set at naught. ‘He who serves the revolution,’ said Bolívar at the end of his life, ‘ploughs the sea.’

Dalrymple points out that Chávez was

a charismatic nonentity, a terminal bore whose mind was stuffed with cliché, verbiage, and resentment. He bestrode his country like a colossus inflated with gas. He never said in a minute what he could say in an hour; if he had a fundamental belief, it was ‘I speak to an audience, therefore I am.’

His constant appeal

was to resentment, the most sustainable of all emotions. (It can last a lifetime and, being easily transferred, is heritable).

Chávez’s

resentful charlatanry, his patent-medicine-salesmanship of quick political and economic solutions, was a disaster for his country from which it will take generations to recover.

Fraudulence and adolescent vacuity

Malodorous mass murderer

Effrontery, writes Dalrymple,

has made strides as a key to success in life. Ordinary people employ it routinely. There are consultants in effrontery training who not only commit it but teach others how to commit it, and charge large sums.

There was a time when

self-praise was regarded as no praise, rather the reverse; now it is a prerequisite for advancement.

The consultants in effrontery, Dalrymple notes, speak in pure cliché, practically contentless, but with a force of conviction that, if you discounted what they say, you might think they were people

of profound insight with a vocation for imparting it to others.

When he catches glimpses of US television evangelists, Dalrymple is full of wonder as to how

anyone could look at or listen to them without immediately perceiving their fraudulence.

The fraudulence is so obvious that it is like

a physical characteristic, such as height or weight or colour of hair, or an emanation,

like body malodour, such as that of Che Guevara. How, asks Dalrymple,

could people fail to perceive it?

From Germany, hope for insomniacs

The federal foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier

Zzz zzz zzz… Verbal anæsthesia: the federal foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, delivers an address that is well-timed (coming shortly after the British voted to leave the European Union), and in duration no longer than about an hour-and-a-half, concerning the glories of the European Union. Zzz zzz zzz…

Zzz zzz zzz zzz…

Picking up a copy of the Paris daily the Monde, which he describes as the French equivalent of the Times of New York, though

still rather more interesting,

Dalrymple comes across an article by the Bundesminister des Auswärtigen, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. To read it, Dalrymple says,

is to enter a world of grey thought, evasive cliché, Soviet-style slogans, verbal anæsthesia. I think you could put almost anyone to sleep by reading it aloud to him.

Steinmeier’s remarks are intended to be

a stirring call to readers, like de Gaulle’s radio broadcast from London.

There are passages such as this:

We are committed to making Europe better. This is the direction taken by the proposals put forward by Jean-Marc Ayrault [the Ministre des Affaires étrangères et du Développement international] and myself. We have ideas on improved internal and external security, an active migration policy and a policy for growth and employment. We look forward to receiving lots of constructive ideas. A better, more flexible EU will respect differing views on the further progress of Europe and will allow for different speeds, without excluding anyone or leaving anyone behind. Instead of arguing about what the ultimate goal of European integration should be, we should work towards tangible results. It is only by working together that we will make progress. That is why it is so important for us to consult each other in the group of 27, to listen carefully to each other, and then take joint action.

Hergestellt in Detmold, Deutschland

Hergestellt in Detmold, Deutschland

Zzzz zzz zzz zzz… Dalrymple comments:

I do not know Mr Steinmeier and have no animus against him. He is probably a perfectly decent man, as politicians go. What intrigues me is whether his article corresponds to any thoughts that actually ran through his head. If they did, one can only pity him: how boring it must be to be Mr Steinmeier.

But Dalrymple does not want to be accused of selective quotation, so he closes his eyes and lets his finger alight at random on part of the article. Here is the passage:

We are looking back on an unprecedented 70 years of peace and stability. More than 25 years have passed since we brought an end to the division of our continent. The process of European unification is an unparalleled success story. At its core is an agreed political framework under which the member states come to Brussels to manage their relations and settle their conflicts — and do not head off to the battlefield. This agreement has lost none of its utility or significance. The European peace project must be passed on intact to the generations who will follow us.

Zzz zzz zzz zzz… Dalrymple says that to combine, in such a way,

soporific banality with cunning evasiveness takes, I suppose, talent of a kind, the kind of talent required to rule without appearing to want to do so. It is a dull talent, and one that I cannot much admire.