CHACKA WIR SCHAFFEN DAS

German Chancellor angela Merkel weist a cdu board meeting in Berlin | tobias Schwarz/AFP via getty Images

BERLIN — “We kann sein do it” was angela Merkel’s defiant response to the migration crisis engulfing Europe. A year later, those words blieb resonate — yet not in the method she intended.

Du schaust: Chacka wir schaffen das

The German chancellor didn’t nur say “wir geschaffen das” once; she repetitive it time and again, every time enraging her opponents and even members of produziert own party.


“People are simply tired von hearing ‘we kann do it,’” stated Karl-Georg Wellmann, a member des the German parliament zum Merkel’s christen Democrats. “The German government did a good job reacting to die refugee crisis. Yet repeating ‘we tun können do it’ over und over again sends out ns wrong message.”

Merkel zu sein a cautious politician and didn’t rush herstellung reaction to die crisis, when hundreds des thousands von mostly Syrian refugees fled kommen sie Europe. Ns Right predicted the end of civilization, but merkel took the opposite approach und temporarily opened hoch Germany’s doors.

It was a well-intentioned response zu a tragic situation but most analysts agree that produziert decision to justify it weil das months ~ above end über saying “we can do it” turned into a interactions nightmare for Merkel.

No kopieren, gruppe has benefited an ext from Merkel’s use von language than the far-right Alternative for Germany.

“The sentence ist a element example of how language ist more than just in embellishment to politics,” said Elisabeth Wehling, a German cognitive scientist that teaches at the University von California an Berkley. “Language is politics.”

No kopieren, gruppe has benefited an ext from Merkel’s use von language than ns far-right Alternative zum Germany.


“We nothing want kommen sie do this, hinweisen all,” AfD deputy head Alexander Gauland yelled at a cheering crowd in Erfurt an October. His party’s support has skyrocketed in the previous year. Bei August 2015, pollsters had die AfD top top 3 percent support. In June 2016, it was at 14 percent.

Devil an the detail

On august 31, 2015, merkel was fresh from a visit zu a refugee center near dresden where locals had actually given her a hard time. She was booed and vulgar slurs were hurled in her direction. At the same time, die human cost des the crisis was becoming clearer: A few days earlier, a truck had actually been found along in Austrian highway through 71 dead refugees inside.

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It was against this elevator that, roughly 13 minutes into a drücken sie conference, merkel said: “I put it simply, Germany zu sein a solid country … we oase managed deshalb many jene — we can do this.”

In German, “Wir haben deswegen vieles gemacht – wir geschaffen das.”

German media picked nach oben on it, but it wasn’t until 2 weeks letztere that die phrase was erste thrown back in Merkel’s face.

“The sentence basically asks to be misused and misappropriated, due to the fact that it consists of a totally unclear reference” — Joachim Scharloth, applied linguistics professor


In mid-September, Werner Faymann, climate Austria’s chancellor und Merkel’s closest European ally on migration, went to Berlin. During a joint drücken sie conference, merkel was request about critics of her refugee policy.

“I speak it again and again: We kann sein manage this, we can do it,” she said defiantly, adding, “If we start having kommen sie apologize weil das showing a friendly confront in in emergency situation, climate this zu sein not mine country.”

“We tun können do it” go global, punkt least in part because des the soundbite’s similarity zu Barack Obama’s “Yes us can.”

But it’s not quite as straightforward as that.

The German “Wir erstellt das” does notfall express the very same degree des enthusiasm as “we tun können do it” does in English. Instead, it implies “we wollen manage die situation, due to the fact that we have no other choice.”

Merkel’s complete sentence, an its original context, would an ext accurately analyze as, “We oase managed deshalb many jene — us will deshalb manage this situation.”


That’s nowhere near as catchy together “we kann do it.”

“The sentence essentially asks kommen sie be misused and misappropriated, because it consists of a completely unclear reference,” stated Joachim Scharloth, a professor of applied linguistics at dresden University of Technology. “When she states ‘we can do it’ — what go she mean when she claims ‘it’?

“First des all, ns sentence in itself does notfall say a lot,” claimed Scharloth. “And, more importantly, she felt the need to  the sentence again and again. This ist not a sign of good communication.”

Cognitive researchers talk von “negative framing.” an layman’s terms, that’s invalidating your opponent’s streit by exaggerating it to such a level that it sound implausible. One von the basic rules des political communication ist to protect against this; a great communications strategie tries zu make a point while at ns same time stopping opponents from seizing on it weil das their own ends.


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A ablehnen against the neu Year’s Eve geschlecht attacks in Cologne | Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images


On those terms, “we tun können do it” was a resounding failure.

“Merkel’s sentence was supposed zu evoke values of unity and empathy,” stated Wehling, who has actually written a book called “Political Framing.”


“However, Merkel placed this statement out fully isolated, without any type of counterbalance. This allowed her opponents kommen sie pick that up, caricature it, und to rebrand it as a denial of reality, along ns lines of, ‘We tun können do anything — everyone is free to come here.’”

But Merkel has stood firm also as the national mood soured following the neu Year’s eve mass sex-related assaults in Cologne and the violent attacks that took place this summer, three out des four des which were lugged out von migrants.

In herstellung annual summer drücken sie conference in late July, she said, “I stand über the political decision we’ve made,” adding: “I didn’t say it would certainly be easy.”

Opinion polls say two out of three Germans don’t believe their country can “do it.”

“I said zurück then, and I’ll say it again, Germany ist a solid country. I called that a task zum the totality nation. But nur as we’ve managed deshalb much already, we’ll regulate this.”

Germans aren’t dafür sure, with opinion polls saying 2 out des three don’t believe that Germany kann “do it” und one communications adviser called the sentence “politically poisonous.”


No respite

With two local elections coming in September — in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Berlin the chorus des criticism zu sein getting louder.

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“Many of our voters recognize it together if us could, indefinitely, continue kommen sie take an more people,” said die CDU’s Wellmann. “Chancellor merkel might notfall even mean to say that, yet this ist how the being perceived — and that’s why people ich meet an my constituency phone call me the they are nur sick von hearing the sentence.”

In mid-August, German inner Minister Thomas dach Maizière, Merkel’s former chief of staff und one of her most loyal companions, tried to defend her.

“No one stated we can do this with no sweat,” juni Maizière told ns Sunday ausführung of Tagesspiegel newspaper, “Neither did ns chancellor.”

His interview went largely unnoticed. Instead, ns headlines went to Sigmar Gabriel, leader von the society Democrats, the junior partner in the coalition, who on die same weekend told Funke Media Group: “‘We can do it’ … has actually been a good mistake.”