What is everyone misunderstanding about American politics

Letter from America : Why I am jealous of German democracy

William Collins Donahue is Professor of the Humanities at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. There he leads the Initiative for a Global Europe at the Keough School of Global Affairs.

If these were normal times, I would address these lines from Germany to an American audience. But the tide has turned. I just had to cancel my annual “Berlin Seminar”, at which I, together with my colleague Martin Kagel, familiarize American German scholars with the literary institutions of the country.

At the beginning of the month, when there was still little awareness of the coronavirus, I started the journey home to my college, the University of Notre Dame, in Indiana.

Except for a number of questions at the airport and some advice on hygiene on the plane, normality prevailed. Now many places in the states are almost completely cordoned off, and Germany has also adopted strict exit restrictions.

I have to admit that I'm a little jealous of the Germans. Last week, Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed the nation and announced with determined calm and exemplary brevity how the German government would take up the fight with the corona virus.

[Epidemiologist warns of even stricter measures: "There is no reason to send the whole country into domestic quarantine"]

Justin Davidson aptly commented on the televised address in New York Magazine: "Leader of the Free World Gives a Speech, and She Nails It." "She did," he wrote, "what a leader should do," "without accusations, boasting, safeguards, cover-ups, dubious allegations, or apocalyptic metaphors."

Historic task

"We are a democracy," Merkel reminded the audience. “We don't live from coercion, but from shared knowledge and participation. This is a historic task and it can only be tackled together. "

Then came the memorable words: “I am absolutely certain that we will overcome this crisis. But how high will the sacrifices be? How many loved ones are we going to lose? ”Looking straight into the camera, she explained:“ We have a large part of it in our own hands. ”

It would be too cheap to state once again that Merkel is everything that Trump is not. The president's daily blabbering and fussing at lengthy press conferences, his pathetic attempt to portray himself as a leader in times of war, are all too easy a target.

And that, although there is a lot that can be forgiven such a leader, including a lack of composure and eloquence - which perhaps explains the increased approval of Trump, which grew from 43 to 55 percent over the course of a week.

Merkel's moral appeal to the Germans would probably have been nothing more than a nice speech if there weren't other signs in Germany that democracy and solidarity are important.

No time for divisions

Because this time of danger and fear did not lead to the search for scapegoats and exacerbated divisions in Germany, but to a strengthening of democracy.

The Federal Ministry of the Interior only had the notorious movement of the "Reich Citizens" dissolved this week. On Thursday morning, the homes of 21 of their leaders in 10 out of 16 federal states were searched.

Although Interior Minister Horst Seehofer had long flirted with an ideology of the Scholle for fear of losing votes to the AfD, he now resisted the temptation to instrumentalize the pandemic for political purposes. Instead, he opted for a course against racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

Although progressive Germans tend to regard this as the least that can be expected of a minister, Seehofer's policies are nonetheless remarkable, if only for the way in which they differ from their American counterparts.

New occasion for an old campaign

Last Friday, President Trump used the announcement to close the Mexican border as an opportunity to advance his xenophobic and anti-immigration campaign.

This is not to deny that the border closure can also be justified in terms of health policy, as the renowned immunologist Tony Fauci later explained at the same press conference. But Trump's rhetoric reveals a will to exploit the current crisis for purposes that go well beyond the circumstances.

From the pre-crisis period, the president claimed, “Week after week our officials face thousands of undetected, unchecked and unauthorized border crossings from dozens of countries. And we've had this problem for decades. For decades."

Hints, formulated unequivocally

His followers immediately recognized the old story of the infected and criminal immigrants and refugees; but he didn't want to take any chances and once again made it clear what others might have misunderstood. "Even in normal times," he claimed, "these massive flows are an enormous burden on our health system."

The fact is, there is not a single piece of evidence to support this claim. But given the focus on the current pandemic and dire predictions for the near future, many commentators overlooked this ad nauseam rhetoric against immigrants.

But to recognize in this the obvious racism with which President Trump speaks of a “Chinese virus” should not blind us to the recent meanness of the President against the Mexicans and against all those who try on the way via Mexico to the USA get.

For Trump, immigration is a pandemic in and of itself, and he seems almost delighted to be able to use his tools against this old specter: "But now we can - given the national emergencies and all the other things we have announced, actually do something about it. We take tough measures. And we've done that before, but now we're at a level that nobody has dared to reach. "

Far from shelving old disputes to focus on the challenges ahead, this would-be war president is taking advantage of the situation to advance his agenda. Behind his attempt to cope with the pandemic, his familiar “We Build The Wall” attitude shimmers through.

Soothing news from Germany

The news from Germany, on the other hand, is reassuring despite well-founded concerns about the dissolution of a united Europe because of the border closings.

At a time when fears are being exploited to fuel the fire of xenophobia, Germany offers not only words of comfort from the mouth of an eloquent Chancellor, but also energetic measures that give meaning to her call for solidarity and democracy.

Until now, the term “Leitkultur” was steeped in culture chauvinism and directed against immigrants. Perhaps it can now be used again to describe leadership more positively, namely as steering a democracy through times of crisis.

Who would have thought that 75 years after the end of World War II, Germany would teach the United States about democracy?

From the American English by Gregor Dotzauer

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