Are Americans too optimistic

Usa - “You have to be optimistic because that's American”: The woman who explains America to us on TV

"You have to be optimistic, because that's American": The woman who explains America to us on television

US elections, Black Lives Matter, storming the Capitol: If something happens in America, Claudia Franziska Brühwiler from Eastern Switzerland explains the situation to us.

Your voice keeps failing. She takes a sip of water, doesn't show anything. Keep talking. The hoarse voice fades into the background. It is November 4, 2020, the day after the US elections, when Claudia Franziska Brühwiler gives her assessments of the situation in a special SRF program as a political scientist and Americanist. She hadn't slept all night, followed the counting of votes and commented on three other specials before going to bed at home for a few hours early in the morning and then stepping back in front of the cameras. "We must not expect Trump to congratulate Joe Biden if he lost the election, that he would admit his defeat or that he would suddenly become silent," she said on November 4th, when the winner of the election had not yet been determined.

"I was completely shocked"

Barely two months later, an aggressive mob, spurred on by the elected Donald Trump, storms the Capitol, the seat of the American Parliament. The protesters break windows, threaten journalists and tear down lecterns. MPs have to be evacuated, five people die. "I was completely shocked," says Brühwiler, who was also in a television studio during this event and received messages from an American friend every minute.

She is now in her office at the University of St.Gallen, where she has taught since 2013 and has been a private lecturer since 2018. She, who lives in Winterthur, thinks it's nice to see how it is snowing outside and how relaxed St.Gallen is when it comes to clearing the snow. Since 2016, the native of Thurgau has been repeatedly invited as an expert. During the elections, however, the media inquiries were “crazy”. The 30-minute broadcast with a hoarse voice «the most stressful of 2020», she says and laughs.

The images of the stormed Capitol will stay in the mind

The interest in her has certainly not only to do with the fact that many media companies are now pursuing a strategy of allowing more women to have their say than experts - as she humbly speculates. Brühwiler knows better than anyone else how to get to the heart of political structures and election campaign strategies, the reverberation effects of debates, the role of the media and their effects on society, without ever getting lost in the process. She chooses every word carefully, speaks in nested but understandable sentences, a language embellished with metaphors, and here and there leaves room for humor and a charming smile.

Riots were expected, she says about the events of the past week.

“But that people who scold themselves patriots and actually uphold the 'law and order' principles, so defile the hallowed halls of US democracy, is a dam break. The images will stay in our heads. "

Brühwiler is now standing in front of the black and white picture of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville that hangs in her office. Instead of posing for the photographer in front of it, she talks about Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, who was from Virginia. The place where she taught and researched between 2011 and 2012 and where you can still breathe the American spirit like in no other state. “That Jefferson was the third President of the United States wasn't even on his headstone. He wanted it that way », says Brühwiler and laughs at her own sentimentality.

Her interest in politics was aroused at the Catholic university

That she would become an Americanist was not planned, says the mother of two boys aged 21 months and five years. It is true that it is politically charged. Her husband, a lawyer who also lectures at the University of St.Gallen, co-founded GLP Switzerland, and her grandfather was a member of the CVP. After studying international relations in St.Gallen, her father's hometown, she spent her doctorate in 2008 at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, one of the most prestigious Catholic universities. It was the year Barack Obama became the first African American to be elected President.

“The European reporting was marked by euphoria, while I was suddenly confronted with completely different thought patterns on the conservative campus. That fascinated me very much. "

Since then, Brühwiler has been researching American, conservative thinking, studying the radical liberal writer Ayn Rand for her habilitation. She gave her inaugural lecture on the pathologization of political thought - a culture of political discussion and a defensive attitude towards declaring the counter-camp crazy instead of trying to understand it. «You don't get closer like that. You have to deal with these questions in their radicalism. " When asked where she herself stands politically, she says: "Here I draw the joker." And adds that she is quite openly disclosing her points of view in front of students.

When she describes why she is so fascinated by the United States, she says something like:

“How the Americans celebrate their country with a joy and openness that people in Europe do not dare to do and that sometimes turns naive. There's something thrilling about that. "

For example, she mentions the exchange student who takes a deep breath before reading the Declaration of Independence because it makes him so proud. "In Switzerland nobody would burst into tears reading the Federal Letter." And she also tells how she curled around in a “small town” of Illinois before one of the annual conferences and was the only guest in the only restaurant, an Asian buffet, and got involved in lengthy conversations. Or from Chicago, her favorite city, “this entry-level city with the flair of New York, but a different pace and a different friendliness”. Or she raves about Virginia, where there is good wine and where you can meet a black bear in the national parks. “We only have a very small section of the USA here. You underestimate how gigantic and diverse this country is. "

Society knows how to deal with contradictions and diversity

Will Joe Biden succeed in reuniting the divided people? This society has always been concerned with how to deal with contradictions and diversity. “You have to be optimistic, because that's American,” says Brühwiler, laughing and talking about the Reverend Warnock, whose parents had picked cotton and who was the first black man to be elected senator. "I like these cheesy stories."

"There is still a hell of a lot possible in this country."

One more question before shutting down the computer and picking up her boys: What would she say to Trump if she met him? “I think I would hardly have a say,” says Brühwiler and laughs. Then think about it for a moment and say: "I would only ask him what is of value to him in life."