Americans hate Indian immigrants
opinion : They're crazy, the Americans
They're crazy, the Americans! ", Say many in Europe, when a gunman in the USA shoots countless innocent people again, but the majority there remains unaffected by the tightening of gun laws.
“They're crazy, the Americans!” Shakes their heads in the Old World when an American president has the courage to propose health insurance for all residents, but around half of the citizens reject state-organized solidarity insurance in the health care system.
“They're crazy, the Americans!” Shouted half the world when the financial crisis emanating from Wall Street sucked other countries into the abyss in autumn 2008 - and all the more so when the US Congress called on everyone to tighten banking supervision demanded at the height of the crisis, also in America, softened again in 2010.
“They're crazy, the Americans!” Many Germans and Europeans feel that this assessment is currently confirmed when they follow the mood in the USA at the beginning of the presidential election year. They too have a lot to criticize about Barack Obama. Didn't he want to close the terrorist suspect camp in Guantanamo? Wednesday is the tenth anniversary of commissioning - and there is no end in sight. He had promised an energy transition away from oil and towards sun, wind and other renewable energy sources, but failed. He ended the Iraq war, but armed it in Afghanistan. The drone attacks on suspected enemies of America in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, which are questionable under international law, have multiplied under him. There is cause for disappointment. In this respect, Germans can understand that 50 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with their president and do not want to re-elect him.
But what do you want instead? About the Republicans back? Their belief in free market forces, which the state should not tame through rules or supervision, has led the USA into crisis! The Conservatives are demanding even more military, not less. Your presidential candidates talk contemptuously about Europe, demonize its social systems as “socialism” and praise America as “the chosen country” whose people are superior to all other nations. That sounds not only arrogant, but dangerous.
In comparison, Obama seems downright moderate despite his mistakes. At least it appears to be the lesser of two evils. 70 percent of Germans support him and his politics. In America, however, his re-election is questionable. And in the parallel congressional election, the Republicans can hope to win the Senate in addition to their majority in the House of Representatives. Given the record of Republican politics and its multiple attempts to paralyze the government in 2011, how do you understand this?
“They're crazy, the Americans!” Everyone has his or her favorite examples, depending on personal preferences, from the use of energy to the death penalty, from the size of cars and refrigerators to the use of military force, from the oil spill in the Gulf from Mexico and other man-made environmental disasters to mockery of the XXL formats of coffee mugs, triple burgers and t-shirts. Because that's what's interesting and amazing: Everyone has an opinion about the United States, regardless of how much he or she knows about the country and its people. In the case of Brazil, China, India, Japan, Korea, Russia or South Africa, many Europeans would shy away from a quick judgment. Maybe you don't know exactly after all. Not so with America. Almost everyone feels called to a clear judgment - and this judgment is either enthusiastic or rather skeptical or even negative, depending on their worldview, in Germany mostly the latter.
I too often thought that the Americans were crazy before I moved to Washington with my wife in 2005 to take on a new job as a correspondent for the Tagesspiegel. In the nearly seven years that we have now lived in the USA, I have learned to understand a lot better - from my own experience, from countless conversations with Americans and from my wife's experiences. She works in medical research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH): among Americans with an American employment contract and American health insurance. We gained insights into the everyday life of American families as well as into the heads and hearts that other foreigners without such access remain closed.
Those who live abroad also get to know their own home country better from a distance. He begins to compare: Why do the Germans regulate their health insurance and their financial supervision, their energy supply and climate protection, their gun laws and their penal system differently? What are the advantages and disadvantages here and there? However, there are still limits to understanding the United States. Even today I think some things that Americans take for granted are absurd. Or for ideology. But the extent of these blind spots, which defy pragmatic explanation, has diminished.
And suddenly it's not just the Americans who are spinning. Sometimes I catch myself thinking: “They're crazy, the Germans!” Most correspondents feel the same way. Over time, we discover more and more good aspects of everyday life and the attitude towards life of Americans. And in comparison, some find German attitudes and customs questionable. On what, for example, is the German belief in the universal competence of the state based? Why do citizens so gladly give their right to co-design to anonymous authorities? There are also theaters and museums in abundance in the USA, and many are even better than in Germany, although they do not live on government subsidies, but on voluntary donations from citizens and the economy. The hospitality and willingness to help strangers require the respect. We would wish for Germany the pride in their political system and the enthusiasm with which Americans throw themselves into the presidential election campaign every four years. Americans show less social envy and more respect for other opinions. Compared with the widespread concern in Germany that this or that might not work anyway, the gripping “can-do” mentality is often extremely refreshing. And also more constructive. Certainly, it also has its downsides - if the contagious optimism neglects justified skepticism (for example when exporting democracy via military intervention) or certain safety precautions (for example on oil platforms or in nuclear power plants), sometimes with dramatic consequences. Everywhere "mines" like in Berlin - that doesn't exist here. Everyone who walks the dog has a plastic bag with them, collects the droppings and carries them to the rubbish bin.
To many newcomers from Germany, America seems more livable and lovable in everyday life than they could have imagined from afar. Few of them become immigrants. Despite all the fascination with the new world, most of them remain Germans at heart and in their basic convictions. And Europeans. But the new experiences turn the hikers between the two worlds into cultural mediators. When the motto in Germany is “They're crazy, the Americans!”, They feel challenged to explain the background and motives for American attitudes that seem irrational when viewed from the other side of the Atlantic.
This is how this book came about: from encounters with more than ten thousand Germans during the lecture tours from 2007 to 2011, during which I presented my biographies about the President and the First Lady: “Barack Obama. The Black Kennedy "and" Michelle Obama. An American Dream ”. Again and again the questions - initially about the expectations of Obama, later about the course of his presidency - resulted in a request to explain why Americans “think differently” than Germans in so many areas. Why is universal health insurance facing so much resistance? Why doesn't he manage to close Guantanamo? Why do so many Americans call him “socialists”? And why do they often hate what we love about him?
Many had hoped that Obama's America would turn away from Bush's ideology and become more European. That did not happen. And so his presidency made the differences in thinking about the role of the state and the citizen, about social justice and personal responsibility, the private sector and social cohesion particularly visible. The social order of the USA - democracy, market economy, rule of law - at first glance looks like a copy of Europe. In many ways, however, Americans feel and think very differently than we do.
The emigrants to America founded their republic in turning away from the European authoritarian state. Even today, most citizens expect little from the government. It is considered an inevitable evil. In contrast, the freedom of individuals to make their own decisions is exaggerated.
This reflex is why so many Americans oppose Obama's health care reform. In the US, too, the overwhelming majority believe that everyone should have health insurance. But they think it is wrong for the government to want to make this a requirement. According to their ideal, everyone should be able to decide for themselves whether or not to take out insurance. Those who are too poor to pay the premiums should receive grants. For Germans, health insurance is a question of social security - for Americans a question of freedom.
The common image in Germany that solidarity with the weaker people is underdeveloped in the USA also gets cracks when you experience America in everyday life. Solidarity is practiced there from person to person, not through a welfare state that legally stipulates legal claims. Much works better than one might expect based on German thinking. For example, many more children are born than in Germany, even though there is neither German pregnancy protection nor financial aid for young parents. Whenever one of the colleagues at my wife's institute was pregnant again, many asked how this was regulated in Germany - and then shook their heads in amazement at the German requirements. “What does it matter to the state, whether I want to have a child and how I finance it. It's a private matter, ”was the usual reaction.
During the “baby shower”, colleagues donate generously for baby equipment. When Carol was six months pregnant there were medical complications and the doctor advised her to stay home. How does it work without pregnancy protection and without losing your salary? Work colleagues donated vacation days. In total, they were enough to keep Carol's salary paid even though she didn't show up for work.
This is the case in many areas: swimming pools, playgrounds and communal libraries live on donations from local companies and citizens. Church congregations finance themselves without church tax, solely from the collections of their members. Americans don't do this because, unfortunately, government funds are inadequate. They believe that citizens' initiative is the better form of organization. It is not seen as a makeshift, but as the real ideal.
Christoph von Marschall reads from his new book ("What's wrong with the Americans? Why they hate what we love about Barack Obama", Herder Verlag, Freiburg 2012, € 18.99) in the yurts in the Sony Center in Berlin next Friday at 2 p.m., on Saturday at 1 p.m. and on Sunday at 5 p.m. US Ambassador Philip D. Murphy and Ex-Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier will discuss the outlook for America's election year 2012 with him on Wednesday, January 18, at 7 p.m. at the Tagesspiegel (registration required).
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