My brother sent me this article in Die Welt. It’s quite good for European commentary on the U.S., as it actually seems to take care to look at the country as it is. It’s got a handful of mistakes in it (Mormons love to dance! Washington is federalizing more of American life. Etc.), but much better than the usual run. Plus, it’s appreciative, which is nice to see. Dankeschön, Herr Broder.
Here’s a really quick-and-dirty translation I knocked out. Thought y’all might like it.
America the Great — What really constitutes greatness
Beleaguered America is disparaged enthusiastically. Above all by us Europeans. But it is in no way decided who will go down the tubes first. Or who will have to rush to help whom.
By Henryk M. Broder
[Box: Vice President Joe Biden votes. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden cast his vote in the presidential election in Greenville, Delaware, and called on his fellow citizens to vote: “It’s always a kick.”]
The obituaries are already written, they just have to be pulled out of the files. The food for the wake has been ordered, and the choirs have been practicing “Candle in the Wind” and “Time to Say Goodbye” for weeks.
Der Spiegel put Uncle Sam on a sickbed on its cover (“The American Patient—On the Demise of a Great Nation”), on ARD [TV], they report drip by drip on “The Torn-Apart States of America”: “Poor versus rich, right versus left. The divides have never been so deep in the land of unbounded possibilities.”
One might also remark that rarely have so many clichés been piled up in a single sentence. In fact, Obama counts at least as many millionaires among his friends and supporters as Romney, indeed the mayor of New York, Bloomberg, himself a billionaire, has endorsed Obama; but Dortmund will be declared the most beautiful city in the world before German America experts abandon their stereotypes which they haul up out of the basement bar at every U.S. election. Today just as four, eight, and twelve years ago.
There would be no reportage on the U.S. without the verbal Lego blocks of “never before,” “deep divides,” and “land torn apart.”
Premature European Schadenfreude
In fact, the USA have been in better shape, and under both Democratic and Republican presidents. In view of the outstanding condition in which the United States of Europe finds itself at the moment, the clandestine Schadenfreude of Europeans about the “Demise of a Great Nation,” seems, at a minimum, a tad premature.
It is not yet clear, who’ll be the first down the tubes, or who will speed to whose help—mind you, the USA twice in the last saved Europe from itself and not the other way around—but the imminent doom of the USA has been among the dearest fantasies of German forward-thinkers and reactionaries.
The poet Nikolaus Lenau (technically an Austrian) traveled to the USA in 1832, where he hoped to find good fortune. Barely arrived, it immediately occurred to him “that America has no nightingale.” This, he noted, “seems to me to be a poetic curse which lies upon the land and is of profound significance.” The Americans, for their part, were “the souls of greengrocers who stink to heaven. Dead to all spiritual life. Dead as a doornail. The nightingale is right not to stop by these wretches.”
A hundred years later, Bert Brecht wandered through New York and was equally disappointed: “The high-rises of Manhattan are breathtaking at twilight, but they can’t swell a breast. … The stench of hopeless crudity is everywhere, of violence without liberation.”
Jazz and “real Negro music”
Theodor W. Adorno, the philosopher driven into exile by the Nazis, was vexed by “the flippant explotation of Beethoven and Wagner themes” in jazz, which he claimed had little to do with “real Negro music.” At the same time, he enthused over German men’s choirs which set nationalist poems to music.
America and Europe are much farther apart from each other than the six to eight thousand kilometers of air travel, depending on your take-off and landing points, between the two continents suggest. The Atlantic is not the only thing separating America and Europe; the political and cultural differences must be measured in light years.
What gets decided in Washington is, in general, not as important for “Joe the plumber” living in Arizona or Nebraska, as is who is elected sheriff in his county. The poor people of West Virginia are for Romney; not despite the fact, but because he is a multimillionaire, that is, he understands something about money and businesses.
The fine people of the East Coast who send their children to private schools and make fun of the dumb rednecks from the South vote for Obama because they are already rich and a black president gives them a feeling that they can’t buy anywhere else, despite their wealth: that of being liberal and tolerant and not having any prejudices against minorities.
Romney serves the need for material security, for moving from a trailer to a little house with a yard, a new car and cheaper gasoline. Obama serves the desire for emotional community.
Romney is no great rhetorician, but can speak off the cuff. Obama is a brilliant orator, but only as long as he can read off a TelePrompter. If Romney had the idea to give an Obama speech, he’d be done. Conversely, people would celebrate Obama because it doesn’t matter what he’s saying, rather that it’s he, Obama, who is saying it.
Family Reunions and Mormon Picnics
When Obama opens a speech with the words “My fellow Americans…,” it sounds like the kickoff to a fun family reunion. The same words from Romney sound like the invitation to a Mormon picnic where there’s no drinking or dancing allowed.
Obama is an entertainer, Romney a buzzkill. Obama will be forgiven any blunder, even when he describes the murder of four Americans in Libya as “not optimal.” When Romney mentions a “binder full of women” which was put on the table in front of him, the global laughter never stops.
At the same time, the two are politically much more similar than Obama fans, especially in Germany, want to perceive. Obama promised to close Guantánamo and did not. Romney would not make such a promise in the first place.
Obama has no scruples in using drones against suspected terrorists. Romney has no scruples at all. In just about everything that “right-thinking” Europeans care about, Obama and Romney are as close to each other as Greenpeace and Robin Wood are in the environmental debate. Their domestic policy differences are more relevant, especially in health-care policy.
But that can’t be the reason 90 percent of Germans would give Obama their vote, were they allowed to cast them.
Why not a black lesbian as President of the United States?
At bottom, it doesn’t matter if Obama stays in the White House or has to move out in favor of Romney. Kennedy was the first Catholic in the USA’s highest office, Obama the first “African-American.” Romney would be the first Mormon. It’s unthinkable until it happens.
At some point, the Americans will elect a Jew and a Muslim President. Or a woman. A black lesbian, a divorced Catholic, a single Muslim woman.
Because despite all prophecies and mutterings of decline, the USA still remains the land of unlimited possibilities, divided and torn apart as is appropriate for a democracy, and united and determined that she must be a world power which keeps its protective hand over those, too, who hate and scorn her.
That is what comprises the greatness of this land.