USA critique

The Romantic Conservative

It’s taken me longer to publish this post than most. I think perhaps because it’s a more difficult topic than my usual cultural observations and fun-time running. It’s also about someone who only recently died, and I’ve always taken a while with paying my respects.

I also realized that the longer I waited and the more I read other news and opinion pieces this week, the less I had to add except, perhaps, the European perspective. So I’ve decided to focus on that as well as a handful of personal notes.

A few days before Senator John McCain’s family shared the news of his passing, I came across an article in The New Yorker. Being a liberal literature nerd [1], it was the title that caught my eye: John McCain and the End of Romantic Conservatism“. Benjamin Wallace-Wells made me aware of McCain’s role in the senate following Trump’s election as well as his cancer diagnosis and his role in the Vietnam War. I know this seems ill-informed, but I was too young to acknowledge McCain as the 2008 Republican nominee in 2008, and I hadn’t really had reason to read up on him since. Even now, despite my interest in POWs due to another observation in my immediate surroundings [2], I read this article, thought, “hmm, I didn’t expect that,” forwarded the link to my Dad, and didn’t think too much else about it.

Less than a week later, the U.S. flags were all at half-mast.

Photograph by Ludovic, featured in the article

The Romantic

The Romantics (and here I mean those involved with the literary and art movement, not the band) celebrated independent spirits and the subjective interpretation of the individual.  Wallace-Wells calling McCain a romantic already set the precedent of what to expect: a Lord Byron type figure coming from established nobility but going off to fight for what he thinks is right (at the time, some war of the Greeks) and dying in the process. This is a bit extreme, but McCain did leave behind a void to fill in an extremely partisan Congress that now needs another romantic hero to cross partisan lines and fight for the people, not just the party.

McCain has been called and called himself a maverick. Of course, he was unorthodox and independent in his actions. He was willing to put himself at odds with his own party and reached across the aisle on several occasions to push for action on issues like campaign finance reform, climate change and immigration. This, for him, was the definition of being a Republican. In his last appearance on the Senate floor to oppose the 2017 proposed Health Care Act and call for more work on the bill before it could be passed, McCain described what he saw as his task and that of his fellow senators. Speaking of senators of the past, he [3] pointed out that

however sharp and heartfelt their disputes, however keen their ambitions, they had an obligation to work collaboratively to ensure the Senate discharged its constitutional responsibilities effectively. Our responsibilities are important, vitally important, to the continued success of our Republic. And our arcane rules and customs are deliberately intended to require broad cooperation to function well at all. The most revered members of this institution accepted the necessity of compromise in order to make incremental progress on solving America’s problems and to defend her from her adversaries.

Collaboration. Cooperation. Compromise. What has happened to communication and trying to come to agreements in Congress? It’s now big stick ideology without the soft voices. I connected to McCain’s type of heroism in the political arena- without forgetting  the military heroism that he is remembered for as well. His willingness to go against the established norms and conventions of the current political positioning and to oppose Trump, and in turn much of the party aligned with the president, would, of course, win me over.

And not just me. In the days following the news of his death, McCain was remembered not just by the United States media, but also in European countries like Germany.

Some German coverage

McCain two

A freeze shot from the Heute news report from ZDF, one of Germany’s state television channels on 26 August 2018

McCain oneIt’s not often the German news has prepared tributes (you know, the archives of narrated collected video clips about VIPs available for broadcast without too much preparation in the case of death) for more minor (relatively speaking, of course) politicians like US senators. Yesterday, ZDF news reporter Claus Kleber explained some of this interest by comparing a US Senator to a Bundesminister, a member of the federal cabinet. The it’s a bit of a stretch, but I’ll let it pass because McCain was arguably more than just a senator, and I guess if anyone honors romantic heroes, it’s the Germans (in case of doubt, see Schiller). But the tribute made it clear that McCain came on the radar for his stark contrast to Trump as well as the other reasons he’s mourned by the nation.

In between news of their own democratic crisis: the rise of neo-nazism and xenophobism in cities like Chemnitz, the German broadcasters delivered the news of McCain’s death as well as his funeral, noting explicitly Trump’s exclusion. However, one should emphasize McCain’s idealism, which meant he would stand up for what he thought was right, even if it meant going against the man holding the highest office, officially his commander-in-chief.

Character and Heroism

Wallace-Wells also describes part of McCain’s appeal:

McCain’s deepest idealism, which he reserves for NATO and the defense of the West, is not much shared in the Republican Party now, subsumed as it is by Trump and nationalist retrenchment.

It’s McCain’s idealism that may likely have come from military service and even before. Very likely also being raised by strong woman. And it’s this kind of character that I actually associate with Republicans versus Democrats; the ability to have values and stick to them, no matter what, is sometimes both extremely infuriating and incredibly admirable. But this kind of adamant value-holding is only good if one examines one’s values and puts them to the test. The ultimate test may be: with these values, am I treating others the way I want to be treated? McCain’s is a similar character I see in my Dad, who went to the same high school (albeit twenty years later) that had the honor code:

“I will not lie.
“I will not cheat.
“I will not steal.
“I will report any student that does so.”

McCain followed this code of honor to the best of his ability throughout his life, even while in captivity. In fact, when one asked him about his time, McCain would mention his own faults- stealing someone’s washcloth- as much as what the Vietnamese did wrong with POWs, even though McCain would be the only one who would judge him for it. It’s the foundation for the character that made him refuse to be released from the Hanoi POW camp out of the order in which he was captured. This is part of his heroism. But not all would agree.

“He’s not a war hero,” Trump said, early in his Presidential campaign. “I like people who weren’t captured.” (Wallace-Wells)

Trump’s logic that being captured is not heroic is based on his incomprehension of what it means to survive the capture or refuse the opportunity to be released earlier- no less, what it even means to be in a position to be captured to begin with- that is, what it means to be willing to lay down one’s life for one country.  And yet, surprisingly, Trump’s approval rating continues to remain higher with veterans than with the general public a year after his election.

It makes me wonder about the contemporary US voter and what’s important to people.

What now?

I didn’t intend to bring up the Midterm Elections when I started this post, but McCain’s passing occurred within the same week at the Florida, Arizona and Oklahoma primary elections, and of course the rather solitary Wallace-Well’s article has been joined by a lot more writings. Those who continue to approve of Trump and anything he does think that there’s a lot of “fake mourning” going on for McCain, especially from liberals. This does not surprise me, but it does continue to sadden me. I think anyone who mourns McCain’s passing mourns a man who had character, served his country in every way he could, and did a lot of good for the people of Arizona and the US.

While John McCain stood for integrity in leadership and bipartisan politics, Aretha Franklin stood for women’s and African American rights. The funerals of both these people within the past week have provided spaces to openly discuss simmering issues within US society and politics. Why do we wait for these symbolic figures? It only makes sense if we intend to continue the work they began.

What are the ways in which we can still do something powerful when Twitter comments overrule one another by the millisecond,  when partisanship has ruined communication on Capitol Hill and we have one of the most contested presidents in history? We can vote. It’s not the only thing we can and should do, but it is one thing.

With the Midterm Elections and the death of McCain, the vote is out on who can be the romantic hero McCain was. But my primary hope, for now, is to find people to vote for who can play nicely with others- be that Republican, Democrat or other.

In the words of McCain:

What have we to lose by trying to work together to find those solutions? We’re not getting much done apart. I don’t think any of us feels very proud of our incapacity. Merely preventing your political opponents from doing what they want isn’t the most inspiring work. There’s greater satisfaction in respecting our differences, but not letting them prevent agreements that don’t require abandonment of core principles, agreements made in good faith that help improve lives and protect the American people.

Florida, Arizona and Oklahoma had their first chance to find those willing to try to work together at primaries Tuesday; the midterm General Election is on November 6th. I’ll be in Germany again, but you can bet I’ve got the mail-in ballot ready.

Related posts:
US civic duty while across the pond 
A little bit of democracy: Election Season

[1] really nerdy would be to point out the recognized romantic conservatives in the literary world, the Inklings.

466px-United_States_POW-MIA_flag.svg

[2] These past weeks back in south Florida, I became aware of the National League of Families POW/MIA for the first time when I  noticed the flag flying in my neighborhood and along the route I use to get to uni. Turns out, Federal Highway, or United States Route 1 north from Key West, Florida, to the border with the State of Georgia is part of the routes designated with the POW/MIA Memorial Highway Designation Act  in 1995 as a POW and MIA Memorial highway. The reminders are fitting. These men and women should not be forgotten.

[3] note Mark Slater was McCain’s speechwriter

 

 

 

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A new millennium?

After playing with the idea for about twenty minutes to explain my response to the 2017 Presidential Inauguration using Sherlock memes, I gave it up. There’s maybe one meme, but it’s a bit dramatic and doesn’t face the issues head-on. I’ll save it for the end.

I was lucky enough to follow the inauguration on the big screen at work Friday. You know you come from a powerful country when the German colleagues at work are more concerned about hearing the inauguration speech than you are. I guess I take being American for granted a lot of the time. And can you blame other people wanting to have that kind of freedom? Also, I had to be grateful again that I have that kind of access to events in the US real time through today’s technology and globalized value of covering the news of other countries.

A few  things that impressed upon me watching the Inauguration with Germans was their response to the prayers and use of God in the ceremony and speeches. The separation of religion and state is, I guess, much stronger in Germany, perhaps because their democracy is much younger. Also, our song “America the Beautiful” as sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was related to a Disney performance. That actualy hurt my feelings a bit, and I’m not that sensitive a person when it comes to patriotism. Still, I love that song and the awe of US landscapes, brotherhood, and beauty it inspires.

Standing there, though, staring at the screen usually reserved for conferences, I was reminded of “The Situation Room,” Pete Souza’s famous photo of the national security team awaiting updates about the death of Bin Laden.

Obama_and_Biden_await_updates_on_bin_Laden.jpg

Yesterday was a reenactment of the Situation Room all over the globe, I imagine. However, yesterday in the office where I work, there were a lot more women in the room.

I’m not comparing Trump in power to the death of a terrorist cell leader, but the image belies the tension  and concern I felt about what to expect based on Trump’s speech. I listened attentively for the most part, rolled my eyes at a few moments, and was surprised by a few others. It’s these moments that I want to respond to for a chance to think about what they mean. .

“[…]we are grateful to President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for their gracious aid throughout this transition. They have been magnificent.”

Yes. Yes they have. And gracious is a great word to describe the Obamas throughout this whole presidency. That and decent. And intelligent. And thoughtful. These adjectives are all ones I find difficult to ascribe to President Trump, but he was gracious in that moment near the beginning of his speech, and so there is a spark of decency in him. But I wonder if that’s just a trait reserved for practiced speeches. It also did not last very long.

I think what bothered me immediately about the speech was its simplistic language and its caustic tone. I can deal with simplicity, but not in a speech that is meant to inspire, promise, and prophesize.

Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation, an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.

Some of the words struck the right note, and I won’t fail to acknowledge the poetic potential in the simile of US factories to tombstones, but “carnage”? And “beautiful students”? A lot of words come to mind when I think of students, but beautiful is not congruous with the promise Trump intends to make here. Also, there seems to be a lack of logical clarity. It’s not knowledge the students are missing; they are missing an effective teaching system based on getting students to think, not just know.

And I don’t know, but the whole “carnage” and “America first” is something I had a problem with. It verbally imagines the US as a country that has been bullied, abused, and had its lands and people laid to waste by other countries. If there’s carnage in the US, it comes from within. If there are bullying countries in the world, I think many would agree that the US tops the list.

I understand and support US business holders and workers being able to provide and take jobs, but I don’t see what a nation can (or should) do to make items that can be made abroad for less money economically feasible in the US. Why not move forward in finding solutions for the globalized economic streams, rather than reverting to an old isolationist mentality that certainly did not help in the late 1800s and definitely does not even seem possible now?

We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement and most importantly, we will be protected by God.

Um, did he just ignore the past few years of violence by and against police? Where a large portion of US society spoke out about how they don’t feel protected?  And why does he assume that God cares about what happens to the US more than the people of other nations? That aside, let’s get to the ringing phrase of his Address.

At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America and, through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.

At first, I was struck by the line “when you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.” It actually sounds like a great line. It sounds like something that could unite all US Americans. After all, yes, we do all pledge allegiance to the same ideas that the US flag represents.  However, what about prejudice against “non-Americans?” And those not seen as “US Americans”? What happens when a person of foreign heritage is in question? And  one can interpret the line to mean that patriotism means we don’t have the grounds to prejudice other people, other nations. But we do, and according to Trump, we will. “America first,” after all.

“From this day forward,” Trump said at one point, “it’s going to be only America first. America first.”

I understand the point he makes about the US staking its claim to put its interests first. What surprises me, though, is that this line implies that it hasn’t been this way for the past 8 years or for most of the US’s history. The US has always puts its interests first. All the notes about investing in other militaries and other economies, it was never to the detriment of the US. And I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t mean it like this, but “America first” sounds an awful lot like “only America.” Unfortunately, that’s a stance that’s hard to take for me.

We will not fail. Our country will thrive and prosper again. We stand at the birth of a lewl [sic] millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space…” (Speech as transcribed on The Gaurdian 

What did he actually try to say? I thought the new millennium started in 2000? And if he meant little millennium, that surprises me. I would not think it’s part of his vocabulary. Everything must be “yuge.” In general, this rounds up a general announcement of a lot of promises, often repeated from his campaigning speeches, that are “all talk.” Now is the time for action, and I guess the executive orders are a start: the first steps to dismantle the ACA and make mortgages more difficult to attain.

In America, we understand that a nation is only living as long as it is striving.

This is actually one great line that I will give him, but only for the sake of the line. It was like a pearl thrown before swine. I also worry about what is striven towards. While I hold faith that democrats and republicans do strive towards the same things: security for ourselves, our families, our jobs, or livelihoods, our values, we will disagree on the practices.

In stark contrast to Trump’s Address stands Barack Obama’s Address in 2009. It’s not just the language used (thought the diction is clearly more sophisticated). It’s also how words from the bible are used, how no particular entity (congress, capitol hill, etc.) is antagonized, but weaknesses are acknowledged. It’s also, perhaps, a promise that all people can hold onto, not just US Americans (those who are recognized as such, since I know of many people who usually consider themselves American who were excluded from Trump’s private party), but especially US Americans, given the context.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.  On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.  We remain a young nation.  But in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.  The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea passed on from generation to generation:  the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness. – from Barack Obama’s 2009 Inaugural Address

Oh well. It’s time to face the future, though with a little more critical thinking than Trump showed. Here are a few images to move on with.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BPf65CqBk24/?taken-by=petesouza&hl=en

Another Souza photo, his caption: “Another view of President Obama leaving the Oval Office for the last time this morning.” Have a good vacation, Mr. Obama! God knows, you deserve some real time off.

Meet the new boss, not quite the same as the old boss.

http://edition.cnn.com/2017/01/20/politics/gallery/donald-trump-inauguration/index.html

I’m going to miss the president signing with his left hand. Image as found on the CNN politics page Jan. 21st

It is a new millennium, but I am not sure if I want to be privy to seeing how it continues to play out.

giphy.gif

Via GIPHY

I’m sorry. I had to get these thoughts out there. I’ll try to write more about other things again, soon… but just know that those other things won’t be “America first.” Given the title of my blog, I assume that’s a given. Given the fact that you follow this blog, I assume you’re okay with that.

November 9, 2016- a reflection

I’ve been drafting this post in my head for a few days now, walking through a haze of trying to understand why I’m surprised by the election result, and having many conversations with German acquaintances and friends and US friends and family. Needless to say, I did not vote for Trump. However, at the same time, I want to follow through on democracy and recognize him as our president-elect. I’m just not sure about the fine-line between recognizing that someone is bad for a political office and that we should use our democratic powers to do something about it, or someone got into office that I didn’t want and now I just have to learn to deal with it. That’s where this post is coming from.

But first, some history.

The running joke in my German history classes was that one only ever had to remember one date, and one would know most of the events that affected Germany’s development.

There are five notable events in German history that are connected to 9 November: the execution of Robert Blum in 1848, the end of the monarchies in 1918, the Hitler putsch attempt in 1923, the Nazi antisemitic pogroms in 1938 and the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. (Wikipedia)

I wish I had a better source to cite, but Wikipedia does the trick most of the time. The article points out the individual significance of each instance and the overall coincidence of the day as a “Day of Fate.” Without November 9th in 1918, we may not have had the November 9th of 1923… or the November 9th of 1989. However, I know this “could have been” game gets boring very quickly, and I’m not going to start playing it. However, I do ask that we don’t have to add November 9th, 2016 to this list.

What happened to the Berlin Wall?

November 9th in Germany this past Wednesday should have been a day to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall. Previous years featured movies in public TV on the 8th about the event and speeches by politicians commemorating the country that was once divided, and is now unified. Instead, election coverage and news reporting occupied the screens and radio waves. You’d think it was the German election being covered. I was surprised at how every single person I observed or met wanted to talk about the election and had his/her opinion to share about what the result would mean for the US, for Germany, how surprising it all was, etc. In light of all this, though, the significance of the day in German history was completely overshadowed.

Kristallnacht 1938

On the other hand, life went on in Germany, and plans made months in advance did not suddenly fall through. This includes the silent, but literally lightening memorial to the Jewish pogroms in Germany in 1939. On the 9th, all through the city, I saw little vases and red candle jars placed in front of the doors of various buildings. It took me a while to realize what these objects were doing in these places, but then I realized that these candles stood in front of houses where small gold bricks inscribed with the names of Jewish citizens were also nestled in between the other bricks of the entryways. These candles were flickering and remembering the lives of those affected by Kristallnacht and its subsequent events.

This pogrom is known in English as “Night of the Broken Glass” and on that night, thousands of windows of Jewish shops, homes, and places of worship were smashed. Paramilitary SA troops were free to carry out their rampage on property and persons without interference by authorities, and news of the event spread around the world, equally criticized by all. With the lack of official resistance, it became clear that antisemitism was condoned in Germany. How many citizens not of Jewish heritage woke up that morning and were appalled? How many helped their German-Jewish neighbors sweep up the glass and board their windows? Probably a lot were appalled or shaken by the violence, and a few did help. Still, the regime and the people who participated in the pogrom were allowed to keep their power. And we all know where that led us.

The Power of Words

“Stick and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

This saying may be a quick band-aid on a school child’s hurt feelings, but as cyber bullying and real life shows us, words have destructive effects. They are of course not the same as physical violence, but they can target a person or group and pit them against other people or groups. Then the violence starts if there’s no one with convincing counter-words to calm everyone down again.

I’m not saying that batons aimed at windows or people’s noses are the same things as general stereotypical statements about groups of people, but they are dangerously related. Most physical acts come from an attitude fueled by the way people talk about people, places, or situations.

When I refer to the dangerous power of words. I’m not ascribing to some idea of political correctness. Political correctness has to do with one or two terms used, where another word could be less offensive. I am talking about strings of words that are connected in a way to show a generally culturally and humanely insensitive attitude. No matter whether people support or reject Trump as president, it is difficult to deny that he forms these kinds of strings. They can be found in sound bites and in transcriptions on paper.

This should not be tolerated.

And yet it is. The worst part is, the world has just seen that a man who forms these kinds of strings is tolerated, and allowed to obtain the highest position of political power in the US. I don’t care what kind of great policies such a person can come up with, awful people have been constructive politicians…

Out on a limb

I’m not the first person to think this, I’m sure, but I wonder why more people aren’t making the comparison out loud. Why is Trump not, in some ways, similar to Hitler? And why are we afraid to work through this comparison and find out how true or false it really is? I admit, it is probably premature and feeds into the apocalyptic thinking surrounding the whole talk of his being elected, but I don’t think it’s unfounded.

Beyond the image we have of the man, filtered through years of half-objective instruction in schools from which we mostly just have shocking images of the result of starvation, mistreatment and hard labor in concentration camps, how many of us know how Hitler’s rise to power started? Or his plan to organize genocide? He didn’t just shoot a Jewish person in the head and that was how he announced his disdain. He also didn’t just jump up on beer table and try to declare an overthrow of government… that was just the first time. The second time, he got into office through an established (even if still young and flawed) democratic process.

Hitler represented a “voice of the people,” the masses who felt betrayed by the monarchy in 1918 (the same one that also officially fell on a November 9th), or who suffered through depression and a social system in turmoil. He was charismatic, rejected by some (Western democratic leaders, mostly), embraced by others (hello, Stalin).

It started with words… in fact, a whole string of words even before Mein Kampf. These words, even if meant for singular use and to be forgotten or not taken seriously, bring into the semiotic realm feelings that many many actually have, for whatever personal reason, and these words legitimate those feelings as okay to have.

This should not be tolerated. The things Trump says should not be tolerated. Being a person who says those things should not be tolerated enough to vote into power.

One cannot say that the things Trump says relate to the things expressed in Mein Kampf.  I am not saying that the measure of what Trump has expressed equals the measure of what has been expressed by other leaders, even our own US presidents, in the past. However, I am just asking that we don’t let it come to that.

What can we expect to happen when racially profiling allows us to see people as a threat before they even step out of a car (oh wait, we already know)? Mexican (and presumably other immigrants) will be considered illegal until proven legal. What happens if those people his actions and words are targeted act decide to resist? Who will enforce his words, and will these enforcement be humane and respectful? Or will the words condone prejudice and inhumanity?

Maybe I’m particularly biased by my life work of dealing with language, but I don’t think we should underestimate the power of words.

“It’s the End of the World as We Know it”

The R.E.M.  song seems to be rather popular these days. Confusion abounds and questions about the future seem more relevant to ask than they did a week ago, and everyone seems convinced something is going to change. The optimistic perspective to take would be that every moment of our lives changes the world as we know it, there’s no reason to think of this end as termination. It’s also the start of something new… hopefully something we can untangle and learn from, and then maybe we can remember how the R.E.M. song continues: “and I feel fine.”

But I’m not sure we can. 

Since reading the final standing of the electoral votes on Wednesday morning, I finally had to consider the man beyond the words. I looked up his policies and plans, am grateful each time he reverses one plan, and cringe a bit when I hear who he is considering for cabinet.

Before Trump was elected, I did not even consider Trump as a possible president, because I could not accept that a man who said the things he said and behaved the way he does, or even just runs his Twitter account the way he does, would be elected.

However, he is the president elect  of the USA. He became that person a bit when he gave his victory speech on Wednesday. He faded as that person when he posted about the protesters as “professional”s part of a conspiracy, refusing to recognize the democratic enactment of freedom of speech.

President Obama and Hillary Clinton both made their moves to allow for the acceptance of this man as president elect, but I cannot be convinced. In the back of my mind are all the things that can go wrong with this situation, and the fact that we’ve seen shadows of this man before, and that November 9th is a fateful day. I hope I don’t have to tell my children about the day that it became known who would be the 45th president of the USA, November 9th, 2016.

Finally, Donald Trump, please, do not treat this position and your new job as a new series on The Apprentice.

Trump, don’t ever take your power lightly.

Inform yourself about the people of Islamic faith, Latino/a identity, and your own citizens (for starters). Find out why the people elected you, return those people’s feelings of enfranchisement to them and don’t disenfranchise others in the process. I’m willing to give you a clean slate, but treat it carefully…

 

 

 

 

 

US civic duty while across the pond 

This isn’t going to be a last-minute candidate support post. Really. I’m actually only interested in basic politics and promoting the basic rights we citizens of the US have as a part of  a democracy. I’m here to remind you to go out and make democracy count… and I guess that means I don’t care who you vote for–just go and vote. 

I’m sure no one has forgotten about the culmination of one of the craziest campaigns in my living memory… and from what I’ve heard, perhaps of all time: Election Day: November 8th 2016. It’s here! 

I definitely haven’t forgotten. In fact, I’ve been reminded about it since coming back to Germany. All people want to talk about lately is “what do you [as the American] think about the election?” I’ve also had to plan for this election differently because of my status of being absentee. 

On my way home from work yesterday, where I finally managed to fax my ballot, I thought about the pros and cons of absentee voting. Pros: don’t have to wait in line for possibly a long time, being stuck accidentally talking to people I’ve never met before and may not meet again, even if we do live in the same district, or being stuck trying ignore them for (possibly) several hours. Cons: Maybe I would have gotten to have interesting conversations while on line. I don’t get an “I’ve voted” sticker. I also got stuck with the  logistics of requesting a ballot in time (30 days in most states), receiving that ballot, filling it out and sending it back, paying at least postage fees if not faxing charges.

 But I didn’t really have a choice so…

I was able to request my absentee ballot per decent length application per email, and received it per email. I did have to mail a hard copy of my request for it to be counted, and I wasn’t allowed to email my ballot either. Still, I could send in my ballot in time, even if my email did get caught up in the junkmail folder and I only found out I had it Sunday. At least I didn’t have to give up my right to a secret ballot. At least I found a fax machine I was gracefully allowed by my interested coworkers to use for free. Everything went well, and if I could manage to get it done, you probably can, too. 

Asides from that, I think the term absentee is interesting. It implies that I’m absent from the place and situation I should be. I really should be in the US right now (and it would make following the post-poll closure coverage a lot easier!), but I’m here, and luckily, due to the conflation of space with modern technologies, I’m not totally absent. I voted, I’m going to find people to watch the results with, and overall, I am invested in the fate of my country. 

 Of course, since I plan to be here at least two more years, some people may say that I won’t be immediately affected by the outcome of this election… but those people are unaware of the extent to which we are globalized. I’m sorry to say, there’s a reason the election is being covered so closely here in Germany. It’s not just because of the fact that the US is already kind of great. It’s because diplomatic relations are important in a world where “isolation” doesn’t exist and German leaders will maybe have some trouble with whomever may win. This is true of most of the world, and I hope that’s not ethnocentric thinking,  but I really do think the outcome of this election will have ramifications for international diplomacy, and of course the global stock market. 

I guess I just have to wait and see with the rest of the US citizens. 

Just know, you can’t complain about the election if you don’t even take part. 

Also, no matter what candidate wins, we still need to have serious talks about the state of the US.

But finally, just for fun: Key of Awesome parody (you don’t have to click if you don’t want to!)

A little bit of democracy: Election Season

A few weeks ago, I participated in the Berlin elections. Because Berlin is a city-state, this election was the equivalent of a US state election. I had received my voters invitation in the mail back in August. In the meantime, I watched how the city became smothered in campaign posters, each more eye-catching than the last. Every few days, volunteers for the parties would hand out fliers and pens or free cloth shopping bags to lure people into considering their party. Perhaps, because one does a lot more moving around the city in Berlin, one sees a lot more people and posters. It also helps that Germany has a thriving multi-party system. Unlike the US, with its winner-gets-it-all system, Germany’s national and state parliaments  are made up proportionally by the number of votes a party gets. There are certain rules, like you have to get more than 5% of the vote to get in- a rule put in place since WWII that may have prevented the Nazis from getting into parliament in 1932. However, the system means that even if you don’t vote for the popular party, your vote isn’t wasted. Unfortunately, that’s how many voters in the US feel, which is why we can’t get out of our stupid Republican/Democrat binary.

It’s not all rainbows and unicorns in Germany either. Interestingly, German campaign posters almost always include a representative’s profile picture, as if how the person looks will affect if they are voted for (unfortunately, it kind of does work that way). There’s also a rising right-wing party that can actually get power in this country and white supremacists and nationalists get a voice again in a country where it shouldn’t happen again. In the name of democracy, we are supposed to let them have a voice too… so that’s also an issue.

However, the voting process itself was a neat process. Despite all the parties, it’s not as complicated as one imagines. In fact, the ballots are about just as long as in the US. The difference is that one doesn’t ignore everyone beyond the first two lines. Libertarians get considered, conservative nature lovers get considered, socialists exist and get considered… it’s a very diverse ballot for which citizens actually have to prepare themselves and inform themselves. That’s not to say that many people still don’t vote the two largest parties- Christian Democratic and Social Democratic, but these parties rarely get the majority of the vote at the state or national level, and that’s a good thing!

So, when I went to vote (and voting happens on Sunday in Germany, giving everyone- even people with 10-hour jobs- the chance to vote!), I parked my bike outside a historic music school, got in line with the other voters of my district, and pulled out a book. I had a bit of a wait, but soon enough I got to hand over y ID and voting invite for inspection, and then I was in a voting booth with my papers and a pen. I guess I was surprised that the ballots were not electronic, and I didn’t expect that I would be voting for my district representative as well. I was also amused that when voting for the representative, a little note of advice happens below the representative’s name saying: suggested vote: (insert representative’s party name here). I won’t say who or what part(ies) I voted for, but I will say that I was able to vote two different parties at the state and district level and feel good about it. I think that the German systems allows for more representation of all the different values a person can have… and I’m a happy voter in Germany. I can’t really say the same about the upcoming presidential election in the US.

Now starts a part of my post where I’m going to add my two cents to the discussion about those up for election in November. For those who have had enough of this, I understand if you don’t want to continue reading. For those mildly curious for what a 25 year old with degrees in literature has to say, I promise I’ve put thought into this post and I’m reasonable, someone who looks for compromise rather than antagonism.

Let me start off with a fun fact. I grew up in a bipartisan household. One parent carries a Republican voting card, the other a Democratic one. How does this work, you wonder? How can they have been married for more than 25 years? A lot of it has to do with the ability to find compromise, and that the basic values upheld by both my parents are the same.

One of my favorite philosophers is Kwame Anthony Appiah. I’ve written about him before in this blog, but his famous book Cosmopolitanism outlines what he believes should be a global philosophy: that we respect other people’s values and beliefs enough to listen to them and consider them. While the ability to communicate is inherent to this philosophy to work, I believe it is a good philosophy. Often, though, as I see in my own home, this communication often goes astray. One party has a harder time expressing why they do things or value things a certain way. There will always be one group who is louder, more articulate, or more logical. Still, as Appiah outlines in his chapter “The Primacy of Practice,”

Conversation doesn’t have to lead to consensus about anything, especially not values; it is enough that it helps people get used to one another.

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ve been engaging in conversation with me about Germans and US Americans. I try to share my observations about both countries, often working hard to keep my personal bias and upbringing out of it. I’ve never suggested that one country is the better of the two – such a vast generalization would be absurd, and I can only emphasize how Germans live and love living in the US and vice versa, without having to give up the cultural beliefs or habits they brought with them.

So, if the daily life of a person can be satisfactory, despite constant exposure to difference, why can’t we listen more to each other talking about politics? What happened to constructive debate?

Yes… of course I set up a segue to last night’s presidential debate, which I found less than satisfactory. Spectators are saying that Clinton won that debate, but only because she as able to keep her cool while Trump was revealed for being the incoherent, ill-prepared, narcissist he’s been for most of the campaign. Maybe this means Trump should not be head of state. Even if he supports the values of most Republicans, he’s not ready for the position. Can you imagine the state dinners with Trump at the head of the table? Do people really think the man knows how to be a diplomat? Money is power, and Trump has money. But he has none of the tact, intelligence, or basic human sympathy that we need in our political leaders.

So, that puts the US in an awful position, because while many Republicans of the US can’t vote Hillary Clinton out of principle inspired by their belief in honesty, good character, and following rules, they can’t vote Trump either. Many of these Republicans would also rather see the Republican Party in power, because even if it’s headed by Trump, at least their values will be represented. I understand their wishes for freedom, financial security, and less interference from government in their personal lives.

The funny thing is, I also understand the Democrat’s wish for security and less interference from government in their lives. After all, anti-abortion laws are government interference. Health-care and other “socialist” endeavors are endeavors for financial security for citizens of the US- that’s just addressing the obvious. There are many subtle ways in which the goals of all US Americans are the same- upholding basic human rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It’s how we practice these rights that changes.

In the end, democrats have to compromise with republicans and republicans with democrats, lobbyists put their hand in the pot, and we end up with pretty much the same measures, regardless of who is the main man or woman in charge. What we can choose, however, is the first representative of our country.

Now, I return to the beautiful multiparty system, and ask, why can’t the US get out of its stupid binary? Why is the presidential debate only held between two people? Let’s not forget, there’s the Libertarian Gary Johnson. There will be more than three names on the presidential ballot in November. There’s always the write-in possibility (but, that’s a bit of a misnomer, since the possibility is so small).

My final note will maybe satisfy what those of you who did continue reading were waiting to see: where do I stand? Well, out of my upbringing, education, and beliefs, I think it is my responsibility to help all groups in society have equal access to opportunity and resources. The US party I believe comes closest to supporting this endeavor is the democratic one. However, I struggle with voting Clinton. It is hard to deny that there is something wrong about using personal email servers for state business. Every employee is able to separate the private and professional email. Why couldn’t she? There must be something wrong in her character to do this, and then not want to open up her personal correspondences as well as state correspondence for scrutiny. Right? Well, maybe. Maybe not. Retired army officer M. Thomas Davis (former Republican voter, I’ll bet) wrote a column I personally find convincing, but know has received its share of backlash: “Don’t let Clinton emails dominate debates.”

From here on out, until the election, I’m going to try and leave previous bias against either runner behind, and consider what each of the candidates have to say in response to direct questions about policies, how they will handle national and international security, education and health care reforms, and climate change. I encourage you to do the same with the issues you find important.

Just saying. Those were my two cents.

Cheers,

Dorothea

 

September 11th

This is one of the most difficult posts I’ve ever tried to write. It’s one of those where one sitting is not enough to ideally formulate every idea I’m trying to express. The trouble is, if I don’t post this now, I never will. I know I’ll want to return to it at some point, so that what I’m trying to say becomes more clear, appropriate and powerful. But for the moment, it’s my attempt to pay tribute to the victims of the September 11th attacks, both living and dead.
I am especially grateful to the men and women everywhere who make it their jobs to come to the aid of others, regardless of the risks to themselves.

It’s a weird, serendipitous coincidence that I started watching American Sniper with my family last night, and then finished it today. As the closing credits started appearing on-screen and I saw the original footage of the funeral procession of a man who died at the hands of another veteran, I needed a bit of time to think about how I feel about US war heroes (the term should not be thrown about lightly) and how I feel about the Iraq War.

I’m not the patriotic type; I’ve mentioned that before. Removed from all social media (except blogging), I also didn’t see what inevitably many US Americans posted today. However, whether I want to admit it or not, being in school that morning in September in 2001 affected how I situate myself in relation to the world. Of course I see myself as US American. However, on days like today and during my stay abroad in Germany, I’ve had to ask myself several times what that means and the responsibility that comes with it.

While in Germany, I took a course called “Representations of War in British Film and Lit.” As a part of the course we read Wish You Were Here, which was about the brother of a British soldier who serves in Iraq and Afghanistan and dies on active duty. It was the first time I had talked about the Iraq War in an academic setting, and of course it was amidst German anglophiles.

In case you didn’t know, the German population as a whole was not really a fan of the U.S. going to war with Iraq. Thus, because I also had been selected to provide the Referat, or presentation, of the context of the novel, I found myself in the position of justifying the war. I’m not completely proud to say that I recognized the aggressive military response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks as being the result of pain and confoundment. At least, those are the emotions I still feel today, and I think this may confuse the issues surrounding 9/11 for many US Americans.

However, while in Germany I’ve been forced to think about the other factors in Bush declaring war in the name of the USA. I was challenged by another exposure to the representation of the 9/11 attacks in the form of the 11’09″01 film series. I saw Sean Penn’s contribution and it showed me for the first time the ways in which the 9/11 attacks have been processed by intellectuals and maybe even critics of the US.  One could argue that the attacks brought out the best and the worst of the US.

Looked at with the distance of the Germans and the British, as well as most intellectuals in the US, the terrorist attacks can be examined as a disillusionment for the US. Sean Penn’s images of the hard-working American who has lost his wife and exists in the shadow of the Twin Towers forced me to consider how the fall of the Towers could be a positive thing. While writing that, I don’t think positive is the right word, but the image of the flowers blooming and the husband being forced to live in the present, not in a past where his wife is still alive, makes me think there is some value in the the US being shocked into having to try to understand its country and how it is received by the rest of the world.

This is something that I’ve never had a problem understanding, since I’ve been putting my country in relation to another one for almost all my life. As anyone with exposure to other ways of living can tell you, having two things to compare allows one to look more critically at each thing. However, while I’m not proud of the US entering into war with another country, I can take the time to understand the situation more clearly, just like while I feel the pain of seeing what one person can do to another (or many), as in the countless examples during the Nazi Regime of the 3rd Reich in Germany, I can also take the time to understand the situation more clearly in relation to the events that occurred before it. Wanting to learn and understand (if understanding is even possible) does not excuse the behavior on either side, but it also does not exclude me from wanting to be affiliated with either country.

So, while I know it’s easy to try to forget the things that cause us pain, I’m glad to be reminded of the 9/11 attacks to remember the people who lost their lives as well as to take a bit of time to think about the world since 9/11 and how it has changed. American Sniper reminded me how people will honor the sacrifice of others (whether it was asked for or not) and how some people believe in the war and some don’t. The significance of today’s date, the moments of silence and my own personal memories reminded me, yet again, of how much pain this earth has seen, regardless of which nation the people belonged to.

There’s so much more that can be said in relation to this, and I fear that I could not address all of them, leaving this post off limp and weak. But ultimately it’s up to everyone to decide for him/herself  how to relate to the events. Thank you for reading!

From Sea to Shining Sea

A US Patriot in a German Grossstadt- Happy 4th of July!

I’m not really patriotic, few people in my family are. Part of this is because my mother is German and her upbringing involved very little flag waving… though why any form of German patriotism is still likened to extreme nationalism speaks to the pervasive power of collective memory. My father served in the US Air Force and continues to serve the government in a different way, working in Immigration offices where he has the unique opportunity to watch new US citizens be sworn in every day. He is a patriot, but not a blind one. Through his experiences, I think he is able to look at his country objectively. Anyone who experiences other cultures and learns other languages will be set on a path of comparisons and thinking that add nuances to the world as he/she knew it, or thought s/he did. However, the person who is able to go to another country, experience many good things there, and then come back to his/her own country and say s/he likes it better there makes a much more powerful statement than the one who stayed within the same borders his/her whole life and says it’s the best place to be. I can say that I like to be in the U.S.  and be very specific about why.

Having lived in Germany for nine months now, I’ve seen a lot of Germany. There are many, many things I like and could appreciate for the rest of my life, but also a few things that bother me about a few individuals who grew up here. Of course, one can say the same about the U.S. Americans.

I have learned to differentiate between individuals, communities, political and social commonalities versus individual idiosyncrasies. But before I go off on a list of things I’ve learned from being here in Germany, which I’m saving for the end of the month, I want to talk a little about what I’ve learned about the US and the German perspective of the US.

I’m sorry, but while most Germans I have met think US Americans are very nice and very helpful, a lot have also said that they consider US citizens uninformed and almost stupid when it comes to politics. They see many Americans as conservatives who oppose abortion, believe in the right to bear arms, and fear taxes and a good health care system. There is a lot of confusion about race relations in the US, and many think of the US as being New York, Washington D.C., or LA and San Francisco, when there really is so much more to the country. It’s interesting that the social stereotypes about the country reflect spaces different than the cities Germans imagine when they think of the US.

One thing that all Germans I have met agree upon, however, is how beautiful the country is. Perhaps it’s also just the wide expanses of nothing but nature that the Germans appreciate, squeezing 80 million people into a land half the size of Texas. There’s no denying the strength of the beauty of our country, and I can’t help but think that the beauty passes onto the people somehow too.

I should probably try to write more (after all, I wanted to be more to grant this post a little more critical weight), but the sun is shining outside, and it’s too warm to be inside. One thing I’m really missing right now is the beach near my home in the US, but I’ll be there soon enough.  Hope my US readers have a great day! And that the Germans have fun grilling this afternoon. I have a term paper to write… yippee