America Doesn’t Exist in a Vacuum: Part 2

This is part 2 and the conclusion of a discussion I had with Leonie, a German political, historical, and cultural social media creator and graduate student in American Studies. After watching one of her (very accurate) posts I was immediately interested in her observations about our (completely nutty) politics in light of the events of the past four years. Leonie’s insights are astute and very telling; something Americans would be well served to pay attention to.

Wilo:

The growth of the far-right movement in Germany, and clearly here in America. How do you interpret the connection? Trump’s ability to embolden hate groups through his rhetoric—what has that done in your country?

Leonie:

I do think it’s all kind of interconnected. I remember something I found really, really telling. When the Alt-Right party in Germany had their “national meeting,” which of course they had to do in person, because who would do it online during a global pandemic? There were people there wearing Trump 2020 masks. This is the only party that is represented in any parliament that openly supports Trump. They don’t criticize him at all. I’m pretty sure members from every party here so far have only criticized Trump, even our conservative party.

This is a global thing. I have family in Spain and England and friends in Scotland. Everyone that I have talked to, we are all seeing this everywhere in Europe, and yeah in America the far right has gained traction. The night of the insurrection at the capitol I spoke to a colleague of mine, we were like ‘Are you watching this?’ I was watching the Senate debates on C-Span and suddenly something was happening. I switched to a news channel and called and texted colleagues. One of them, who is in critical race theory, said ‘we’ve been saying this for years.’ But you know, we were all ‘snowflakes.’

Wilo:

People see this and ask, ‘Where is all this coming from?’ What do you say about that?

Leonie:

This is a development that we’ve seen before Trump, absolutely. In Germany, way before Trump. I think one of the central problems that we are dealing with is people saying, ‘where is all this racism, anti-Semitism coming from?’ It was never gone. It was never smaller. It has always been there. I’ve seen this coming for years, and I’ve been seeing this shift to the right for years. I do think that in Trump it has found the loudest voice yet. And through the Trump presidency, it has also found legitimacy.

Wilo:

There are many in America who say it was actually Obama who fed the flames. What do you think about that? Do you think the Obama years solely gave the far right the shove they needed?

Leonie:

It’s kind of the same thing as saying ‘where is the racism coming from?’ It was there all along. It was there before Obama. It was there before the Dixiecrats. We can go back, and back, and back in history. So, I do think that a very loud and very radical minority felt threatened by the Obama administration. They felt threatened in their privilege. No, they felt threatened in something they didn’t know was a privilege, and I think most of them still don’t know that.

But if you’re so used to the people in power always looking like you, and never being surrounded with anyone that doesn’t look like you, and never having to empathize with people who don’t look like you; and then someone comes in who doesn’t look like you but now they are going represent you, you feel that this is threatening your way of life, your superiority and that can readily radicalize people.

You still have a lot of people who feel forgotten and then legislation comes in pushing affirmative action, pushing immigration, etc. They feel like they’ve been waiting in line for so long and people are coming and cutting in front of them. And that is the exact narrative that Trump tapped into—the forgotten people. He legitimized their feelings and their fears, no matter how irrational they were and that needs to be addressed in the future. That’s not just going to go away.

Wilo:

So, with the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and this very multi-cultural, multi-gendered, multi-aged cabinet, if you were to guess, do you think things are going to get better for us?

Leonie:

I mean, it’s hard to make predictions. I definitely hope so. But this has multiple, multiple steps to it. First of all, I can tell from German history, the past needs to be addressed.

Republicans are calling for unity right now. This is what worries me in these calls echoed by some Republicans and even by Biden. If there’s someone in the field and you’re pretty far from each other and you want to meet in the middle, you move a few steps toward them. But then they move a few steps back and tell you meet in the middle. And that’s basically what the Republican party is doing. Democrats now are where Republicans were a few decades ago.

The United States in general is much further right then Germany, for example. I cannot think of one U.S. representative on a federal level that would be considered left by German standards.

Wilo:

Not even Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?

Leonie:

She would probably be in the social democratic party, but that’s not the left party here. Her views and what she wants [for the U.S.] are standards here. Even our right-wing party wouldn’t dare to call for abolishing universal healthcare.

Wilo:

Back to this hope for unity. Is there really hope?

Leonie:

These calls for unity. Where do you draw the line? With the capital insurrection, wasn’t that the one line crossed where you say, ok. No. That’s a huge problem. I do think a lot of problems could be solved through proper education. If you look at certain history books, there’s a lot of work to be done. It shocked me that are still parts of the United States where its taught that the Civil War was basically about state’s rights.

We all have chapters in our history that aren’t addressed. I think that talking about these issues builds empathy and gives you a much different perspective from these types of discussions. There is so much to be done.

[In addition to the past needing to be addressed], I think the democratic party as a whole needs to reposition itself, and to be completely honest, I don’t think that the political system and the election system, the way it’s working or not working right now in the U.S.—I don’t think can be reformed. The two-party system, gerrymandering, the general election, how districts are drawn, it’s just the entire system. I mean the systemic racism alone that is entrenched in this system can’t be reformed. It all needs to be broken down and built up again. And I don’t think that is going to happen. So, yeah. I’m not super optimistic. I, of course, hope for the best, but I’m prepared for the worst.

Wilo:

You made a video that I was intrigued with, where you talked about the perception of America in Germany and abroad, that we are not this stronghold of democracy anymore. Can you expand on that?

Leonie:

Especially among conservatives, there’s this self-perception of American as this world leader, and it’s something you’ve had for a very long time. We’ve had the United States basically play the world’s police. So, if you take on this position as a global superpower than you also have to deal with the global criticism. This self-understanding of the United States especially by conservatives on the right and far right. It’s just American exceptionalism on the political world stage. Whereas a lot of countries are watching the U.S. right now and we are worried.

We see that a lot of people don’t have healthcare. There’s a homeless crisis going on. And what we see is a country that is unwilling to invest in its people and to invest in growth; that’s more worried about outward appearances internationally than its own people. Let’s hope that changes with this new administration. I don’t want to put anyone down. If I thought that everything about the U.S. sucks, I wouldn’t have dedicated by career to it. I also think that criticism is a form of love. If I didn’t care about the U.S., I just wouldn’t care.

If things continue the way they are right now, the U.S. is going to implode at some point. And that’s in regard to politics, to race relations, in regard to basically every level that you can possibly think of. Things need to change soon. This perception of the U.S. as this global superpower that other countries can only aspire to, um, that has changed. The EU also had a large role in this. Europe is starting to work more and more closely together.

The United States is the last developed country that doesn’t grant its citizens universal healthcare. That’s a medical crisis alone.

Someone posted something along the lines of: “If the U.S. was seeing what the U.S. is doing to the U.S., the U.S. would invade the U.S. to install democracy in the U.S.” I think that summed up the situation pretty well.

***

And on that very apropos note, I hope this has given you something to think about.

A key takeaway for why it’s important to hold our country up to doing better? “Criticism is an act of love.”

True patriots can see the bad about themselves and work for good.

2 thoughts on “America Doesn’t Exist in a Vacuum: Part 2

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