Unrequited Love: Explaining Germany's Infantile Crush on Obama

A Commentary by Jan Fleischhauer

German schadenfreude knows no bounds, particularly when it comes to the United States. The country loves to feel superior to a superpower like America. Yet Germany also harbors a childish infatuation with Obama -- one which has little political grounding. The reasons are psychological.

Germany's Messiah boarding Air Force One. Zoom
AFP

Germany's Messiah boarding Air Force One.

It's too bad that Mitt Romney didn't win. If the Republicans had won, we could finally have known for sure that our suspicion of America's imminent demise is correct. "Four more years," translated into the German viewpoint means little more than a "four-year reprieve."

For the über-watchful among us, the signs of the downfall are obvious. One must only take a look at the condition of the streets (every fourth bridge is crumbling!), or the entirely outdated power grid, to come to the conclusion that this country has its future behind it. A nation that has its utility lines hanging from poles in the street, instead of burying them in an orderly fashion underground, cannot really be taken seriously.

With a bit of luck, the specter across the Atlantic might even take care of itself. It can't be ruled out. When they are not shooting each other or being fried by dangling power lines then the Americans might simply pop. Two out of every three US citizens are overweight, or even obese! Every child in Germany knows the numbers.

There is hardly an issue about which Germans as so united as they are by their desire to see America on its knees. It unites both the left and the right. Wherever they look, they see decay, a lack of culture and ignorance. "A perverse mixture of irresponsibility, greed, and religious zealotry," as my adversary, columnist Jakob Augstein, furiously argued on Monday.

A Blessing to Live in Germany

What a blessing it is, one must conclude, to live in Germany, a country where the highways are regularly repaired and the washing machines use so little water that one could water the entire Sahara with what is left over. In which citizens' initiatives are formed against McDonald's, and two-bit crime dramas are considered the pinnacle of TV entertainment. If the utility poles here were to snap like toothpicks, then it would be the fault of some natural catastrophe, the likes of which would make a hurricane seem like a gentle breeze.

I don't want to sound like a smart aleck, but does anyone remember when, in December 2005, a surprisingly strong winter storm left 250,000 people in the area surrounding Münster without power for days? Münster and its environs do not want to rule the world. But still, it was strange to see the same experts on TV, who two years prior, during a large power outage on the east coast of the US, had given their reasons for why something like that could never happen in Germany.

The criticism of America has always been a bit infantile. One is familiar with the theory from psychoanalysis, when people talk about transference, or when suppressed feelings or emotions are overcome by projecting them onto others. It may work for a while, improving one's feeling of self-worth by devaluing an imagined adversary. But it always falls short. Which is why the ritual must be constantly carried out anew.

For as long as I can remember, America has been on the decline. Already in the 1970s, the country was doomed, and that was before people like Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush came to power. In the meantime, Americans brought communism to its knees, rang in the age of the Internet and revolutionized capitalism several times.

The reality is that a quarter of global wealth is still created in the United States. They still have at their command the largest military power on the globe, and will continue to do so, despite all of the talk of a multi-polar world.

The Infatuation with Obama

Above all, the United States remains the largest chosen destination of millions of people in the world. If they had the choice of where they could live, the majority oddly enough would not choose the German DIN standard for happiness, but life in New York or California, where the potholes are as big as gravel pits. That may make people here want to light as many candles as possible, to pray for the downfall to finally come.

The childish excitement over Obama, that once again took hold over Germans during this election -- fully 93 percent of the country would have voted for him in this election -- is the flip side of this desire for America's demise. That the Germans, of all people, should see themselves in a black civil rights attorney from Chicago can only be explained by the fact that they see him as the opposite of what they consider to be normal Americans.

Since Obama spoke to the world in front of the Victory Column in Berlin during his first presidential campaign in the summer of 2008, he has found a firm place in the hearts of German citizens. They will always be grateful to him for this honor. That's why they forgive him for keeping Guantanamo open and for sending out drones like other people would send postcards.

In the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, Andrian Kreye correctly pointed out that for Europe, life with Republican presidents is usually easier, because the US then takes the obligations of its alliances seriously.

Obama has no interest in Europe, and all of his attention goes to Asia. If this president calls the German chancellor's office, it is only to try to sweet talk her into finally implementing euro-bonds, so Wall Street can sleep again. But that is one of those facts that is better to suppress.

Superpowers don't disappear over the course of years. It takes decades, if not centuries. As such, the verdict might not arrive for awhile yet. The prophets of doom can continue to hope.

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1. First decline then sliding!
SHBasse 11/09/2012
As Jan Fleischhauer correctly points out the US has been in decline for ages (actually since they started “internationalization” in the late 1960ties. The same thing started to happen to the European countries about 20 years later. Although Germany is better off than most the German deficit is also alarmingly high! Although I like Germany, its people and its culture, the main difference between Germany and other countries is that industry in Germany has been slower to outsource / export their production apparatus. The decline is there all right, but luckily it is slower than in most “old industrialized countries”. The US speculates in the fact that their economy is so large that they can go on in spite of steep dollar depreciation, but when - not if - the dollar plunges the decline will accelerate. Germany cannot act as the USA. Germany needs a larger “home market” (the EU), and that is the truth behind all the energy put down into rescuing the Euro. No country has even considered measures that would stabilize and eventually turn the economic and production crisis – it is all about stop gap measures! http://unifiedscience2.blogspot.com/2011/02/deeper-causes-of-downturn.html USA has been dominating for so long that it is natural for us Europeans to react as described in the article. Søren H. Basse Bornholm Denmark
2.
retarded-freak 11/09/2012
Europeans in general have to some extent some unfounded and baseless snobbery. All of Northern Europe appears to think so highly of itself, even when many Northern Europeans are little better than aboriginals. That being said, as an American, I have no sentimental attachment to the USA. I cant even understand the infatuation with Obama. He just looks like a tall thin Somalian without any weight or power. His bold countenance only appears comical to me. A lot of the crap in the west has to do with the ability to feel emotions, experience nostalgia (often for a past that never existed), and to robotically be able to see other people's logic blindly, aided by caffeine, as if it were your own logic, and thus conform to a caffeinated uni-mind. As far as these other concerns, I live in a blizzard ridden city with exposed phone and power lines, and have never experienced a black-out or loss of phone service as a result. Someone told me the reason our phone lines are above ground, is because if we buried them, and the government didnt subsidize the burial, our phone-bills would sky-rocket. The cost of burial would be pushed onto the consumer, and many cant afford it.
3. Off the mark
Akhenaten 11/09/2012
Rarely have I read an article so much off the mark describing German attitudes to America. I wonder where exactly the author lives. For a start 90% of Germans are not interested in the USA or any other country. They neither love nor hate the USA. They are just average Joes like in most other countries involved with their own life’s problems. Their views are based on what the see and hear in the media where reporting is not really anti-American on the regular TV and Radio channels. Just neutral and respectful and also commiserating with the situations often reported as a result of calamities. The writer, therefore must be referring to the 10% or so with professional or private contacts to the USA where, indeed, criticism is often voiced by a minority of this group whilst the majority, the ones who have travelled the country and speak the language, will have a different, broader view, often admiring the feeling of freedom of this vast country, the impressive landmarks, the friendly welcome received by most Americans and accept the ignorance most Americans profess about Europe with good grace. Why should the average American bother too much about a Europe where most of the news reaching American shores only appears in two or three papers read by a minority of informed Americans. And as to Obama? Four years ago it was “anything but Bush”. Obama comes across as a warm hearted, genial gentleman and the fact that a black person could be elected President of the United States has been received with euphoria by most people except the few nutcases on the right fringe. So what is so special about this reaction? Sorry, this article is not reflecting German attitudes in any way, only the preconceived ideas of a journalist who does not seem to know much about his own country, if in fact he lives in Germany.
4. Obama Love
thorpeman@sky.com 11/09/2012
The reason the Germans love Obama is Obamanomics make Euronomics seem plausible
5.
Evji108 11/09/2012
As an American who has lived in Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland, it is always of interest to see the opinions of Europeans on the subject of the USA. This and previous articles about the decline of the US, were, I felt, quite biased in a negative way, but they were also just the typical type of European attitudes being expressed towards us as a country. When I am in Europe it is normal to hear much criticism and negativity about my home country, much of it unfounded and mostly based on a popular negative view of the USA that assumes that the popular news reports about my country are all true and apply uniformly across the nation. Everyone is overweight, everyone eats Hamburgers at McDonalds all the time, the cities are all crime-ridden, everyone has guns, the infrastructure is collapsing, the economy is headed for destruction etc etc. All these statements are true and equally not-true. Often people are extremely rude to me as an American and make negative remarks to my face about Americans in general and my country. It always amazes me that Europeans, who claim high culture as their own, can be so incredibly narrow-minded and rude to a visitor. Few in Europe realize just how difficult it is to manage such a large country with so many differing ethnic and cultural and economic groups and with such a large land mass area. Other countries in the same situation such as China and Russia do so with a much more authoritarian government. Things here are a bit wilder, a bit more-free wheeling and because we are a democracy it is necessary to get many differing groups to agree, which can, at times be impossible. Europe is safe, predictable, generally clean and often quite smug. Germans know how to do things efficiently and correctly, and am always struck when I am in Germany how there are rules for every detail of life and if one violates those written or unwritten rules one is strongly criticized, whether it is a loud horn honk from a big black Mercedes or a harangue on the sidewalk for parking too close to another car, or violating some other unwritten rule of German society. It has been a shameful pleasure to watch the Euro-crisis come over Europe in the last few years, if only to watch some of that smugness be smashed. No one country or culture has this big world of ours all figured out, no one has the ultimate solution and no one country, culture or region will be on top forever, because all nature and all economies run in cycles. As for the USA, and it's future, it is too soon to see if we are a country in decline or not, because that is only truly evident in hindsight. Don't write us off quite yet, because there is an enormous reservoir of creativity and innovation here. Things can get very messy here in the creative process, which can be very uncomfortable for Germans, who like things to be orderly and predictable. Winston Churchill's quote says a lot: “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else.” It's somehow our process, it takes a long time, it can be disorderly, but in the end, it works.
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