In the cultural community worldwide, the response to Donald Trump's election as US president has been overwhelmingly negative. Will American expatriots face new anti-Americanism? Not necessarily, says DW's Rick Fulker.
In the early-1980s, a time of mass protests over the planned NATO stationing of medium-range nuclear missiles in Germany, somebody once told me, "If you go to a demonstration, I wouldn't let anyone know you're an American if I were you. Something could happen to you." If not approval, that person expressed at least understanding for the fact that I might be seen as a representative of the policies of my country - and that alone could have undesirable consequences.
"He who is not with us, is against us." The first time I heard the claim was not from George W. Bush, mustering international support against international terrorism after 9/11, but rather from my roommates, who in 1983 were pressuring me to join them in demonstrations in Bonn against Ronald Reagan's Cold War policies. I didn't go along - not because I necessarily disagreed with their position, but because I always felt uncomfortable in big crowds.
Not long after I came to Germany as a student in 1977, I found myself called to account for the Vietnam War, the genocide of the Indians, the history of slavery and the discrimination of African-Americans. I often felt like a screen onto which every possible preconception was instantly projected - often in disagreement or outright anger.
I recognized that I'd come from a nation that was relatively disinterested in politics and where individuality is writ big. Part of the culture shock was seeing that in my host country, group affiliation - and its darker side, prejudice - were stronger. It seemed as though every superficial new acquaintance would immediately volunteer his opinion, whatever the reason for the encounter. Sometimes people would then add, "We Germans have a difficult history too." It was as if people in my own age group, who'd encountered so much anti-German sentiment whenever they traveled abroad, were relieved to finally be able to point the finger elsewhere.
First language, then dialogue, then understanding
But that changed. As my command of German grew better, the claims gradually disappeared. I was perceived as an individual. By the time the difficult era of George W. Bush rolled around, that kind of thing long since no longer happened.
Discrimination is always aimed at a collective. Whenever you get to know someone better anywhere in the world, the perception of him or her shifts from stereotype to human being.
That is what will get us through the day that German satirist Jan Böhmermann has dubbed America's 11/9. Although I find various statements and actions by the notorious comedian and TV host repulsive, his tweet, turning the infamous 9/11 day of terrorist attacks around as though it were a new tragedy, seemed to express more sadness and concern for the US and Americans than triumphalism.
It comes after a presidential campaign of unprecedented divisiveness where the victor brazenly employed prejudice as a political weapon. And at a time when the US populace has grown more polarized and ideological than at any time since the Civil War.
I've never seen so much avid interest in politics as I did during a recent visit to my homeland. Before the return flight, the shuttle driver to the airport asked where I come from. When I said I live in Germany, he voiced concern about the huge influx of immigrants there, sounding more thoughtful and concerned than like a stereotypical "angry white man." He offered his opinion: Immigrants, he said, are less interested in assimilating themselves than they once were. Instead, they prefer to adhere to the cultural values of the places from which they come. It was the very same argument one hears over and over again in Europe, and it should be examined.
From hot statements to lukewarm governing
True, the two candidates couched their arguments in apocalyptic terms, and the one who promised a "revolution" prevailed.
But the Germans have a saying, "You don't eat it as hot as you cook it," meaning roughly: "It's not the end of the world." In the same spirit, President Barack Obama recently said that, whatever the outcome of the election, "The sun will rise tomorrow."
After all, that vote of protest took place in a country with a division of powers. Its citizens trust in that to the extent that some actually voted for a man they consider unqualified for the job, thinking this better than big government, big money, the media establishment and the disenfranchisement of average citizens. They know that Donald J. Trump will be able to push things along only incrementally - even if the president, the Congress and probably soon the Supreme Court are all on the same side of the ideological spectrum. Just ask the current chief executive, who raised unrealistic hopes that, for whatever reason, he couldn't keep. Expect a new counter-culture in the US in the Trump era. And remember that Americans are quicker to vote the incumbent party out of office than other nations are.
It takes two to tango
Although he has no experience in government, Trump is a demonstrated dealmaker, and everyone - including him - knows that it takes two to make a deal. Free trade and globalization now have a bad reputation on both sides of the political spectrum and in many parts of the world. But the onus is on the new president to demonstrate what can take their place. And even if, with his many outrageous statements, he hasn't yet dealt a death blow to political correctness, he has discredited that concept which certainly posed a threat to free thinking and civil discourse. Trump seems to be what he is, defects and all - and that's what his supporters like in him.
That recalls the individualism which people in my home country cherish, which has always been a force for innovation, creativity and peaceful transformation - and which has made American culture, particularly its popular culture, so powerful worldwide. And I think it's stronger than my countrymen's historically recent focus on group affiliation, such as political party or ideology.
This is the time for people in the United States - and in other parts of the world wherever possible - to take a stand, engage in civil discourse, protest when necessary - and seek out the individual behind the race, culture or ideology. Individual self-determination is the part of the American Dream that is triumphant in most parts of the world, and - with or without globalization - it can be re-exported to the place it came from. So I'm not particularly worried about a new wave of anti-Americanism.