German news media decry Trump as US votes | News | DW | 08.11.2016
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German news media decry Trump as US votes

Election fatigue and dismay at the perceived nastiness of the 2016 presidential campaign featured strongly in Germany's headlines. Germans appeared to be awaiting the outcome with almost as much anxiety as Americans.

"The end is in sight," and "Please not the horror clown!" - Germany's front pages on the day of the US election reflect a large cross-section of the international attitude as Americans go to the polls. Befuddlement at Donald Trump's candidacy, concerns about the amount of mud-slinging that has characterized the campaign, and worries about what the outcome means for Europe dominated German media on Tuesday.

Spiegel Online, one of the most widely-read German-language news websites, featured smiling pictures of Hillary Clinton and importantly, all of them alongside Barack and Michelle Obama. With approval ratings for both the current president and first lady on the upswing, Spiegel presented its readers with a swansong for the Obama presidency.

"Obama's long goodbye…after eight years, he passes the torch to Hillary Clinton," writes Spiegel reporter Marc Pitzke, drawing a picture of a cool, collected man giving some "desperately needed" help to Clinton, all to make sure "Clinton rescues his legacy from destruction by Donald Trump."

Trump: An illiterate clown

The Cologne-based tabloid "Express" asks Americans to choose anything but the "Horror Clown" Donald Trump - riffing on recent attacks, both in the US and Germany, of menacing individuals dressed as circus performers. Just under the headline is an explanation of why the "crazy" American elections are held on Tuesdays.

The pervasive antipathy to Trump on the international stage is understandable for a candidate who has proposed building a wall along the US-Mexico border and threatened that NATO allies best pay their dues if they want Washington's protection.

If the length of the campaign has been exhausting to Americans, it might well appear even more so to observers in Germany, where political advertisements are not allowed on television and candidates for chancellor only begin campaigning in earnest about five weeks before an election.

"The end is in sight…unless Donald Trump wins," proclaims the "Tageszeitung." In a scathing essay, the paper's Bettina Haus takes American voters to task for holding Trump and Clinton to completely different standards.

"Hillary Clinton is seen as devious and tricky. And ultimately all the allegations against her are that she only has her own interests in mind. But why is she considered reprehensible for something that no one, even his supporters, can deny that Donald Trump is guilty of?"

The editor of the "Bild am Sonntag" weekly newspaper, Marion Horn, compares Trump to a hate preacher on Twitter.

'Campaign of hate'

"Trump's campaign of hate fell on fertile ground," says the prestigious "Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung" newspaper, with writer Jan-Werner Müller calling his candidacy "an extreme case, but no exception" in the polarized climate of American politics.

The lengthy article chides comparisons of Trump to Hitler and Mussolini, but says he is rather a "farcical figure" in the vein of Italy's Silvio Berlusconi. Müller argues they are, after all, both men known to make offensive statements with little concern for the consequences, and joke about how not paying taxes makes them clever.

Welcome to the freak show

The immediate impression is one of wall-to-wall anxiety about a possible Trump presidency mixed with concern that a man regularly accused of bigotry could have made it this close to the White House. Clinton, where she is present, is a side-note to the circus.

"I couldn't blame a reader for having that perception," says Matthias Kolb of the "Süddeutsche Zeitung," whose paper did feature a single picture of Clinton above the fold on Tuesday, above an article that largely functions to explain the US electoral college system to German readers.

Kolb saw room for criticism that the German media have been all too happy to bash Trump, but disavows the notion that Clinton had been given a free pass.

"I haven't done an analysis of what every news outlet is publishing, but German journalists decided early on that Trump is unqualified and that has had an effect on coverage," he told DW.

"We have tried to be critical of Clinton," Kolb says. "We covered allegations against the Clinton Foundation, her emails, Benghazi, but some of that is just old news."

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USA votes

However, the reporter had to admit that "the anti-American stuff is popular on the websites. People like to mock figures like Sarah Palin and George W. Bush."

"I've never seen more one-sided election coverage," Bild am Sonntag journalist Miriam Hollstein told DW, adding the caveat that many of Trump's statements drew uncomfortable comparisons to Germany's past, which may in part explain the wariness and fascination. 

"With Hillary, we have the feeling that what you see is what you get," Hollstein says. "We have known her since she came to Germany in 1994 for the first time...we have the feeling that with her as president, there would be a continuity of US-German relations."

Matthias Kolb offers a fitting summary for both Americans and Germans who have watched the ups and downs of the past few presidential elections with one eyebrow arched: "If 2012 was a circus, this was a freak show."

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