Opinion: A correspondent seduced by the American soul | Opinion | DW | 03.04.2016
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Opinion: A correspondent seduced by the American soul

After three years in Washington, Gero Schliess, one of DW's US correspondents, is returning to Germany. During his time in the United States, he has witnessed great social change and peculiar patriotism.

The United States has changed. And it has changed me, too. The three years I spent as a US correspondent were dynamic ones for the country - especially in its domestic policy.

This is not about Donald Trump: It's about proper politics that have an effect on people's lives - like President Barack Obama's health reforms. In 2015, after years of Republican obstructionism, the Supreme Court at long last affirmed the constitutionality of "Obamacare," which had become law in 2010. Millions of Americans now have the certainty that they will no longer be left to suffer without health coverage in the event of serious illness. For the United States, this is a revolution.


DW's Gero Schliess

In the same week last June, the Supreme Court also ruled against state laws that prohibited marriage equality for gay men and lesbians. It was another massive change for the United States, where religious conservatism often holds tremendous sway over public policy. Millions of Americans celebrated the decision.

How hesitant and sheepish German politics seem when compared with those of the United States. In Germany, for example, there still seems to be no force pushing for the recognition of marriage equality. Chancellor Angela Merkel's oft-mentioned reservation that she has a personal problem with marriage equality seems to enjoy the status of an inviolable constitutional statute.

In the United States, the majority understands that it is not "just" the rights of a minority at stake. For Americans, it is about the bigger picture, about living the principles of a constitution that upholds and values freedom. That includes the freedom to marry the person you love.

Refugees welcomed

The United States is a relatively young country, and many Americans are descended from immigrants who arrived within the past 200 years.

Established forms of communication and patterns of behavior have helped to turn foreigners into esteemed and productive fellow citizens while avoiding major conflicts and allowing them to keep their own identities. That, along with a strict set of core values, is the glue that still holds this vast, powerful, very diverse country together. Perhaps Germans can learn something from that - especially now, as refugees arrive by the hundreds of thousands.

Whether everything will stay this way in the United States (and now we come to Trump) will be decided in November's presidential election. Trump's appeals to fear and aggression have drawn more support than anticipated. However, I trust that Americans will ultimately choose someone else.

Self-confidence and pride

Americans are very different from Germans, from Europeans. People here have such faith in the state, and everything seems so regulated, to the point of near paralysis.

Belief in the idea of American exceptionalism has waned in recent years with the creeping loss of the US's status as a superpower and an increasingly stressed middle class. But in extreme situations you can still sense Americans' self-confidence, their pride.

I'll never forget my interview with Anthony Graves, a black man who spent 18 years on death row after being convicted, without a motive or physical evidence, of killing a family of six. Although authorities in the United States sought to take his life, and twice set the date to do so, Graves expressed hope that the country could put an end to the death penalty. "Executing your own citizens is not setting a good example," he said. To a European, this idea of a superior American morality may seem strange, even naive. But there is no better or more powerful expression of the American soul. This correspondent, too, couldn't help but find it moving.

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