It was Friedrich Merz who stepped up to the plate. Finally, someone said something about Donald Trump. Merz was once an important CDU politician and parliamentary group leader. Now, he's the chairman of a non-profit transatlantic group, Atlantik Brücke (Atlantic Bridge). He called Trump a "terrifying phenomenon." Bear in mind that Merz belongs to the right wing of the CDU and is a frequent critic of what he calls the "social democratization" of his party under Angela Merkel. In other words, if Merz thinks Trump is terrifying, then what must his colleagues from the political center and left think?
There's something of a Trump-induced paralysis hanging over the German political establishment. A kind of vague sense that it's still likely Hillary Clinton will win, and that it's better not to start panicking. So there was no reaction when Trump described Merkel's refugee policy as a "total disaster," despite knowing very little about it. No reaction when he said that the chancellor is "doing tremendous damage" to Germany, and that Europe is experiencing problems it's "never had before in a million years." Or when he spoke of how women in Germany are no longer safe from hordes of sex-starved refugees in the wake of the New Year's Eve attacks in Cologne.
For months now, German politicians have been looking across the Atlantic with a mixture of fascination and horror. The hair! The aggression! The crude rhetoric!
It brings to mind how the Germans felt about George W. Bush - but only a little. Bush was anything but popular in Germany, but nonetheless, Angela Merkel stood by his side in the days before she became chancellor and defended the US invasion of Iraq - something she now concedes was a mistake. But Trump? God help us.
Germany has other worries
And that's how you get poll results like these: 74 percent of Germans would vote for Hillary Clinton, and only 8 percent would support Donald Trump. Trump has admitted that he admires Russian President Vladimir Putin (insofar as it's possible for him to feel admiration for anyone other than himself). The idea of Russia and the United States cozying up to one another with Germany caught in the middle is enough to make anyone afraid.
But the sense from Berlin is that politicians have so many other things to worry about at the moment: The refugee crisis, the collapse of Europe, the war in Syria, the conflict in Ukraine and Russian intervention.
Generally speaking, Germans have lost interest in US politics. Barack Obama was once celebrated here like a hero. What a historic moment - the first black president! But he didn't live up to Germans' expectations of him, and gradually, the US didn't seem so important anymore. And doesn't all this with Trump seem surreal, like something dreamed up in Hollywood? And if it should become real, what then? But no, that's not something anyone really wants to consider just yet.
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