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Trump and the Germans

Heiner Kiesel
January 19, 2017

The inauguration of a US president has never with such suspicion in Germany as Donald Trump's assumption of office has. Politicians and the population share the same sentiment. Only businesses see opportunities.

USA Vorbereitungen für die Amtseinführung Donald Trump in Washington
Image: Getty Images/M. Wilson

The disbelief over America's choice for president persists in Germany. Many people feel like it's a bad dream, but instead of waking up in a cold sweat, now they will witness Donald Trump's inauguration. "If he had run for office in Germany, he would not have become president," says pollster Michael Kunert, head of the German survey institute infratest dimap. His studies show that Germany's trust in the US has diminished drastically. When asked, "Is the USA a reliable partner?" every second German responded with yes and after the election it was only one-in-five.

Trump-Bild der Deutschen Katharina N.
Katharina sees a growing populist danger with TrumpImage: DW/H. Kiesel

Voices in the population show the irritation with the 45th president of the USA. "I find Donald Trump extremely alarming," says Katharina, a young passer-by in Berlin's government district. She believes he is not only dangerous because he shows how a person can rise to such a powerful position with the help of fake news but also because other populist politicians may feel emboldened by his success, she explains.

Trump will be sworn in on Friday and some people have even reacted in a stirringly irrational manner. "Deep down inside I hope that at the last moment a good fairy will come and the awful phantom will go away," says Marion Rössner who works as a midwife in Berlin.

Kurd Weser from western German city of Limburg an der Lahn is also concerned for political reasons, like international cooperation in conflict situations or the future of NATO. "What he has said up until now has not been very convincing; we have to wait to see what happens," he recommends.

Trump-Bild der Deutschen Kurt Weser
Kut Weser is worried about international cooperationImage: DW/H. Kiesel

Contrary views are hard to find but they do exist. Susanne Walter sees Trump as the better choice. "With Hillary Clinton, there would have been a third world war," she says with regard to relations between the USA and Russia. She also thinks it's good that Trump judged Angela Merkel harshly and called her refugee policy a "catastrophic mistake."

Skeptical politicians

Politicians haven't been able to do much except to wait until Trump takes office and to check the situation out behind the scenfor to see what awaits the country and the international community.

An interview in the German tabloid "Bild" a few days ago reinforced the impression. No critical follow-up questions were asked and only responses that were difficult to interpret were offered. "There are no signs showing that it will be good," says the disappointed defense spokesman for the Social Democratic Party (SPD) Rainer Arnold. Trump's contempt for the European Union and NATO is like grist for the mill of the Social Democrat. Arnold does not think, Trump may actually be sensible.

Deutschland Roderich Kiesewetter zu Besuch bei The Morning Show
Roderich Kiesewetter is convinced European democratic principles will prevailImage: DW

Roderich Kiesewetter, a Christian Democrat (CDU) member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs has a similar view. "There is nothing that can be glossed over," states the CDU foreign policymaker. "We Europeans can resist him with a lot of positive things," Kiesewetter says with conviction and points out the principles of democracy, politics and freedom that German citizens and their neighboring countries believe in. On the other hand, his parliamentarian counterpart from Die Linke, the left-wing party, Jan van Aken, has no illusions whatsoever. "It will be a terrible progression from George W. Bush in foreign policy." 

Only the right-wing, nationalist party Alternative for Germany (AfD) is truly pleased about future US President Donald Trump. That is how the party's leaders feel, but actually, skepticism prevails among the AfD voters, as shown in findings made by the polling institute forsa.

Optimistic businesses

"Politicians and businesses link Trump to substantial risk, but in the economy, there is a tendency to view a change of office in a positive manner," says Renate Köcher, director of the Allensbach Institute, a polling institute.

Half of political decision makers believe that Trump will be responsible for the deterioration of relations with the USA; however, only 41 of businesses believe this. Despite the punitive tarifs Trump has threatened to impose and his opposition to free trade, 64 percent of surveyed business leaders see chances for their companies.