October 23, 2017

Biased Media: The German Perception of American Politics

  • by Nadine Schuster
  • August 10, 2017
  • 0

I Interviewed Germans about Donald Trump…

This is what I learned.

First things first, I was born and raised in Germany. My relatives currently live there and I lived there (with some travel back and forth) until I was 8. Now that I have obligations of my own, I try to go back and visit every few summers to catch up and spend time with my friends and family.

We are all very open and opinionated people but politics have never been a hot topic amongst us. My family neither enjoys nor willingly talks about politics, but America’s last election changed not only our view on discussing it but the country’s view as well. This caused me to became curious about how these opinions and beliefs varied across different cultures.

History 101:

For some quick background, there are currently more than 10 political parties in Germany. All have equal representation and opportunity to take hold of the chancellorship, unlike the parties outside of the Republican and Democratic in the US. Nonetheless, there are two major parties, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) as well as the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) which partners with the Christian Social Union (CSU), and is the party of the current Chancellor, Angela Merkel. While the SPD focuses on social democracy and protecting the society’s poor, the CDU is mainly conservative.

Since Ms. Merkel has been reelected more than once, I think it is safe to say that mostly everyone in Germany seems to be okay with how things are run politically. A few exceptions arise from some groups; primarily “ALTERNATIVE FOR GERMANY,” who are totally not cool with recent refugee statutes passed by Ms. Merkel.

This being said, living in a mostly neutral political climate is something the US has not experienced in quite a while. There is constantly uproar about something by someone and there are constant arguments and back and forth from all sides.

 

Tunnel Vision

Most of the things we read on the news or through other sources daily are already biased based on the network’s point of view. To solve this problem of ‘tunnel vision’, I thought I’d step out of the media’s echo chambers and find out what opinions there are amongst outside perspectives and what they think about President Trump and the USA…from across an entire ocean.

As I traveled my way around Europe this summer, I gathered opinions from family, friends (and their family and friends), on American Politics and some of the current events in our country.

SPOILER ALERT: Feathers were ruffled in the process of obtaining this information.

 

[First] Impressions Matter

For many voters, the decision to make when handed the ballot of our most recent election was a difficult one. Those living in the United States during Bill Clinton’s Presidency may have been swayed in one direction or another as they glanced between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s name on the ballot.

When election day came to a close, we, as an American people, elected Donald Trump; so how does this reflect on us as a country and affect how outsiders may think about us?

When asked about what their thoughts were on America as a whole, most people responded with answers that begun with, “embarrassing”, “emotional”, “not comprehensible”, and even “how could they have not seen how complacent and narcissistic he is?!”

One interviewee then noted her observation of the large support from lower class voters, (whom she called “non-academics”), which had voted for him due to the promise of more jobs and opportunities, not because of a lack of education.

I think what happens with many outside perspectives is that they can be subjective. In hindsight, many would look back and think, “Of course they shouldn’t have elected Donald Trump. Look what they got themselves into,” but when you’re trying to make a decision that’s best for yourself, it comes down to much more than this.

I believe some of the German preference towards Hillary comes from the not only her past political experience that she brings to the table but also that the current German chancellor is a woman.

We must keep in mind that no matter who is in the White House, there will be unfavorable opinions. Therefore, forming judgments on the American people as a whole, based on the belief that we made a mistake as a country, is a very negative reflection of what is going on here.

Germany’s perception of America is partially affected by our history of gun violence and the lenient laws which allow it to happen. I included this topic in my interviews out of curiosity, since there has been more worldwide violence recently than in years past.

The responses I got were not surprising.


*Pew Pew*

In Germany, gun laws are some of the strictest in the world and allow very little private use permits.

Historically, even police officers were not allowed to carry them. Many criteria must be met in order for ownership to be granted, and a few years ago there was even a law put into place requiring a psychological evaluation of anyone under the age of 25 who wished to own a firearm. Given this information, I think we can infer that Europeans view our laws a little too lenient.

Just for the sake of comparison, Germany is about ⅓ the size of the US. From 2014-2015, there were less than 15 people killed by law enforcement. In fact, most numbers of European countries’ deaths by a law enforcement do not surpass 10.

Comparing this to the roughly 900 deaths in the US in 2015 is mindblowing. This shows just how seriously gun violence is viewed in Germany and across Europe.

Gun use for self-defense is considered unacceptable in Germany, so going to school to become a police officer is a very serious, lengthy and thorough process. To make it through requires excellent physical fitness, a clean criminal record, and approximately 8 years of training and education. A large part of this training is on human interaction, to eliminate potential abuse of their position in law enforcement while also promoting thoughtful reactions.

Now that I have filled you in on some info, let’s get to the opinions.

“How do you feel about guns in America?”

Posed with this question, interviewees gave some interesting answers regarding the positive culture (with clear rules) that guns have an association with in Germany. This includes celebrations around shooting associations, with contests and gun shows, as well as sport, hunting, and private life. However, this favorable culture never, ever incorporates the use of guns for self-defense.

The results I gathered showed that it is believed ownership of guns increases the hazard and frequency of crime and that too many people are shot in our country.

One response said firearm ownership is “Too open and too “liberal” and that it’s crazy that so many people have guns.” The loose way to own and to use weapons is often criticized, especially when in reference to “massacres and bad shootouts” that have taken place.

On owning guns: “It is a bit more difficult here and in most cases illegal – in contrast to America.” This same interviewee also mentioned that “We tend to lean back then and think: this could never happen here because our laws are so strict.” This shows just how safe they feel under these laws.

They say that through a series of sad events, it is noticeably upsetting that if someone wants to own a weapon, he or she is able to get one, unfortunately.

“STUPID. STUPID. STUPID. Unteachable. Horrible. Will never ever understand this.”

We are not able to buy many things until we are a certain age, due to laws that are strongly enforced…but what causes this to stop at a gun?

There are definitely a number of things we can learn from Europe’s gun laws to make our own streets safer. As a large, developed and thriving country, we should be setting a positive example for the rest of the world; especially in light of the recent violence and hurt across our planet.

International Tension

One thing almost all interviewees agreed on was that they feel the world is now becoming less safe. If something minor, like a political election, happened halfway across the Earth in another developed country, in most cases, we wouldn’t feel as though this could majorly affect us; but Europe seems to be feeling differently.

Not because of Donald Trump’s presidency, but because of the recent involvements of the White House with Putin and Erdogan and North Korea. We have already begun seeing repercussions of this here in the States and Europe seems to feel as though our country’s international relations could pose consequences for them as well. For instance, exiting the climate deal was something that can affect more than just our nation and a major, developed, prestigious country stepping out of it, sets everyone back. Additionally, they are not wrong to think that trouble with NK, as it is escalating daily, can affect the rest of the World as well; just as that with Russia or Turkey, since they are much closer to these countries.


I noticed there is a pattern in the responses from interviewees and their fears’ roots, which are coming from a belief that President Trump is negatively governed by his emotions. They use the way he lashes out at and treats reporters, journalists, celebrities; even his own advisors and coworkers, as evidence for the raised concern that he seems to act more like a dictator than a democratically-elected President. These same responses also voiced that they are under the impression he is untruthful, childish (especially on Twitter), unreliable, and often too focused on the wrong things. An outside view bringing this concern to light could be raising red flags in some of you… especially coming from a country whose people admire and enjoy learning from us.

Controversy

Most of the people I spoke with described Hillary as the “lesser of two evils”. These same people described her as a liar and as having a flawed character, so did this controversy amongst political rivals really come down to political experience? Many people also pointed out that we don’t “value political opinions and experience but rather wealth in our leaders…but that at least she has good manners.” For a country that supposedly looks up to America, that does not seem like a positive connotation.

Europe looks up to us; through our technological advances, pop culture, our leadership and what we have been able to accomplish… but all of that is changing and the rest of the world is losing faith in our country’s abilities to keep up with the other developed nations.

Nonetheless, it is believed that she would have represented America well.

One response that I thoroughly enjoyed was, “She is ‘typical’, but the US needed Donald Trump – he is a comical figure, but if Hillary was president, very little good would have resulted, [and this way we can start with a clean slate in 4 years].”

People admit that there may be setbacks, but that at least we aren’t dragging our feet, we will just come out at the end of his term, ready to start fresh.

Some other quotes I noted which did a better than average job explaining the disagreement that took place are:

“Hillary is viewed as a better person in Germany than in America, we viewed her as the better option.”

I do not trust her with such a deep entanglement especially with unlawful interests of her own.”

“With the early internal dismantling of Bernie Sanders, the Democrats have, unfortunately, largely attributed themselves to this electoral defeat.”

Germany is also facing an election this coming fall, but how does the rest of the world play a role in how this will play out?

It’ll be hard for Angela Merkel to be reelected a 4th time, but there is no influence coming from the American political standing. Citizens are hoping the Germans will make more intelligent and informed choices than people who voted in the US. Most Germans are not happy with Trump and they are very scared of how far Mr. Trump will go. So I think that those parties who take a firm stand against his extreme ideas might be the winner of the German election in autumn.

France and Belgium would have influenced it, so it’s good their election went well.

Freedom of Satire

Advertisment shown in the Swiss airport.

The ad featuring Donald Trump at the right was sent to me by a friend who spotted it in the Swiss airport.

(It says: “Read Look at the News Differently”)

This form of advertisement, criticizing and making fun of world leaders, would be frowned upon in the United States. In Germany though, this is completely normal. Satire on television and other media is not hidden from viewership. Regarding things like this, people stated that though it is normal and no one really cares, the level of hostility varies from the level of education and which political party one is affiliated with; and those with extremist views will speak out much louder. In their opinion, political leaders have to be able to deal with “criticisms” because they are common especially through the freedom of speech and press. An example of this is Germany’s Satire Magazine. Ads are very broadly published, so these are much less critical than television shows or magazines that have harshly found fault with leaders. Interviewees also stated that if the ad was of Angela Merkel, it wouldn’t really bother anyone. One interviewee specifically noted that “maybe because of our history, the freedom of opinion is highly appreciated. Of course, there is a border between satire and defamation. But the example shown here surely would be seen as satire.”


The dangers of a narrow media can sway us all and cause us to get into heated arguments over things we may not have all the information on. It is important to always remain positive and do research before lashing out on Facebook or attacking others through the internet. There are daily situations where one news channel may represent information one way, and another may represent it completely differently, in order to favor the way it is portrayed on their network.

Maybe the information I presented to you from those looking onto our country from an outside point of view allows you to step back and do so as well. It is often a good idea to try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and try to understand what they see.

It is important that no matter what beliefs may surround us, we always remain optimistic and we refrain from getting angry at people for having their own opinions.

Now go into the world, choose your news channels wisely, and remember to always gather all information before typing out your next Facebook post.

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Nadine Schuster

I am a Junior at Virginia Tech, majoring in Neuroscience and Psychology, and minoring in Spanish. I am a banjo connoisseur and I love dogs.

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