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die Welt, Germany

A Frightened Superpower


By Ansgar Graw

Translated By Ron Argentati

Edited by Sam Carter


Germany - die Welt - Original Article (German)

9/11, the economic crisis, China: Americans are afraid. For the first time, their pioneer spirit seems to have reached its limits.

Jokes about German Anxiety were popular for many years in the English-speaking world. In past decades, Germans in the old Federal Republic worried about Soviet nuclear weaponry and worried even more about their ally America and the upgrades to their own nuclear arsenal. After that, Germans feared a new ice age, acid rain, dying forests, nuclear energy and the greenhouse effect. “German Angst” was defined in American dictionaries as the German propensity for brooding and insecurity.

But almost unnoticed, the term “Angst” got separated from the modifier “German” some years ago. How the Germans managed the east-west reunification of their nation, their approach to reforming social systems and the deployment of German troops to Afghanistan all contributed to the decline of the German stereotype that, according to the lyric poet Hölderlin, was “all thought but little action.”

“The Chinese want to take over the world.”

Meanwhile, insecurity has spread throughout the United States; it’s an insecurity that just doesn’t befit a 20th century world superpower. Americans are anxious. Not only do they fear terrorists; they’re afraid of Islam and even mosques, whether they’re near ground zero or in the backwoods of Tennessee. They’re afraid of Sharia law, something that a whole two percent of American Muslims would like to see included in the U.S. Constitution. They fear India, free trade and, above all, they’re afraid of China. A salesman at Sears sighs, “This vacuum cleaner is made in China and so is this microwave and even this coffee pot. The Chinese want to take over the world. I hope I’m not around to see that.”

Americans are afraid that the United Nations is interfering in their affairs. They’re afraid that Europe, and especially Germany, exports too much. Americans are afraid of illegal immigrants as well as Wall Street; afraid of big government at the same time they fear the government is too weak to protect them. They fear progress and they fear stagnation. They fear more of Obama and they fear a return of George W. Bush.

America Has Always Suffered Setbacks

With all the despondency apparent in the debate, the United States no longer reminds us of the nation that was victorious in two world wars; a nation that eradicated the Soviet Union with a Cold War; a country that landed men on the moon and paved the way for the Internet and the digital revolution.

The fact that the U.S.’s attempts to export democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan have failed so far were setbacks. But setbacks have been common throughout American history. The Sputnik shock and Yuri Gagarin’s first manned space flight seemed to signal the final triumph of communism over capitalism in the ‘50s and ‘60s. But instead of becoming paralyzed, the United States came back with the Apollo space program. Neither the defeat in Vietnam nor the humiliating Iranian takeover of their embassy in Tehran was enough to send the American people into post-traumatic soul-searching.

Callers Were Asked Whether They Spoke English or Spanish

So what’s different now? Why do Americans, whom Robert Kagan described as being from Mars, now come off whinier than the Europeans, whom he decreed came from Venus? Is it because of the global financial crisis that put an end to the belief in limitless growth? Or is it because of the ongoing diversification of society? People calling government offices or large firms in America get an answering machine that inquires whether they speak English or Spanish.

Many Americans worry, “Where has the real America gone?” And the tea party, which came about as an outgrowth of the conservative longing for easily understood differences, frightens those progressives who feel reforms aren’t coming quickly enough.

“Real Americans” Are a Disappearing Breed

In this patchwork nation, “real Americans” are hard to find. But there is something called an average American whose principal trait is eternal optimism. Even American traditionalists have always been forward rather than backward looking. But these days, many Americans are losing faith in tomorrow due to their country’s economic weakness and the rise of new powerhouses, mainly in Asia. For the first time in history, the American pioneer spirit seems to have hit a brick wall geographically, globally, economically and ideologically.

The United States needs new goals. Americans need to go from being large-scale consumers to being exporters again; they need to create new jobs — in the renewable energy sector, for instance. They need to use their super powers to integrate Hispanics and Muslims into their society. It won’t be an easy task, but mastering “American Angst” is an absolute necessity, not only for the U.S. but for Europe as well.



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