No president of the United States has been as popular here than Barack Obama. At the same time, however, the United States and its society are despised by us as never before. How is that compatible?
Perhaps we should begin by explaining who Pollyanna is. It concerns the heroine of an old children’s book by Eleanor H. Porter (publication date 1913), an orphan known to everyone in America. Pollyanna tries to give everything that happens to her a positive twist. She calls this “The Glad Game.” When her strict aunt locks her in the attic as a punishment, she is happy about the wonderful view that one has from up there.
We can now sense that when President Obama gives his State of the Union speech this coming Tuesday it will be a big day for Pollyanna. There is no thought that America is nearly broke, no thought of the fiscal cliff over which the ship of government nearly fell. The president will act dignified, yet at the same time beam with joy.
After all, this is an historic moment. A black man has just been elected to the highest office of the American republic for the second time in history – with the overwhelming majority of white votes, too. This after decades of slavery and the disgraceful apartheid laws of the Southern States with their hidden and open racism.
An Appeal to American Values
The actual message is that this is no longer news in America. There is an angry joke by Malcolm X, the militant black nationalist in the 60s: “What do you call a black man with a Ph.D.?” Malcolm X’s answer was “Nigger.”
That is to say, whatever you do, no matter how hard you try, it will never be enough for the white racists. For them you will always be subhuman. This joke has lost its sting. Its current version goes: “What do you call a black man with a Ph.D.?” The answer: “Mr. President.”
Probably Obama’s State of the Nation address will be an appeal to American values and virtues, a blazing affirmation of social justice and world peace and climate change could also be present. Our inner Pollyanna will jump for joy. Who would not want to profess all of these beautiful and good things?
Well on the Way to Becoming a Pop Star
However, one question poses itself for which our Pollyanna has no answer: Will the president repeat the mistakes from the beginning of his first term of office, when he brusquely pressed down the conservatives? He cannot govern without these people. He must win them, not rebuff them. Also will Obama promise economic solutions that prove at first sight to be unaffordable when one does the math?
The most recent polls in Germany arrive at an astonishing result: Barack Obama is the most popular president here of all times – even more popular that John F. Kennedy, who in his time, was viewed favorably by 87 percent of Germans.
He is well on the way to becoming a pop star. Obama’s face may possibly soon replace that of mass murderer Che Guevara on the t-shirts worn by young people. That would certainly be pleasant. Along with this enthusiasm for Obama, however, the resentment of the U.S. grows.
Why the Resentment?
Here are a few figures: 77 percent of Germans believe that everyday life in America is characterized by crime, 45 percent think there is too much chaos and stress in America, 42 percent consider Americans superficial; on the other hand, only 23 percent of Germans believe that the U.S. is a land with great tradition, only 17 percent believe there are intellectuals in the new world, and only 8 percent believe there is culture there.
Naturally, this is a grotesquely distorted picture when one thinks of the universities, the wonderful American libraries, the substantial museum landscape, the Metropolitan Opera, and the large and small theaters not only in New York.
The question is, however: How does that go together logically – such a soaring admiration for the American president and such an abysmal contempt of America? Have the Germans already forgotten who elected Obama?
Under the West Lies an El Dorado of Black Gold
Do they not know which political system made his ascent as a newcomer possible (an ascent that would have been hardly thinkable in Germany)? Do the good people not listen every time their pop idol says, “God bless the United States of America;” do they pardon him when he asks for God’s blessing on the American armed forces?
The cliché of the imminent or long since concluded downfall of America seems to be especially popular. Those that spread it seem to ignore what America will be in the twenty-first century – a petroleum nation. Under the U.S. Midwest lies an El Dorado of black gold.
By 2017, America will advance to become the largest oil producer in the world; it will be the largest producer of natural gas already in three years. And in the year 2035, the United States will begin to export petroleum.
The Middle East Loses Its Strong Lobby
This means: The Midwest, once considered land best left to buffalo, will experience a population explosion; completely new cities will spring up. The oil and gas industry will provide thousands of new jobs.
Certainly a large part of the money flowing into the country with the black gold will trickle into odd channels – but our inner Pollyanna whispers to us. Perhaps at least half of these riches will be used to build a new infrastructure in the United States; the old one does look pretty shabby.
Perhaps the astronomical national debt will be settled little by little. For foreign policy, the oil riches mean America will be independent from the Middle East. Unsavory client states like Saudi Arabia will no longer have a strong lobby in Washington.
Only Contempt Remains in Germany
The threat of the “Islamic Republic of Iran” to close the Strait of Hormuz will soon appear ridiculous from the American point of view. There is no question about it: the twenty-first century will be an American one, too.
What does that mean for German-American relations? Our inner Pollyanna, of course, only foresees the good. Even the contempt of the younger Germans for America could prove to be a blessing. These people don’t have high expectations that could be disappointed. They are ready for the worst – and that means that America will disappoint them in a pleasant way.
They will travel though the country and discover that there are friendly people, magnificent landscapes and good food there. They will soon learn to admire not only the pop idol Obama, but also many of his countrymen.