Germany Is Becoming More Skeptical of the US

Donald Trump is even more unpopular in Germany than in Russia, an American study has concluded. Only 13% of Germans have a positive opinion of him, compared to 20% of Russians and the French, 32% of British respondents, 51% of Poles, and 71% of Israelis. In Trump’s camp, these results will again increase mistrust of Germans. But they can also be interpreted as a sign of political maturity, one that opposes nationalism and chauvinism.

Favorable Curiosity about the US Is Vanishing under Trump

Even more interesting than the numbers about Trump are the numbers about one’s trust in the United States. It may still be much higher than trust in the current president, but the numbers are not exactly sky high, except in regions like Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Israel (where 83% of people trust the U.S.), and parts of Eastern Europe. In Germany, ratings have again sunk dramatically to the levels that existed under George W. Bush, after eight relatively positive years under Barack Obama.

Currently, 39% of Germans still have a positive image of the U.S., clearly more than the Russians (29%), even if Germany is polling at least 10% less than in neighboring Western European countries. This means that in Europe, the Germans have become particularly skeptical of the U.S. as well as rejecting Trump, similar to many people in Latin America. This is more than a snapshot. Something has changed. Favorable curiosity about the U.S. is vanishing; the distance is growing.

Germans Have No Regard for a Militarily Oriented Mindset

There are two obvious reasons. On one hand, in eastern Germany, there is not nearly the same level of the kind of personal experience and human connection that shaped relations between the two countries for decades in the West. With the Allies’ withdrawal after 1989, there the two sides broke off their attention to each other — or maybe it was just never there to begin with. There was not much more interest from the official American side, either. But there can be no sense of cultural commonality, the basis of longstanding trust, without continuous interaction.

On the other hand, the emotional distance can be attributed to the fact that due to its own history, Germany has become the European power that most resolutely supports collective, multilateral policies and their institutions, and has little to no regard for a militarily oriented mindset. In addition, affectations of greatness and growing self-involvement are no more appealing in Americans than they are among the Russians or Chinese.

Germans Love To Travel But Are Provincial

The German contradiction arises from the fact that the basic position in favor of international cooperation is reflected far too little in daily political activity. The public, too, remains fixated on Germany. Its people travel the world like no other nationality, but many of their debates have actually become more provincial. What is lacking is the continuous outward orientation to receive ideas and understand international issues as the broader framework of one’s own.

From this perspective, distrust of everyone who moves through the world ignorantly and recklessly is not progress in and of itself. Crisis diplomacy of the type that is now needed in the Middle East yet again is no sign of improvement. Just as modern societies need to be open with themselves, they must also develop an outward orientation and a willingness to integrate, including an ability to change.

A living anti-Trumpism is a way to describe what Germany lacks. Don’t just turn up your nose and look away. Take a resolutely international perspective, see the world as a common cultural area for precisely that reason, and value critical engagement, particularly trans-Atlantic engagement, despite — no, because of, people like Trump.

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