William Collins Donahue is Professor of the Humanities at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. There he leads the initiative for a global Europe at the Keough School of Global Affairs .
If these were normal times, I would direct these lines from Germany to an American audience. But the tide has turned. I just had to cancel my annual “Berlin Seminar”, in which I familiarize American German with the country’s literary institutions.
At the beginning of the month, when awareness of the coronavirus was still low, I started my trip to my university, the University of Notre Dame, in Indiana.
With the exception of a number of questions at the airport and some advice on aircraft hygiene, the norm was normal. Many places in the states are now almost completely sealed off, and Germany has also adopted strict exit restrictions.
I have to admit that I’m a little jealous of the Germans. Last week Chancellor Angela Merkel turned to the nation and announced with determined calm and exemplary brevity how the German government is fighting the corona virus will record.
Justin Davidson aptly commented on the television address in “New York Magazine”: “Leader of the Free World Gives a Speech, and She Nails It” (Leader of the Free World delivers a speech and Hits the nail on the head). “She did,” he wrote, “what a leader should do,” “without accusations, bragging rights, safeguards, veiling, dubious claims, or apocalyptic metaphors.”
“We are a democracy”, Merkel reminded the audience. “We do not live from coercion, but from shared knowledge and participation. This is an historical task and can only be accomplished together. ”
Then came the memorable words:“ I am absolutely certain that we will overcome this crisis. But how high will the victims be? How many loved ones are we going to lose? ”Looking directly at the camera, she explained:“ We have a lot of it in our own hands. ”
It would be too cheap, once again to state that Merkel is everything Trump is not. The President’s daily laundering and fuss at lengthy press conferences, his pathetic attempt to portray himself as a leader in times of war, offer an all too easy goal.
And that, although you can forgive such a leader a lot, also a lack of serenity and eloquence – which may explain the increased approval of Trump, which grew from 43 to 55 percent over the course of a week.
Merkel’s moral appeal to the Germans would have been nothing more than a nice speech if there were no other signs in Germany that democracy and cohesion are important.
No time for divisions
Because this time of danger and fear has not led to scapegoats in Germany and exacerbating existing divisions, but to strengthening democracy.
The Federal Ministry of the Interior had the notorious movement of the “Reichsbürger” dissolved only this week. On Thursday morning, the homes of 21 of their leaders were searched in 10 of 16 federal states.
Although Minister of the Interior Horst Seehofer had long flirted with an ideology of plaice out of fear of losing votes to the AfD, he now resisted the temptation to use the pandemic for political purposes. Instead, he opted for a course against racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.
Although progressive Germans tend to see this as the least you can expect from a minister, Seehofer’s policies are remarkable, if only because of the way they are differs from its American counterpart.
New occasion for an old campaign
Last Friday, President Trump used the announcement to close the Mexican border as an opportunity to advance his xenophobic and anti-immigration campaign.
This is not to deny that the border closure can also be justified in terms of health policy, as the renowned immunologist Tony Fauci later explained at the same press conference. But Trump’s rhetoric reveals the will to exploit the current crisis for purposes that go far beyond the circumstances.
Before the crisis, the President said: “Every week our officials face thousands of unnoticed, untested and unauthorized border crossings from dozens of countries. And we’ve had this problem for decades. For decades. ”
Allusions, unmistakably formulated
His followers recognized it straight away the old lyre of the infected and criminal immigrants and refugees; but he didn’t want to take any chances and made it clear what other people might have misunderstood. “Even in normal times,” he claimed, “these massive currents are an enormous burden on our health care system.”
The fact is that there is not a single piece of evidence to support this claim . But given the focus on the current pandemic and the gloomy forecast for the near future, many commentators have overlooked this repeating rhetoric against immigrants.
But recognizing the obvious racism with which President Trump speaks of a “Chinese virus” should not blind us to the youngest Presidents’ vulgarity against the Mexicans and against all those who try to get to the USA via Mexico
For Trump, immigration is a pandemic in itself, and he seems almost pleased to be able to use his instruments against this old specter: “But now we can – considering the national emergencies and all the other things we have actually announced that we are doing something about it. We take tough measures. And we’ve done that before, but now we’re at a level no one has dared to. ”
Far from putting old disputes to rest to Focusing on the challenges ahead, this would-be war president takes advantage of the situation to advance his agenda. Behind his attempt to cope with the pandemic, his familiar “We Build The Wall” attitude shimmers through.
Soothing news from Germany
The news from Germany, on the other hand, is reassuring despite well-founded concerns about the dissolution of united Europe because of the border closings.
At a time when fears are being exploited to fuel the fire of xenophobia, Germany offers not only words of comfort from the mouth of an eloquent chancellor, but also energetic measures, which give their call to solidarity and democracy the appropriate meaning.
So far, was the term “leading culture” impregnated by cultural auspices and aimed at immigrants. Perhaps it can now be used again to describe leadership more positively, namely as the control of a democracy through times of crisis.
Who would have thought that 75 years after the end of World War II, Germany would teach the United States about democracy?
From the American English by Gregor Dotzauer