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Trump’s Victory: An Omen for the German Elections in 2017?

By Stina Koster, German Language Assistant

When I was asked to write an article about the reaction in Germany to the election of the new President of the United States of America, I definitely had problems with starting to write it.

Where was I supposed to start? I remember talking to friends before I left Germany to spend two semesters as the German language assistant here at Willamette. Some were curious about the election and discussed it with me. One said, “Ha, Stina, I know how it’s going to end. It’s going to be Clinton of course. It’s going to be a close decision, but still…” And I felt the same. Obviously, these are only two German opinions and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the majority of the German people.

Before I continue with my account of some German reactions towards the 2016 U.S. election, I would like to emphasize that I will not go into detail about political developments and how they might be affected by the U.S. election, or a summary of the reaction in Germany. Instead, I will try to give you only a small insight into how the election was perceived in Germany by some people (friends and politicians as they were portrayed in the media). However, since I am far away from home and certainly missing out on some discussions about the elections and its consequences, I do not take it upon myself to be able to give a conclusive assessment of German opinions.

Having said that, fast forward – I am in the U.S., it is the day before the election, and I am reading my German regional newspaper (Nord-West Zeitung). The Germans (or at least the authors of the newspaper) are confident (also based on American projections of the outcome of the election) that Hillary Clinton is going to win… However, the next day proved us all wrong. I clearly remember how I simply felt stunned. It just didn’t feel real, if you know what I mean… Following that, I was surprised and very impressed how the Willamette students reacted to this election: protesting, supporting each other, engaging in political discussions. They – you! – showed me that people do care about politics. Although the election outcome is based on a democratic decision, it does not mean that you cannot raise your voice anymore – you should still express your own opinion and concerns! And that’s exactly what you did! During these days, I received more and more texts from my German friends and family, talking with me about the election and asking me about the American reaction. My subjective opinion and that of my friends can only be described as incredulity.

Regarding the statements from various politicians, I got the impression that they also were very surprised. Depending on their political position, they expressed themselves in different ways. The German Minister of Defense, Ursula von der Leyen, described Trump’s election victory as “schweren Schock” (a deep shock).1 The former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who had previously characterized Trump as “Hassprediger” (preacher of hate) during the election campaign, expressed his hope that “we are not facing greater instability in international politics. During his campaign, Trump was critical not just of Europe, but also of Germany.”1 Considering that the new U.S. President characterized the actions of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, in the refugee crisis as “insane,” “ruining Germany,” and leading to a “disaster” in Germany, (“Crime has risen to levels that no one thought would they ever see.”2 Ähhh  – no?!) it is no wonder how reservedly she delivered her congratulations on the victory on November 9, 2016:

“Deutschland und Amerika sind durch Werte verbunden: Demokratie, Freiheit, Respekt vor dem Recht und der Würde des Menschen, unabhängig von Herkunft, Hautfarbe, Religion, Geschlecht, sexueller Orientierung oder politischer Einstellung. Auf der Basis dieser Werte biete ich dem künftigen Präsidenten der Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika, Donald Trump, eine enge Zusammenarbeit an.”3

Keeping in mind how he treated women, minorities, Mexicans, Muslims, etc. during his election campaign, Angela Merkel obviously felt it necessary to remind him of shared values, stressing the importance of the dignity of each individual.

Whereas some politicians only indirectly expressed their unhappiness with the election outcome or their criticism of Trump’s behavior – especially those who are currently part of the government – others did not refrain themselves from stating exactly what they think. For example, the chancellor candidate of the SPD (Social Democrats), Martin Schulz, said in an interview on February 1, 2017 with regard to President Trump’s newest policies that “what Trump is doing is un-American” as the United States stand for democracy, enlightenment and freedom.4 Only one party – as far as I can tell – is happy about the outcome of the U.S. election: The AfD (Alternative für Deutschland = Alternative for Germany). The AfD is a right-wing populist and Eurosceptic political party which favors an anti-immigration policy, is against same-sex marriage, for the dissolution of the Eurozone, and insists in its manifesto that Islam is not part of Germany. The leaders of the AfD5 see parallels between Trump’s victory over the establishment which neglected the problems of the American people and the AfD’s struggle against the well-established German parties, especially the CDU and SPD which have been part of the German government since 2005. This is one of the reasons why the US election is widely discussed in Germany – as it can be seen as a warning in view of the German federal elections on September 24, 2017.

However, the German election system is fairly different from the US system. Since we have a multi-party system, votes which are not cast on the main two parties will not be wasted. Smaller parties still have the opportunity to be part of the legislature or even the executive. To explain it very shortly:

The legislative power of the Federal Republic of Germany is vested in the Bundestag (parliament) and the Bundesrat (the representative body of the German federal states). The members of the parliament will be elected this fall. To get a seat in the parliament, a party must receive either 5% of the national vote or win at least three directly elected seats (the so-called 5%-Hürde). Although we have a President (just newly elected: Frank-Walter Steinmeier) who represents the Federal Republic of Germany, the President is not an executive post. The chief executive body of Germany is the German Cabinet (Bundeskabinett / Bundesregierung) which consists of the chancellor (currently Angela Merkel) and the cabinet ministers. The strongest party (the one with most seats in the parliament) forms a coalition with one or two other parties, so that together they would have at least 50% of the seats. The strongest party then usually designates their chancellor candidate as chancellor, and members of the coalition are appointed as cabinet ministers. Right now, the CDU (Christian Democratic Union), the CSU (Christian Social Union of Bavaria), and the SPD (Social Democrats) constitute the cabinet. Angela Merkel from the CDU is the chancellor. The only two opposition parties in the German parliament are Die Linke and Bündnis ‘90/Die Grünen. Recent polls suggest that the AfD will receive more than 5% of the national vote this fall, resulting in them being members of the parliament. However, they won’t be the strongest party and, therefore, will not become part of the German cabinet (unless the strongest party decides to form a coalition with them, which they won’t). But considering how surprised everyone was by the results of the U.S. election or the Brexit vote in Great Britain, it still remains interesting…

To sum up, my overall impression of the reaction in Germany to the results of the 2016 U.S. election is that most Germans were surprised and many Germans are not happy with it. Of course, as we are all individuals and everyone has their own opinions (which is great in a democratic society!), I assume that there are also some Germans who are happy about the triumph over the establishment and are hoping for similar results (for the AfD) in the German elections this fall.

Considering the newest developments, one can see that German media is highly interested in the US policies – politicians state their opinions (see for example Martin Schulz’ reaction on Trump, although he might also use it to distinguish himself from populist parties during his own electoral campaign, or Angela Merkel’s telephone conversation with President Trump “explaining” to him the obligations of Geneva refugee convention6), celebrities protest against the Muslim Ban, and Facebook statements are shared thousands of times. Trump is a recurring topic which many are interested in.

To end with, I want to show you a satirical work dealing with Trump being the new President of the United States. Many of you might have seen the video made by a comedian from the Netherlands. Now, satirists and comedians from many other countries are imitating this video and creating their own “Messages to the President of America”. The following link will lead you to “America first, Germany second.” But bear in mind, it is made by a German satirist who was greatly criticized last year because his satire was discussed as being an insult to the Turkish President. So, please do not take offence, it is meant to be funny and maybe thought-provoking…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcH9eWBs9fw (starting at 1:50).



1 Cgh (2016). Europe Reacts to Trump `The World Is Crumbling in Front of Our Eyes`. SPIEGEL ONLINE. Date: Nov 09, 2016. URL: http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/european-leaders-and-politicians-react-to-trump-victory-a-1120478.html [Last Access: Feb 06, 2017].

2 Miller, Z. J. (2016). Donald Trump Called Germany’s Angela Merkel ‘The Greatest’ Last Year. TIME. Date: Aug 15, 2016. URL: http://time.com/4453084/donald-trump-angela-merkel-germany-immigration/ [Last Access: Feb 06, 2017].

3 Translation: “Germany and America are bound by values – democracy, freedom, as well as respect for the rule of law and the dignity of the individual, regardless of their origin, skin color, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or political views. On the basis of these values, I offer close cooperation to the future President of the United States of America, Donald Trump.”

Written Statement:

Presse- und Informationsamt der Bundesregierung (2016). Pressestatement von Bundeskanzlerin Merkel zum Ausgang der US-Präsidentschaftswahl am 9. November 2016. URL: https://www.bundesregierung.de/Content/DE/Mitschrift/Pressekonferenzen/2016/11/2016-11-09-statement-merkel-us-wahlen.html /  [Last Access: Feb 06, 2017].

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpXWTQ64l8k

4 Nienaber, M. (2017). Germany’s Martin Schulz calls Trump ‘un-American’ and warns against lifting Russia sanctions. Independent. Date: Feb 1, 2017. URL: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/germanys-martin-schulz-calls-trump-un-american-and-warns-against-lifting-russia-sanctions-a7556631.html [Last Access: Feb 06, 2017].

5 See also: Article about the AfD

Schwartz, Y. (2016). Germany’s Far Right Rises Again. Politico Magazine. Date: Dec 21, 2016. URL: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/12/germanys-far-right-rises-again-214543 [Last Access: Feb 06, 2017].

6 Khan, S. (2017). Angela Merkel ‘explains’ to Donald Trump the obligations of Geneva refugee convention after his immigration ban. Independent. Date: Jan 30, 2017. URL: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/anglea-merkel-explains-donald-trump-geneva-refugee-convention-obligations-muslim-immigration-ban-us-a7552506.html [Last Access: Feb 06, 2017].

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