Political Differences

A Letter To America

US and German flags_dpa_distort
Cut from different cloths?
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The author argues that the German system of compromise and efficiency trumps the combative U.S. system.

  • Facts


    • Angela Merkel was sworn in as Germany’s first female chancellor in 2005.
    • In 2013, voter turnout for German national elections was 71 percent.
    • German political parties spent €242.6 million ($266.2 million) on election campaigning in 2009; $7 billion was spent on the 2012 U.S. presidential election.
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  • Pdf

Dear Americans,

Right now you’re wishing you had someone like Angela Merkel, a leader who runs our country without any showmanship. She doesn’t play golf, has no private foundation, the only known luxury she allows herself is a summer house in eastern Germany.

But I have to warn you, you’d probably be bored to death.

We are the country of super trade-offs. We’re a bit like our favorite TV crime series “Tatort.” At times without humor, at times without suspense, but unfailingly on air every Sunday evening, 45 years long.

Here in Germany, stability is just more important than complete freedom. I don’t think you guys could take it for too long. In your country, politics is war. Compromises are not part of the plan since you see them as a sign of weakness and a lack of direction.

But what you get as a result is alarming stagnation. No important law is accepted by a majority. And your bridges, roads and train tracks are rotting because no one can agree to how to finance their renewal.

Your bridges, roads and train tracks are rotting because no one can agree to how to finance their renewal.

If something does actually get done, such as the public health insurance that Obama introduced, then its opponents spend most of their time undoing the project.

But you do have better TV shows.

There’s something else you would find strange in Germany. Politically, we Germans are completely lethargic compared to you. The enthusiasm with which you go to war for your candidates or with which you even hold volunteer office, we don’t have that at all.

Over here, the well-oiled political machine chugs along; you don’t have to do anything – and that’s why you don’t think about it too much. In the belly of the machine are our full-time politician-experts who work through their topics one after another, more or less undisturbed.

It’s completely different over where you are. A new president will be elected in 17 months. But already, more than 20 candidates are doing nothing but collecting money and supporters. They have been on tour throughout America for months now, among them senators and governors who actually have another job to do.

And, of course, another thing you’d have to do without in Germany would be politicians like your head of the Senate Environment Committee, James Inhofe. Last winter he brought a snowball into a hearing to prove that there can be no climate change if it’s still so cold at the end of February.

And now you have Donald Trump too.


This article first appeared in the weekly newspaper Die Zeit. To contact the author: redaktion@zeit.de

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