To many American journalists covering the 2016 campaign, this presidential election suggests we are in a new, different era. To many European journalists, it suggests they are on a new, different planet.
Take Andreas Ross. He is the North America correspondent for Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, one of the leading national dailies in Germany. Based in Washington, Ross is covering his first U.S. presidential campaign. He has spent most of the past two months trekking across snowy Iowa and New Hampshire, talking to voters and listening to Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and the rest of the candidates.
So, how does any of this differ from German politics, I ask him.
“How does any of this not differ from German politics?” he responds.
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Ross was not a huge fan of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he said, because she’s not outspoken about why she believes what she does. She sees where people are coalescing on an issue and then stakes herself out there, he says.
“Then I come here, I saw how the leading country in the world spends their entire time in the capital city just yelling at each other, not getting anything done, never agreeing to anything, out of principle. Then I started appreciating what I had in my dull chancellor.”
Ross tries to describe Donald Trump to Germans and it doesn’t compute. No one remotely close has run for high office in modern-day Germany. Most big issues are decided in parliament by very large majorities, coalitions made up of different parties.
Officials from different German parties regularly come to the U.S. to see how campaigns work here.
“They come back and say, we can’t do it that way, people would hate us,” Ross says.
“Germans do not want their leading politicians to be stars. They do not want them to behave like they’re sports stars or movie stars. You have to be low-key and wearing a boring suit. You have to not say, ‘I’m the best.’ It’s not a quality people look for. …
“Understatement is much more appreciated. People who brag about themselves are suspicious. As a politician (in Germany), you’re supposed to make the case about issues, and you’re not supposed to tell stories about how your life qualifies you to do something. …
“If Merkel was running (in the U.S.), she could never win more than 2 percent of the vote because she’s so boring.”
One other difference? How engaged Americans are in the campaign. Ross met voters who drove for hours to go to town halls, people who lined up in the cold at 7 a.m. to attend rallies, and volunteers who knocked on doors in 20-degree weather. You wouldn’t see that kind of grassroots involvement in Germany.
“All of that impresses me tremendously,” Ross says. “As much as the Trump phenomenon scares me, he and Sanders are getting people out who usually do not participate.”
There’s one other difference that may send you packing for an extended German vacation in the fall: No attack ads on TV. – Taylor Batten