From the Other Side Looking In

Over 30+ years I’ve spent time in Europe connecting with people in German towns and cities that see my family as part of their land. In spite of the complexities in German-Jewish-American relationships with Europe, our interactions generally produce a sense of global kinship.  Discussions of global issues always ensue, beginning with perspectives on American presidents and humanitarian relationships. We are with Germans who prefer conservative principles and liberal principles, and we enjoy discussing the views of both sides. However, the discussion this July about global interests was predictably different and unsettling.  

One disturbing perception coming from Russian influence on the outcome of America’s presidential election is the world is corrupted by greed and personal privilege. Why do Americans think they are different? Russians have been buying people and influence throughout Europe since the end of the Cold War. The prize for Russia could be natural resource pipelines or the disruption of democracies. However, it is democracy which represents the greatest threat to centralized authority and undermines those who possess it. Autocracy in its many forms means centralized control and concentration of wealth, something the European continent understands well over centuries of battles over centralized authority.

I was shocked to hear someone say the greatest threats to democracy are in Turkey and the United States.  Just to be named in the same sentence was offensive to me. Pres. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in his suppression of opposing views, has taken over the press, imprisoned people without judicial justice and redefined the court’s authority. It is of grave concern to Germany where so many Turkish-Germans are divided in their support of the Turkish President who led Turkey to prosperity, but whose desire to centralize rather than democratize is destroying its progress.  He was denied permission to speak in Germany where he sought to address multi-nationals.  Is this the peril that our peers envision for the United States, where our President is not invited to share his views and is not trusted?

Is America’s nationalism empowering anti-humanitarian movements across the world?  We heard concerns for fragile democracies in Bosnia, Poland, Hungary, Ukraine and Turkey, where wealth is concentrated and people are intolerant of different cultures. Are we in our national insecurity ignoring racial and religious prejudice and persecution across the world?  Given our nation’s history, how could we?  

Finally, it seems that many democratic countries are divided in their political preferences. The USA steers a direction on the path of global influence.  When unused, there is drift, where there is drift, there is inhumanity. Do we share concerns for our planet’s environment and, if we don’t, does our indifference extend to the welfare of humankind?  Indifference on either has terrifying consequences. This question was addressed by a window sign in a small European city, next to the home where Otto Schindler resided after WW II, shown below.

America’s position in the world is judged harshly sometimes, but sometimes we make it easier for those abroad to be critical of our arrogance and our goals. And right now, people in other countries are finding it easy to be critical rather than supportive of our nation’s goals.