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Anti-Americanism: As German as Apple Strudel

The news came in a recent issue of the Frankfurter Allgemeine (FAZ): “Two years after President Trump's inauguration, the Germans have lost much of their trust in the United States.” Eighty-five percent of respondents in an Atlantik-Brücke survey, reported FAZ, view the U.S. either “negatively” or “very negatively.” Many Germans look more favorably upon Communist China than upon the U.S.; more than half would like Germany to distance itself further from the U.S., with only thirteen percent wanting a closer relationship. Germans aren’t big on NATO, either: Only a quarter of those surveyed think their country should pay its agreed-upon share of the NATO budget. Many support the idea of an EU army. Of all the major political parties, only members of the anti-immigrant AfD are favorably disposed toward America.

None of this is remotely surprising. The recent discovery that Claas Relotius, a star reporter for Germany’s leading newsmagazine, Der Spiegel, had invented more than a dozen negative news stories about America drew renewed attention to the fact that, with or without Relotius onboard, Der Spiegel has long been a poisonously anti-American rag whose cover stories routinely depict America as a cartoon villain. As James Kirchick wrote in a commentary for The Atlantic, “Relotius told them what they wanted -- what they expected -- to hear about America.” The fact that his stories, many of them patently absurd, not only made it past Der Spiegel’s editors and fact-checkers but also didn’t raise readers’ eyebrows “revealed ugliness,” argued Kirchick, “within the publication as well as German society more broadly.” Yep.

But back to FAZ. It was predictable enough that FAZ would link the results of the Atlantik-Brücke poll to the Trump inauguration. But in fact German anti-Americanism has nothing to do with Trump. Of course anti-Americanism exists everywhere in the world, and especially in Europe, whose political and cultural elites viewed the democratic U.S. from the moment of its founding with aristocratic disdain. But contempt for the U.S. has always been especially intense -- and irrational -- in Germany, which has its own distinctive reasons (if that’s the right word) for despising the superpower across the sea.

The first European country I ever visited was Germany, and the most memorable aspect of the whole experience was my exposure -- my first, but far from my last -- to full-blown, raving, borderline-insane America-hatred. It was 1980, and I was in my first year of graduate school, and one of my classmates was a German girl who invited me to spend the Christmas holidays with her in her homeland. It was a busy trip: we drove around much of central Germany, hung out with people she knew in various cities, and crashed with college friends of hers at Heidelberg and Tübingen universities. One after another of these young Germans felt compelled to make it clear to me at once that they despised my country. In fact they couldn’t shut up about it -- whenever I was present, it was pretty much the only topic of conversation. Yes, it was explained to me, Germany had been the bad guy a few decades earlier, but now the U.S. was the bad guy. This, mind you, at a time when their own country was divided in two by the Iron Curtain, and when the only thing keeping their own part of it -- the free part, the prosperous part -- from being overrun by the Red Army was the U.S. military presence in their midst.