AMERICA IN DECLINE
By Jody K. Biehl
[Amid lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, torture in Abu Ghraib and a gigantic budget deficit, Spiegel-Online editor Jody K. Biehl cannot excuse her compatriots for electing George W. Bush as president. This personal accounting of the native Californian with her homeland originally published "Warum ich nicht nach Hause gehen kann" in Spiegel Online, November 4, 2004 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/0,1518,326609,00.html. Jody K. Biehl is an editor of the international Spiegel edition. The native Californian from Los Angeles studied journalism and literature in New York and Paris. She has lived and worked in Berlin since July 2000.]
Berlin - I feel miserable. I want the calvery to come and chase out this hypocrite. I wish the bit players or extras in this bad film would simply vanish from the stage.
Unfortunately I am not in a B-movie. George W. Bush was reelected. For me this means that I cannot go home in the next four years. Whether good or bad, I remain as a foreigner in Germany. My reason is simple: If there is enough support for a person like Bush, I simply do not belong in the states anymore. I do not fit any more in my fickle home state California where stem cells can be researched while the terminator governs. After four years in Germany, American has become alien to me.
In my new chosen home, gay marriage is legal, the Greens are one of the most important political forces and discussions turn on whether religion should have less and not more influence in the schools. Post-war Germany is an established pacifist state. Germany supports developing states and does not go to war against them.
Naturally I am not completely content in Germany. For me Germany will always be a country where secrets are too frequently hidden instead of becoming public and readiness to help is not self-evident. It is a place where the peculiaritie4s and order-mania of people often get on my nerves and frustrate me. However it is also a land that doggedly opposes nationalism so that American flags are seen more often than German flags.
That I fit better here than at home alarms me. Home was always the pole from which I took my journey and always wanted to return. However this goal is now lost to me. America is no longer what it was. The underdog has turned into the world's greatest tyrant.
I cannot blame the outdated election system for the election outcome or claim that Bush stole the victory. This time he wrote history. He received more votes than any president before him and is the first son of a president to be reelected.
The greatest problem that I have with America is not Bush in himself. Rather it is that the people no longer seem to care what their political leader tells them or how many falsehoods are spread. Bush was not prosecuted for leading the country into a needless war. No one was voted out of office for exaggerating the threats of weapons of mass destruction. Only a few soldiers with low service rank were sent to jail for their abominable behavior in Abu Ghraib. Not one of Bush's close friends had to pay a price that the government up to today cannot assure security and stability.
Americans appear to diligently ignore what their leaders actually do. Bush completely ignores Europe and Nato and resolves to trample on the international stage instead of moving with style on that stage. In domestic policy he has managed to turn a budget surplus into a gigantic deficit. More than a thousand young soldiers are not dead because the invasion of Iraq was poorly prepared. More and more soldiers are sent into the occupied land to win a war that cannot be won.
It seems that only what Americans want these days should be feared. They suck up fear like mother's milk, cling to religion and seek refuge in superstition. They want to hear that Osama Bin Laden lurks in the bushes to suddenly attack them, that Iran will be the next Iraq and that gay marriage is a sin.
"They" are not foreigners. Many are my friends and my relatives. I remember how I sat in a backyard in Los Angeles with a relative in May 2003 and heard him say that Saddam was a "bad man" who had to be deposed. "My son is in danger", he said and pointed to his little boy playing in the grass. "These types can strike at any time." Then he showed me his garage that could easily earn him a medal from the Homeland Security director Tom Ridge. Plastic tools, insulating tape, enough food and water for a week, three intense flashlights and a portable radio are stored there.
Bush's administration - and the American media - have fattened this fear like a turkey on Thanksgiving. Something like this does not happen in Europe even though Europe was also stricken by terrorist bomb attacks and kidnappings.
On Wednesday I watched how Bush's troop took the stage. My heart misfired. These people, these fear-mongerers who will lead the world in the next four years, are as simple-minded as ever. They will rule over the world as in a little comic book, Bush, the blustering bandit, his wife Laura, the bashful librarian and good Christian woman and the sinister rogue Dick Cheney. The land for which they stand is an imaginary land from the Puritan past. It is a land in which fear and salvation devour one another and the borders between state and religion are blurred.
Certainly we will experience more religion with Bush II. Ultimately Christian fundamentalists and their struggle for "moral values" helped Bush to a second term in office. Now since he no longer has to worry about his reelection, he will get out all that he had long held back. Does that mean that the right to abortion will be scaled back? I hope not. The mere fact that he puts it up for discussion gives me shudders.
There is the little chance that Bush will orient himself in Ronald Reagan and try in his second term to unite the country and heal its wounds. I doubt this. Still the world would distrustfully look upon his attempt. His gestures may be harmless but they are effective like Iraq is Bush's mess that he must clean up. How he will do this is still his secret.
At the end this election reunites me with my compatriots. Like them, I am completely frightened. Europe will remain my home as long as this fear persists.