Opinion

Those ‘simple’ Americans

John Rosenthal Contributor

During the decade of the naughts and the two administrations of George W. Bush, Europe was seized by a veritable paroxysm of anti-Americanism. More precisely, this was the case for the “old” European core of Germany and France, as well as the neighboring countries most influenced by the latter. Back in the day, several “euro-blogs” documented the phenomenon on a nearly daily basis. These included Davids Medienkritik, focusing on Germany, No Pasarán, focusing on France, and my own Transatlantic Intelligencer. In the meanwhile, since the election of Barack Obama, the subject of European anti-Americanism is rarely touched upon even in new media and one could well have imagined that the phenomenon itself had simply disappeared.

But as the reactions of leading French and German newspapers to the Tea Party and the prospect of large Republican gains in the upcoming congressional elections make clear, “old” Europe’s anti-American impulse never in fact went away. At most, it merely went into a latent state, awaiting the proper conditions to become virulent again.

Consider, for instance, the sub-head of a recent article in the German daily Die Welt on Christine O’Donnell as the supposed “nightmare opponent” [Angstgegenerin] of the Democrats: “Christine O’Donnell is even simpler than Sarah Palin — but the Democrats are afraid of her.” When applied to persons, as it is in this context, the German adjective simpel carries a strong whiff of “simpleton.”

Lest it be imagined that the crack is reserved for just O’Donnell and Palin and might somehow be construed as sparing their supporters and/or Americans more generally, the front page features a distinctly unflattering photo of a seemingly unhinged and cockeyed O’Donnell, accompanied — with a wink and a nudge — by the headline: “An entirely normal American.” (In an allusion to O’Donnell’s now famous “I’m You” ad, the teaser-text states that this is what O’Donnell claims to be. But it then quickly adds that “ordinary people [literally, ‘people in the street’]” are indeed enthusiastic about her, thus lending credence to the claim.)

Above is the October 18 front page of Die Welt, one of Germany’s leading newspapers. It should be noted that of all Germany’s major dailies, Die Welt is probably the least prone to anti-American excesses.

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John Rosenthal writes on European politics and transatlantic relations. His work has appeared in such publications as Policy Review, The Weekly Standard, and the Wall Street Journal, as well as numerous new media venues.