In School in Germany: Is President Obama too American?

Frage für das Forum:  Is President Barack Obama too American or too International?

Two years left until he finishes his second and final term as President of the United States and soon, we will be looking at the legacy of President Barack Obama. Once loved by many Americans and Europeans alike because he was a symbol of hope in the midst of the second worst economic crisis in the history of the US, he is now a target of criticism from the same people who voted him into office.

Here’s a latest example which will provide room for discussion at home over the Fourth of July weekend and latest when social studies teachers talk about his legacy in the classroom:

During the final exam at the Gymnasium where I’m doing my practical training, also known as the Abitur Exam, as it is the key exam needed for entrance to college, one of the students took part in the oral portion of the exam (consisting of both written and oral parts) in the subject of English, and was asked about how she thought of Barack Obama and his presidency. After mentioning the positive aspects, such as health care, employment programs and stricter environmental policies, the negative aspect she pointed out was the fact that Obama was too “American” because of his support of the NSA activities- Spygate- which has damaged relations between the country and Europe.

Too American?  And on the US side, he is considered too much of a socialists, something that is common even on the international scale, if we look at some of the countries that have socialist-like governments, like France, Greece, etc.

In the past five years, President Obama has tried to bring the US and Europe closer together, which includes trade policies, adopting health care and environmental policies, and the like. This has made many Americans feel that he is too international and demand that the US return to the policy of Exceptionalism- every man for himself, no matter the circumstances. Yet from the European perspective, American is trying to exert its influence on the European front, which goes beyond the NSA-Spygate scandal. One of the hottest issues at the moment is the American’s attempts of importing genetically modified foods, which is banned by the EU and rejected by Europeans who have been used to eating organic foods. In other words, the Europeans do not mind what America does as long as they are not forced to do what they want them to do.

This leads to the question worth considering and even talking about: Is President Obama a true American or an Internationalist? Or even better if one wants to criticize his policies and the effects on US-European relations: Is Obama too American or too European, and what are your reasons? Speaking from an expatriate’s point of view, there are enough arguments supporting both criticisms although Obama should keep focusing on the policies at home, as they are still in need of being addressed. This includes the policies involving education, environment, food, and even health care, for the policies passed so far still need some improvement.

But seriously, if you want to judge his legacy and criticize him, which side would you take? Is he too American or too European? Maybe he is just a one-man show? What do you think?  Think about this and consider this question for your next meeting or even social studies class. You’ll be amazed at the different opinions you’ll get.

The Flensburg Files and sister column The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles would like to wish the Americans both at home and abroad a Happy Fourth of July. Enjoy the fireworks and the celebrations honoring the declaration of independence and the creation of a new nation, which took 13 years of blood, toil and tears to make.

History provides its own lessons

When was the last time you read a history book, or an article pertaining to a certain aspect of history? What was subject and what lessons did you learn from reading it?  As many of you have read so far or have known for many years, I’m a history junkie. I love devouring anything that has to do with history, whether it has to do with bridge building, Caesar going to war against the Belger, the Great Depression, the Cold War and McCarthyism, or even Europe during and after the Revolution of 1989-90. It makes a person become more aware of how his home country ended up being what it is today, understand how processes worked or have worked over the course of time, and lastly understand more about himself and his place in the world and how he can change it to benefit others.

History provides its own lessons in life, teaching us how we should act towards our neighbors and ourselves, how we should speak up when something goes wrong, and how society changes with a snapshot of a camera.  Yet, when we take a look at certain events, like the NSA Spy Scandal and how it has turned US-European relations into Antarctica, we believe that it is normal to spy on the livelihoods of others, just so we can track down a handful of people who are threats to our way of life. Many of us take history for granted and abuse it by claiming that we have done this sort of work for years. Yet history claims otherwise, when we look at how our actions have affected the lives of others in a negative sense. McCarthyism in the 1950s tried to contain Communism but caused the public to fear for their lives because “Big Brother was watching you.” The end result of the Communist scare was the lives of tens of thousands of people being ruined. The PRISM program, revealing its ugly head with Edward Snowden who revealed its real purpose, has the recipe of McCarthyism, tracking the correspondance of people within the US and between the US and other countries without the consent of others. While Snowden is being pursued by the US to be extradicted back home to stand trial, it does reveal a system that has gone against the course of history and should either be on a leash or dismantled. After all, countries like Germany have become distrustful over the actions of the US, and even the majority of Americans, some whose relatives were victims of McCarthyism, believe that privacy is the most important aspect in life that should be cherished and respected. If we look in our history books, we can find that the country is in its best shape when it is not as paranoid as the US has been since 2001, prospers without taking advantage of the data of others, and as Ronald Reagan put it during his presidency in the 1980s, it does not interfere in the lives of others. Perhaps we should look back in time and see what things we have done in the past, compare them with what we are doing right now, and ask ourselves whether our actions in the present are appropriate or whether we should change them, especially for the benefit of others in the future. After all, if we say that such actions are normal, more than likely it is judged otherwise; this despite the fact that we have become closer than ever before with 2.0 technology, which we’re trying to be acquainted with.

Keeping this in mind, we should judge not what is claimed only by the government, media and other external sources (groups and certain people), but by what is read in the history books. While some facts in history may be gruelsome and hard to handle, when digested, we can think about the themes even further (even talking about it) and find other ways to improve our surroundings and educate the next generation. You do not have to be good at history. You just need to be more informative. And researching a topic or news event (and their history) further will do more than make you smarter. It will open the door to the future for you to understand and grasp. So let’s hit the history books and learn something today, shall we?