From Hero to Zero: A Brief European View of the United States

Once viewed as a hero and protector of democracy, the reputation of the United States is experiencing a shift in Europe as EU-member states consider how they can emancipate themselves. Trump’s rise to power is not yet compared to Hitler in Germany, but the parallels are obvious. The country of unlimited possibilities is quickly morphing into a country of limitless preposterous posturing.

The room resounded with laughter, accompanied by the clinking of forks and knives. The Network for English-Speaking Women in Freiburg was about to commence its final dinner meeting of the year. Although not a member, I was intrigued by the speaker’s topic on medical care for the refugees in our area. Seated next to a delightful woman who grew up in California, I asked her what she thought about the recent U.S. election results.

The entire table froze. I thought perhaps I had entered a war zone with a single question, but anxiety and sleep deprivation from watching the results tip in Trump’s favor throughout the night, along with my increasingly frayed nerves, clouded my perception. Their silence showed solidarity. One woman at the table smiled.

“I am from New Jersey, but have lived in Europe for over ten years. I am the only one in my family who doesn’t support Trump. I feel miserable.”

Other women from Ireland, Germany and elsewhere chimed in.

“We’re in for a very bumpy ride.”

The consensus was a mixture of emotions: fear, despondence, frustration, disbelief, anger and anxiety.

As a long-time expat living in Germany, I have witnessed America’s reputation in Europe during the 1980s go from hero to zero by the late 1990s. Many post-World War II Germans stood in awe at the greatness of the United States. It was a country viewed as protector, upholder of principles, lighthouse to the world. As the US waged war against Iraq in 1991, I experienced my first confrontation by a disenchanted German who thought the U.S. was a terrible warmonger and an easy target for hatred. The country’s reputation received a bump when the Twin Towers tumbled a decade later. Europe stood united against the pain of the 9/11 aftermath. But every time I would visit my family in the U.S., I could feel a growing unrest there, a swell of anger seething just beneath the surface of things. People in the United States seemed edgier, less trusting, less kind.

Then Obama took office and even my children, who were then only 7 and 9 years old, cried with me. That election night was a very different one for us back then. We clung to the threads of possibility that had woven the tapestry of our country. We thought the United States had finally embraced positive change and resilience after years of entrenched victimhood. We applauded as they attempted to implement affordable healthcare, a benefit most Europeans have grown to believe is a fundamental human right.

Eight years later the world looks at the United States very differently. The narrative has shifted from possibility to preposterous posturing. In fact, instead of relying on generous US support, EU-member states are considering ways in which they can emancipate themselves to take on more responsibility.

Trump tapped into the seething anger of the disenfranchised, manipulated the masses, made false promises, lied. It is a mystery to many of us not living in the United States how anyone could believe that the very person responsible for corrupt business practices could ever save those victimized by it. Any progressive, forward-thinking person can see the ridiculousness of his claims as plain as day. Even political conservatives cannot deny that he is a madman. Germans have yet to compare him to Hitler while many in the United States already have. The parallels between the two are clear.

As the election prognosis solidified into truth in the early morning hours on November 9th Central European Time, I watched as the exhausted German television show host ended the program with a visible look of disgust. The audience sat in stunned silence, pools of saliva forming from all the jaws dropped in the room.

In all my conversations with my European friends, I have not met a single person who felt Trump had anyone’s best interest at heart other than his own.

Perhaps the tenor in Europe can be summarized in a simple interaction I recently had. A young German man I met at an open-air market said, “I always thought I would visit the U.S. one day. But now…” he paused for a moment, and I swear I could almost hear his hopes shatter into a thousand pieces. “Now I don’t think I want to go there anymore.”


As the author of multiple self-help books, including The Power of Slow: 101 Ways to Save Time in Our 24/7 World, Christine Louise Hohlbaum provides ways for people to learn how to go slow in order to be more productive, how to create boundaries by saying no more often and how to make the construct called time work for, not against, you. A recovering speedaholic herself, Christine understands the constraints within which many people lead their lives. Her work focuses on busting how of the fast lane’s corset to a saner, more self-directed pace of life.

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