When I woke up the morning after the election, I did so with new anxiety and old whiskey roaring through my head. With the six-hour time difference between the East Coast of the United States and Europe, the election parties went on well into the night here. I went to bed at 4 a.m.—still not late enough to know any election answers—but when I woke up at 6:30 a.m.(I had an English class to teach), I stumbled over to my computer and saw a photo of Barack Obama’s big smile twinkling back at me.
Thankfully, this also meant I had a topic for class that day. Throughout the day, we watched Obama’s Grant Park acceptance speech. Was I spreading propaganda? I probably would’ve been if half of my students had not already seen clips from the video themselves. They had been asking questions about the election since they entered the room.
My students were interested. They wanted to watch the video and talk about it. According to many of them, this news had global implications. We sat and watched our new president-elect as he stood behind a cage of bullet-proof glass and addressed the world:
To all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces, to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of the world, our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand.
A dawn of new American leadership. After eight years of Bush, the American community needs nothing less than that. Something new. Something great. Something we can believe in.
On November 4, Americans proved that they wanted things to be different, but after speaking with friends and family back home, I found that many want to know if the world outside America feels the same. I can’t speak for the forgotten corners of the world (whatever those may be), but my students represent voices from Germany, France, and Portugal, as well as a few from Poland and Sudan.
Obama seems to be more popular over here than he is in the United States. Especially in Germany, the people have had Obama planted firmly in their hearts since he was fighting Hillary Clinton for the nomination last spring. Hillary was too cold and too power hungry. “We don’t trust her,” they said. Obama had the charisma they were looking for.
“He’s just such a nice, honest-seeming guy,” one of my German colleagues said in March.
The day after the election, he was on the cover of every major German newspaper. In Die Zeit, a weekly publication of great repute, the first four pages were dedicated to Barack Obama.
“To take the prosaic words of American comic Sarah Silverman: America’s new ‘world president’ has in a single night transformed America from ‘asshole of the universe’ to a country of political excitement.”
In one of my courses a woman nodded and spoke in heavy affirmations alongside the president-elect as we watched his speech. “Yes. That’s right. Oh good! That’s good!” she said, pointing at the screen with her finger and writing quotes down with her pen.
I felt as though the two of us were at a church sermon where people work themselves into frenzies before the preacher. I wondered if she was going to start castigating herself and speaking in tongues.
At the end of the speech, she had tears in her eyes.
There is no doubt that there is an Obama craze sweeping through Germany. As the German equivalent of TIME, Der Spiegel, pointed out, there is a messiah factor following him. He is more than a politician for many. Why else would some 300,000 people come to see him speak in Berlin?
The night of the election, I was at a party with more Germans than Americans. As the polls closed in each respective state, they jumped up and asked me if I had the map showing the electoral projections.
These Germans seemed to have just as much invested in the election as we did. They were as excited as we were, even though he wasn’t going to be their president. Many of them stayed up later than I did to see his 5 a.m. speech live.
How could this Obama-mania spread to places outside his presidential rule? Why do I hear Germans on the trains saying, “Obama. Obama. Yes we do!”, and why has the local Hamburg newspaper started a new column, “Yes We Can!”, about normal people realizing their dreams?
As an American, I admit that I find it both amazing and incredibly bizarre. In one night, America resurfaced as a world leader, and in many people’s opinion, as more. They see Obama as a kind of hero, as the next great figure in international history.
One woman recently said to me, “I wish we could have a leader like Obama…”
Now the “dawn of new American leadership is at hand.” If this is true, then we as Americans may also need to reevaluate the way we understand the world.
What this election revealed above all was the level of understanding most Europeans have of American politics. In my 8 a.m. class the day after the election, the students already knew that Obama had won, which meant they all checked the news after they got up that morning. They had not only followed the election; they had done so with savvy.
They know what we’re doing, yet what do we know about them? Who in the United States could tell me off the top of their head who the leader of Germany is? France? Portugal? Poland? Sudan?
If we are going to work within the global community respectfully, then we should probably start by understanding the world. As of right now, I have met many Europeans who like Obama, but who still don’t really trust Americans and our fundamental ability to change.
“Yes, Obama is good, but will your people let him change things?”
Whether he is a messiah or merely a politician, it’s clear that Obama has already begun digging us out of the six-foot-deep hole where Bush buried America. Hopefully we—as everyday Americans—will be able to live up to Obama’s expectations.
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