Tuesday, February 14, 2017

What this President is doing to Me

My complaints pale in comparison to what millions of undocumented immigrants face. It is nothing compared to the plight of refugees stuck in camps around the world. It is minuscule in light of the increased potential for nuclear conflict. It is not worth mentioning in comparison to the threats from unchecked environmental degradation .
Greenpeace demonstrators in front of what is left of the Berlin wall

And yet, I want to share why it matters to me to wake up to a country that is no longer the place I deliberately chose over my own birthplace. Why I miss the country I came for. I did not flee persecution, oppression or poverty, just personal tragedy. Maybe to get away from the regular insult of political foes who would ask me to go "over there", meaning the so-called socialism in the other half of Germany, behind the wall. Maybe to get away from the occasional unreformed Nazis who would tell me that "under Hitler you would have long been gassed". This wasn't exactly typical in Germany some 30 years ago, but it just happened often enough to be gnawing. I wasn't a rabid flame-thrower who wanted to overturn the system, just a young and active member of the Social Democrats, the party of Willy Brandt, after all.
German youth with the Nazi salute

I wanted to get away from where optimism was seen as naivete and humor as something that happens at Carnival processions or in beer tents, both events I found profoundly not funny. Away from a country that worshiped work. But boy, I went from the frying pan into the fire on that one.

My American wife and her juggling six children and a law degree on top of the PhD she already had, her Apple 2e, and my own grappling with a different culture became symbols of the land that I had selected as my home. I learned that being dour wasn't a higher level of honesty and that embracing the future wasn't being unhistorical. That women as bosses were normal, that team meetings included black men and women, Asians and Indians, that it can be normal to have an excellent foreign born doctor; that it can be normal to move from place to place, to have several degrees, to work beyond 65 or get really bad pizza.
Trump supporters raising their right arm: A bit sloppy, but
recognizable

Speaking of pizza, not everything here was groovy. I discovered early  how disinvested and neglected Sandtown was. I saw people herded into vans, which I learned, were called paddy wagons, saw people bent over the hood of their own cars being frisked in plain view. I saw my fellow citizens sitting on the curb in handcuffs while police turned their cars upside down. Almost always those people were black. I hadn't seen those scenes in the Old World, Police there, learning from bad history, were usually held in the background. Except in the days of the Red Army Faction when I and my first wife reminded law enforcement of a couple on the wanted posters. One day at noon machine guns were stuck into our faces and we were briefly arrested. But I didn't have to fear for my life, Modern German police practically never shoot anybody.

I saw black anger in Baltimore in 2015 when storefronts were smashed right in front of my eyes while I tried to get out of Baltimore's Westside wondering whether my retreat against the flow of the looters was  treason on my own ideals or the right thing to do, as no doubt, my mother would have told me.
Paramilitary round ups of Jews called Razzia

But with Obama we had a President I didn't have to defend when visiting my relatives in the Old World, Germany just adored the young lanky President. America had turned the corner from being the bad cop of the world. Besides we lead in everything that matters these days, from computers to software development, from smart phones to app development, from social media to inventing the sharing economy and self driving cars. In spite of our trade deficits, the high income disparities and a crumbling infrastructure, I considered my country as having the right attitudes to overcome the problems: Openness, mobility, creativity and good doses of curiosity.

All this tossed around in my head amidst the two thousand or so demonstrators inside the international terminal of Thurgood Marshall Airport two Sundays ago when the crowd sang "this land is my land, this land is your land".
BWI protest at the International arrival 
Tears came to my eyes. Of joy that so many would spontaneously come out on a Sunday afternoon to show their discontent; of sadness that this was necessary. The travel ban was intensely personal: A citizen  with a passport for decades, I recall too well when I emerged from the international gates of many US airports after passing border control with just a visa and then a green card in my hands.
Round up of "criminal illegals" in New York 2017

Germans remain deeply traumatized by WWII even when they were born after WWII. As a freelancing high-schooler I had written reviews in the local paper about lectures which analyzed Hitler's speeches and his rise to power: The phase when hardly anybody seemed to take the rising right winger with his overblown theatrics seriously. When he then was democratically elected to an office and a democracy he had denigrated for years and swiftly dismantled. When he broke international treaties left and right. Martin Niemoeller's First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out... ... is deeply ingrained in any German's mind. In school we had to watch the fanatic speeches and news reels showing the normalization of violence against fellow citizens. I remember from my first conscious years seeing a big city then still reduced to rubble in many sections. What would you have done? was a question that never went away along with how could it have been prevented?
Anti-fascist demonstration in Berlin  1930
"Nazi Victory will lead to Civil War in Germany" (banner)

I don't like unnecessary drama or apocalyptic sensationalism. I like very much to think that America is immune against insurgence and can't be taken down with a few executive orders. But then I read the Guardian, the SPIEGEL or the New York Times, and I see alarm around the world. I am once again told to go home to Germany or, inexplicably, Mexico, even though only on Facebook. I hear about a DC area transit bus being searched by immigration and customs officers. I fear to witness a raid just by driving to a movie; the ghosts of the past are vivid again.
No drama Obama handing over the power of the presidency
with his wife looking on

I feel as if somebody has robbed my home, my future, my piece of mind and the optimism I had worked so long and hard to acquire. But I won't give up believing and fighting for that America is better than this.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Women's march January 2017






"Our opponents, the media, and the whole world will soon see … the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned,"
(Stephen Miller, Trump Senior Policy Adviser)

"There are massive numbers of non-citizens in this country who are registered to vote," Miller told ABC News. "That is a scandal; we should stop the presses. That's the story we should be talking about, and I'm prepared to go on any show, anywhere, anytime and repeat it and say the president of the United States is correct, 100 percent." (Stephen Miller, Trump Senior Policy Adviser)
The daily turmoil starts at breakfast
   
Still true: Baltimore protest
This country is in a crisis. And if you're fighting to save this country, if you're fighting to take this country back, it's not going to be sunshine and patriots. It's going to be people who want to fight. Stephen Bannon, Trump Adviser and Member of the Security Council

How this reputable German weekly sees it