Like many fellow expats, I've felt especially European in the past eight years. And like many, I've felt especially American in the past two weeks. In 2008--for the first time in ten leap years--I returned to the U.S. to celebrate an election on U Street in Washington, DC. And from this vantage point, I beg to differ from my German (and British) friends.
Yes, they caught the excitement. And yes, the Germans personally backed Obama by a greater margin than Massachusetts. But the sophisticated Brits arched their eyebrows, wondering if No Drama Obama could ever be tough enough. (After he beat the Clintons at their own game?) And chattering-class Germans first reached a consensus half a year ago that it didn't make much difference who won this election; either way, they would be asked to send more troops to Afghanistan. (No difference on Guantanamo? On the torture that McCain endured as a hero, opposed as a maverick, and finally tolerated as a candidate?) Then on Nov. 5 the German commentators concluded that after ratcheting our expectations so high, we're all bound to be disappointed.
I suppose I should chalk this up to the difference between Americans' instrumental "yes we can" optimism and Germans' instrumental "the sky is falling" pessimism. Americans plunge into crises to cope by trial and error. See, for example, the Republicans' embrace of not only big, but humongous government in the financial meltdown. Germans, by contrast, worry about looming crises for years in advance and then chip away at cumulative remedies in the interim before the thereby diminished doomsday hits. See, sort of, their enthusiasm for fighting climate change.
Well, OK. We need both approaches. That's what our transatlantic alliance is for. It's supposed to avoid both deadlock and the lowest common denominator and find a synergy of contrary wisdoms that is more than the sum of the alliance's parts. But don't expect the New World to be disillusioned quite as fast as the Old. After an election campaign that for once needed to last this long to test John McCain's steadiness, Barack Obama's learning curve, and voters' racial maturity, we need a little more time to find our new equilibrium. Grant us at least until January 20 to dance on the tables of the U Street bars, savor this closure of our civil war, and name a fresh crop of babies Barack.
After all, transformation doesn't come every leapyear.
Elizabeth Pond is a Berlin-based author, journalist, and non-resident Senior Fellow at the SAIS Center for Transatlantic Relations.