Little Exchanges in Sofia: Trump, the Elephant in the Room

Written by on August 3, 2016 in Bulgaria - No comments

As a correspondent for German and Swiss radio stations, I spent five and a half years in Washington D.C. and New York City. My coverage started with Bill Clinton’s re-inauguration in 1996 and ended with the aftermath of September 11, in April of 2002. I covered everything. About two thirds of my reports had to do with politics: White House, Department of State, Pentagon. The rest contained mainstream culture (Academy Awards, Golden Globes, Grammy Awards), NASA activities, scandals and catastrophes. It was a sad sight, when I went to John F. Kennedy Airport after the crash of Swissair flight 111, where I saw crying and grieving family members, in September of 1998. It was frustrating, to many, when an overtired president Bill Clinton gave up on a peace deal, which could have been struck at Camp David, in the year 2000, had Arafat not rejected it. There were lots of pleasant moments too.

There is anti-Americanism, mainly in more liberal and left-wing circles in Europe, including Germany. When George W. Bush was elected (well, sort of, because of those voting card issues in Florida), those resentments were on the rise. Some of my radio stations interviewed me on Bush. Even though I never thought much of him, personally, I was forced to defend him, since his statements were taken out of context. One example: A few days after September 11, 2001, he was asking Americans to go on with their lives. “Go to Disneyland” was just half a sentence in that speech. But it was used in an isolated way, suggesting Bush did not understand the gravity of the terror situation. Maybe he didn’t, but his advisers did. And his speech was appropriate.

On top of all of this, many listeners and editors in Germany did not seem to understand that Bush was not the U.S., but only part of this very diverse country. Well, the same applies to Trump. Thanks to Fox News, a network which is even more loyal to the Republican party line than that party itself, and which would blame Obama for absolutely everything, including bad weather, millions of Americans believe Hillary Clinton should be “locked up” because of her reaction, as Secretary of State, to the terrorist attack in Benghazi. They do not believe Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush completely screwed up in Iraq, but this would lead to a different, huge discussion.

Fox News, blunt racism and sexism, as well as ignorance in large parts of the population, are some of the causes for the fact that, in the case of Trump, a candidate who is completely unacceptable, even to sane Republicans such as John Kasich, is still being favoured by far too many. Trumps crazy statements and approaches lead to more media coverage and even more support, in ignorant quarters. This should not be about Republicans or Democrats anymore, but about so much more.

It is not surprising that the big Trump discussion swept over to Europe (which Trump probably sees as a single country with the “city of Belgium” as its capital), including Sofia. Recently, I had two little exchanges on Trump with Americans I met. One of them took place at a Lidl supermarket. While I was putting my items on the conveyor belt at the cashier, a German apple juice package started leaking. I cursed, in English, and threw that package into a basket. A guy heard me and asked where I was from. It turned out that gentleman was an expat from the U.S., one of us, aged approximately 68. Within two minutes, he told me his entire life story. When I popped the usual question, he said “Trump. Without hesitation.” Then he quoted that Fox News propaganda, which I know quite well, word by word.

The other exchange happened during a barbecue, at a friend’s place, where I met this kind American and his Bulgarian wife. The discussion hit Trump in no time. Within minutes, he said I sounded like a spokesman for the Hillary campaign. His Bulgarian wife, who lives in the U.S. with her husband six months per year, then asked the big question, which even Fox News anchors would have refrained from: “Are you a communist?”.

By Imanuel Marcus

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