Shut[Turn]down for What?!

The United States government shutdown has been all the rage, everywhere. People in the States are in a rage that the government can’t get its act together, bemoaning the fact that the other side can’t seem to move past its apparent ideological shortcomings. In Europe, nothing has been funnier than to hear about the mess of a government seemingly holding its own citizens hostage. As an American in Europe, I have been teetering among vulnerability, humility, and shame because I have never felt so much like an unofficial representative for the U.S.A. before.

Most European media, German media specifically, have either detailed the facts of the government shutdown fairly, or jokingly thrown some international jabs at the world power for denying its citizens a basic accommodation—universal healthcare. The titles of popular BBC articles about the shutdown can attest to this: “Hard-line conservatives see victory in debt limit standoff,” “Obama: Republicans using ‘extortion’ on debt limit,” “Debt ceiling crisis has other nations angry and scared,” and “What John Boehner’s ambition has to do with the shutdown.”

It’s clear that Europeans have chosen who they see as responsible for this shutdown (the Republican House) and are concerned about the inadvertent effects that may cross the pond. The Times of India article “Debt ceiling crisis has other nations angry and scared” goes to one extreme, saying, “What is chilling is that U.S. politicians are willing to engage in a game of brinkmanship that is tantamount to detonating a nuclear device over their economy. A bunch of intransigent American politicians are holding not just President Barack Obama, but the entire world to ransom.” While most other articles capture a balanced view by quoting Republican party members themselves, the blame is almost always placed squarely on Republican shoulders.

When talking with my German professors, I am usually greeted with an attempt to mute their real emotions, pandering to the States’ greater sense of political correctness. However, they will inevitably deliver a scoff, hearty laugh, or the beginning of some viewpoint that summarizes to “I don’t get it, but it wouldn’t happen here.” There is a major disconnect between the perceived privileges and benefits citizens should be entitled to between the European Union and the United States. The U.S.’s lack of a universal health care system has already incurred the side-eye from Europe, in conjunction with what Europeans see as a ransoming of a country by the Republicans over a human rights issue, which has bolstered European fears of misused supranational power. It’s given the rest of the world more material to pigeonhole the U.S. as the “loud, dumb, and guns” constituency.

As a U.S. citizen studying in the E.U., I have come to see how the inverse realities of our two political systems leave the U.S. harshly divided while the European system consolidates disparate political ideologies into a single coalition, slowly but surely. People on both sides of the pond have their own spin on the pros and cons to each system, but what is clear are the effects of both. Most of U.S. reporting on politics contextualizes it as fight or battle between our main parties to arrive at an outcome, while German media depicts a slow crawl of all their parties toward some middle ground. I see Germany and the E.U.’s commitment to unanimity as a testament to true collaboration. With 28 countries of varying cultures coming together to establish common rules and visions of the land, plus having the recent experience of war on their own turf, Europeans are earnest to the bone about consensus. Their differences capture more than just a mindset and instead seek to arrive at a place where everyone’s opinion is taken into consideration.

The U.S. is already seen as a conglomerate. Regional cultures and differences are typically only brought up to debunk the claims of U.S. homogeneity, but outside of those instances, the U.S. is presented united and whole. Our unity is harped upon to conjure strength and stability; it helps citizens feel secure. Nevertheless, this overwhelming sense of unity creates a mental wall for citizens because they can’t bring themselves to understand why those other people would want things that way. We haven’t been bred to appreciate differences, unless you can profit off them, and now it has just prepared all of us to be ready to jump at each other’s throat.

Concessions will be made and solutions found, but how many times will we have to arrive at the same place to know that we need a new map? One with different roads, suggestions, and alternate routes—hell, why don’t we have a political GPS by now?   

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