When mentioning US-German and transatlantic relations these days, the one audience where as a reaction you will still get sparkles in their eyes and not eye-rolling is that of young people. I contribute that to the globalization and internationalization of the younger generation via the internet: They no longer only watch the same movies and listen to the same music as their US-American counterparts, but also laugh about the same jokes and comment each other’s pictures on social media. With social media with its roots in the US and its deep entrenchment in US-American pop culture, the younger generations become more and more alike because of the same cultural influences via the internet.
When talking about transatlantic relations these days, one group where you will (at least partly) earn eye-rolls is that of the adult population. Only 21 percent of asked people state in a recent survey conducted by ARD/ Infratest dimap that they confide in the USA as a partner –the same amount of trust they have in Russia. I think this Anti-Americanism in the German population is one of the most pressing issues in transatlantic relations today. At all other levels, be it business, politics or education, experts have enjoyed the transatlantic partnership for a much longer time period than since the last presidential elections and will know ways to overcome periods of strained relationships at the highest political levels, because they know that the head of state does not represent all of the country’s population. At the lowest level of cooperation, that of civil society, one cannot observe this kind of realism, quite the contrary. The rising Anti-Americanism of today will erode the trust that has been built up for decades (and that already lived through tense times with other presidents) and will, if not overcome, undermine the transatlantic partnership, because what is a partnership between two countries worth if it only profits the elites?
So, to come to my propositions for a renewed and less populist Transatlantic partnership, I would like to distinguish between the two groups I just elaborated on. On the one hand, the younger generation, the future generation of leaders in the political, societal, economic and media field, and on the other, the adult population that is susceptible to Anti-Americanism. For the first group, it is my deepest conviction that to prevent a drift to Anti-Americanism that their parents already display, our focus has to be on reaching said generation via the channels that they themselves use – social media. One strategy could be to connect with social influencers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Youtube, start a public conversation with them about transatlantic relations in it’s different forms (because transatlantic relations are not only trade agreements), thereby gain attention from other users and involve them in the exchange. Strategically place short articles, anecdotes, videos and memes on transatlantic relations on social media pages and advertisement before the videos they watch and on the internet pages they use. That way, the message can reach the younger generation via their own communication methods and the people that they would listen to anyways (the social influencers on social media), not teachers or other older persons of authority. Another benefitting effect of spreading the topic of transatlantic relations wider is reaching different groups of young people. In my experience, the adolescents I know interested in politics and transatlantic relations have often parents involved in similar political activities, so generations of transatlantic leaders reproduce themselves. All young people, regardless of socio-economic or educational background, use social media, and therefore they all can be reached.
Concerning the second group, the adult population susceptible to Anti-Americanism, I would propose basically the same communication strategy, but not via social media, but “traditional” media. Be it newspaper articles, TV talk shows or radio programs, the same principle applies here than to the younger generations: By publishing in different newspapers and different (local) radio stations of different political affiliation, one can also reach those who are not already in favor of the transatlantic relationship.
In turbulent times like these, it is important not to get self-righteous, blame the German population for their Anti-Americanism and not look for own misconducts. Criticizing each other is always valid, but on a constructive and respectful base. The public conception is that especially an important, high-level political project such as the transatlantic partnership was in the past dominated by equally high-level groups of experts and decision-makers, hidden in backrooms and generally very afar from the “common people”. In times of rising populism and easy answers on both sides of the Atlantic, I think it is time to transform part of the transatlantic dialogue into a more palpable experience for the German population, young and old, to stop the rising Anti-Americanism and ensure a functioning transatlantic dialogue until 2020 and hopefully under easier conditions after that.