Criticizing the “Moderate” | Zara Franke

I first felt reluctant writing this article from an “international” German perspective; as a non-American student, I did not want to be othered, and I felt that the recent neoliberal bent and turn to the right of American politics was identical to the same phenomenon in the supposed democratic havens of Germany and Norway. I felt that in both the U.S. and Europe, politicians were making the same argument with different words, using the rhetoric of protectionism to instill the fear of an unstable democracy in people’s mind and create the need for a strong ruling party.

However, after hearing Congressman John Faso speak on campus on October 2nd, I realized there is a difference: this ‘protectionism’ and representing strong values was not just focused on middle-class America wanting to protect their status, or instilling fear, but about the U.S. protecting its borders from outsiders. The way Faso smiled patronizingly at the foreign students in the audience and the way he mentioned “clever Asians” while looking at someone from Asian descent showed his beliefs towards foreigners. In Germany, right-wing politicians who bluntly speak that xenophobically or racistly are typically called out for it on political satire shows, and in this way become a less publicly heard voice. A German Tv show “Die Heute Show” makes fun of politicians from all parties in German politics, but they especially mock the fake patriotism of the new right-wing party on the rise and effectively show the errors in their arguments, instead of poking obvious fun, as for example a figure like Trump.

However, that was not the case with Faso; his sideways glances and comments about Antonio Delgado’s rap career showed a blatant disregard of social conventions. Without a strong voice, to belittle or make fun of his ignorant behavior. Even in his most ostensibly neutral statements about the “trade deal” of NAFTA, he showed a kind of patriotism that was based on a pride for the U.S. and a disregard for people discriminated against by racist or sexist policies as well as those who are outside the borders of this country.

This experience really showed me that the ‘moderate’ right wing in America really is different from the right wing in Europe. A politician that behaves in this way, not even trying to be socially aware and with a non-ironic love for this country, is representative of “moderate” politics. However, Faso did help me see how to move further with my own activism. When the audience reacted to his professed “impartiality” on the Kavanaugh issue it was very different to activism in Germany, where ineffectively screaming “Nazis get out” is sometimes used against the rising German Fascist right wing. There, in protests in Berlin, it seems like reacting strongly against authority is seen as a more mainstream way of getting your voice heard. No one really disagrees with the left wing, that you need to take a stand against the right-wing party on the rise, but also the discussion is not an engaged discussion. It is a public outrage, that does not criticize the moderate or the people in Germany that instill fear in peoples mind like the party in government ruling.   Seeing this speech also helped me understand how to stand up to the “other” and how to protest in a college context. The reaction at the end to Faso was a clear stand for action from the Bard audience against racist and sexist ideas, and an effective way of getting our voices heard. There was a public outcry that helped bring our ideas together. We need to protest unfair policies in universities through for example squatting and blocking university buildings. I learned through this experience that we do need to communicate with the “other,” but in a radical way, as otherwise we will not be heard.

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