09.02.2021 "Finally!" - A Panel Discussion on the Current State of Politics in the United States


The second panel discussion on contemporary U.S. politics on February 4, 2021, offered to students and colleagues in the Department of English and American Studies, presented a much more hopeful outlook on future developments in the United States than its predecessor on November 4, 2020, and was, therefore, entitled “Finally!” The bleak atmosphere around the election day was full of hope, doubt, and fear. What if Joe Biden and Kamala Harris would not get enough popular and electoral votes? What if a polarizing, ignorant, and self-idealizing president would continue to dominate domestic and foreign politics? Little did we know at the time that we would face a president who kept (and keeps) denying the fact that he had actually lost the election, that in none of the states there was any fraud to be detected, as Republicans and Democrats as well as the Supreme Court would confirm over and over again. Little did we know that he would use the “Save America” rally for a mobilization of his worshippers to storm Capitol Hill. January 6, 2021, will remain in people’s minds as the day on which (not just) U.S.-American democracy was violently threatened. Little did we know that once the former president was out of sight, some of his Republican allies in Congress would take over his role of making false claims about the election, of spreading conspiracy theories, and of refusing to adhere to the necessary precaution measures in the pandemic.

Hubert Zimmermann (Political Science, Marburg) spoke on the far-reaching changes already happening in U.S. foreign politics with the United States, for example, rejoining the World Health Organization (WHO) and renewing friendlier relationships with Europe. Joel Johnson (Political Science, Augustana University, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, USA) emphasized the difficult times ahead for the Biden / Harris team to, for example, rebuild the country’s infrastructure, subscribe to the Green New Deal, introduce measures for a recovery of the economy, and to fight the pandemic. Since the majority in Congress, in particular in the Senate, is so fragile, Biden has already taken recourse to several executive orders to not waste any time. Emma Weiher (student of the MA North American Studies, Marburg) focused on the important role of social media in both positive and negatives senses and argued that social media are not only spreading news rapidly but can also be used for educational purposes to better inform about political processes. Barbara Güldenring (Linguistics, Gießen) elaborated on the use of metaphorical language that would, in the former president’s speeches, polarize the country, reestablish the us vs. them paradigm, present himself as the hero and the only one to “take back America” for the people, but only for the one half he considers “true Americans.” Repetition and the creation of simple phrases are easy to remember and seem to explain the world in simplistic terms. Heather Stone (Chair of Democrats Abroad in Israel, Lawyer, Tel Aviv) took her audience through the rise of the number of women in political office, particularly in Congress, since the 2017 worldwide Women’s Marches. She showed how Stacy Abrams has fought against voter suppression in the United States since 2018 and managed to reach a high voter turnout in Georgia. For her work, she has recently been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Carmen Birkle (American Studies, Marburg) focused on the culture of fear that the former president has instilled in people and used to his own advantage. Proud Boys and other White Supremacists fear the loss of their masculinity and superiority and believe in their restoration as their birthright. The Black Lives Matter movement has shown how Black people’s lives are threatened by police violence, which is not the only phenomenon of a society that is far from changing systemic racism to a culture of unity, as the young African American poet Amanda Gorman emphasized in her poem read at the 2021 inauguration. This would be a hopeful note on which to conclude, but some Republican members of Congress are still afraid of taking a political stance against the former president; they are still afraid of the 74 million voters who might not vote for them in the next election for the House of Representatives and the Senate; they are afraid that the former president might become a future president, and they would be lost in the us vs. them paradigm. Last, but not least, the panel, once more, was expertly moderated by Connor Pitetti (American Studies, Bochum), who made sure that the panelists were not carried away in their statements.

The panel did conclude on the optimistic note that with the moderate Joe Biden and the actively engaged Kamala Harris, of Indian and Caribbean descent, there is hope that fear will calm down, language will no longer be aggressive, and the Administration, including Congress, will continue to look more like the diversity we find in the U.S.-American nation.