first_imgCommentary: America, Through Others’ EyesBy John PARIS, France – Everyone is polite.Most people I’ve encountered in Europe over the holiday season don’t ask an American traveling here about the anger, discord, and dysfunction plaguing U.S. politics. Those that do want to talk about it raise the subject gently, almost with hesitation.Early in my trip, here in Paris, I chatted with a man at a café. His family, like mine, had wandered off to enjoy the Parisian evening while we each nursed after-dinner drinks and waited for the bill.After we shared a few introductory commiserations, I asked him how the rail strike had affected life here. He said it just made everything harder over the holidays. The streets and sidewalks were more crowded, which meant getting everywhere – particularly by car – became more difficult and took longer.I asked if the French government and the strikers were going to be able to get together to solve the problem.He shrugged, then said, “probably not soon.”There was too much ego involved, he said. Too many people on both sides looking for a victory rather than a solution.He shrugged again.Then he asked me, at first gently, about U.S. politics. He wanted to know specifically about the impeachment proceedings and more generally about President Donald Trump.As he talked, he grew more voluble. He said the U.S. president seemed to be angry all the time, that he started and stopped trade wars and broke agreements without much notice or thought and that he didn’t seem to be willing to work with anyone.Were things going to settle down again at some point?This time, I shrugged and said, “probably not soon.”And for the same reasons that the rail strike won’t be settled quickly.Too much ego. Too much focus on wins, not solutions.Then we shrugged at the same time, and chuckled.Such is life.On the train from Salzburg to Munich, my wife and I sat next to a couple from Singapore. They had been skiing in the Austrian alps and were headed to Munich to fly home.We chatted about our children and our lives. Their oldest was studying in London. Our oldest just had wrapped up a semester studying in Scotland.We traded information about our careers. The husband worked in finance and traveled a great deal in Asia and elsewhere in the Pacific for work.When he found out I was a columnist who wrote about politics, he lifted an eyebrow. After a bit, he inquired – again, gently – about the American political scene. He asked about the impeachment but, again, more generally about the volatility in U.S. politics.Were things ever going to settle down?Once more, I shrugged.We’re entering an election year, I told him. That’s rarely a time for American political leaders to find ways to come together.I asked him about how the instability – particularly the president’s on-again, off-again trade war with China – had affected people in his part of the world.“It’s done a lot of damage – hurt a lot of people,” he said.No one knows what to expect from the United States now, he explained.The American economy was the largest in the world, he said. What happens in the United States affects everyone everywhere, he added.Then he asked, do Americans understand that?I shrugged again.Some do.Others don’t.The day after that chat on the train, I visited the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau.I was struck by a bronze plaque at the entrance to the memorial expressing gratitude to the United States for liberating the camp, its prisoners and, by extension, humanity from the grip of Nazi tyranny. The language on the plaque was dignified, but heartfelt.That’s how the world saw us 75 years ago.As leaders.As liberators.Now?Not so much.FOOTNOTE: John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.FacebookTwitterCopy LinkEmailSharelast_img read more

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