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Donald Trump Raises Confusion, Concern Among Many In Germany


The U.S. presidential election is the biggest show on Earth right now. That's the take of journalist Joerg Lau. He is the foreign editor at Germany's weekly paper Die Zeit. Joking aside, he says there is clearly a lot at stake. We've been talking to international journalists all week about what they think of the American election, and Joerg Lau joins us from Hamburg. Welcome to the show.

JOERG LAU: Well, I'm happy to be on the show.

MCEVERS: Given the close relationship between the U.S. and Germany, I suspect Germans are following the U.S. election pretty closely. What do people there think of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump?

LAU: Well, Hillary Clinton is seen as a reliable, reasonable, trustworthy person. I'm aware that she has issues with trustworthiness in the U.S. Here she is seen as a person that is really middle of the road and the safe bet. Trump, on the other hand, is something completely alien to our political discussion. I mean people really don't know what to make of him.

MCEVERS: Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, has said glowing things about Hillary Clinton. She has praised her strategic thinking and called working with her a great pleasure. Do you think that influences the way people in Germany see Hillary Clinton?

LAU: Yes, but also Hillary Clinton is very well-known. I mean the Clinton years - the Bill Clinton years - were a good period for Germans. And so I think she's seen as someone that people can relate to. So it's not just that Merkel seems to get along with her, which is also a factor. People can't imagine Trump getting along with Merkel after what he said about how she handled the refugee crisis. I mean he basically said she brought in terrorists, so how can you work together with someone like this?

MCEVERS: So those comments that Trump made about Angela Merkel, saying her migration policy is insane and, again, yes, linking that to terrorist attacks - that's not going over well with the German public.

LAU: No. I mean we have a debate about this policy, and not everybody thinks that it was handled perfectly. We have fringes who are in favor of anti-Muslim policies, but until now that's a fringe movement. So this kind of populist fear-mongering is not at all popular here.

MCEVERS: Donald Trump has called the NATO alliance obsolete and has said that he would consider pulling the U.S. out of NATO. How is that position viewed in Germany?

LAU: Well, he seems to see NATO mostly as a free rider problem and not as an alliance that is worth preserving. And that's something that frightens people in Germany and Western Europe. We depend on the American security umbrella, and that's something that really gives people shocks.

MCEVERS: It seems that Donald Trump has German roots. His ancestral home is believed to be in Kallstadt, in German wine country. Despite what might be viewed in Germany as his flaws, is there a sense that he is of that country and has a connection to it?

LAU: No, no. (Laughter) People are rather ashamed of this connection. I mean - and he doesn't make much of it. He doesn't want to be seen as a German-American.

MCEVERS: A Russian journalist we talked to said that Hillary Clinton is seen as an extension of President Barack Obama. And in his country, that was considered to be a bad thing. Is that the case or not in Germany?

LAU: Well, some people who are rather critical about the aggressive foreign policy of George W. Bush see Hillary Clinton as someone who is much more in favor of a hawkish approach to foreign policy. And so they might be afraid that we can see American foreign policy swinging back to a more forceful, a more militaristic approach. But if you hear Donald Trump asking why he can't use the nukes when he's in the White House, I mean that's something else.

MCEVERS: Joerg Lau is a journalist with the German paper Die Zeit. We reached him in Hamburg on Skype. Thank you.

LAU: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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