For the first time in a quarter century, I traveled through the US, in particular across the southern states – and then events happened thick and fast with reference to their history, in Charlottesville, Virginia – 20 minutes from where we stayed overnight between Shenandoah and Blue Ridge Mountains (yes, Country Roads...) in the neighboring town of Waynesboro.
Traveling in the United States has become even more comfortable since my last visit, thanks to further development of the Chevy Suburban – let’s go the whole hog, ‘on the road the American way’ – and indeed to the innovative power of capitalism, cell phone and iPad and, as far as hotels and restaurants are concerned, especially the congenial helper Tripadvisor. The biggest change: back then, only Miller or Bud were available, oh dear; but now, even in the smallest town, a thirsty German man can get freshly brewed beer from the barrel of the closest microbrewery, with one beer tasting better than the next: always ask for ‘craft’ and ‘draft’ at the same time, and the evening is saved. In the not entirely dry counties of the South, anyway. On the other hand, the typical American coffee is as weak as ever – and unfortunately completely unknown as an accompaniment to dessert after a proper steak extra rare in the evening.
How great and wide this Dixieland is – and how rural! ‘Yes,’ one American told me, ‘we are a divided country, which could actually split again when the economic crisis comes.’ Torn again between North and South? ‘Yes, that too, but even more so between the metropolitan and rural regions.’ Here between the fields and forests, the avenues with the picturesque old trees covered with Spanish moss, everything still seems right with the world. In the heartland of the Rednecks, where the car in front quite naturally bears a sticker on which we read: ‘Fight Organised Crime: Abolish the IRS!’ Glorious. You drive through villages with two dozen inhabitants and a dozen churches. And on Sundays they are packed, God knows where they all come from.
My dialog partner tries to enlighten me: ‘The war between the states was not about slavery, but freedom. The Founding Fathers would have sided with the South.’ I know, I know, says the German to the surprise of the American. He has voted for Trump and is already looking forward to doing it again, ‘just to see their stupid faces again.’ In politics and the media? ‘Yeah.’ Just as in Germany, I explain. ‘But here, in America, the media have overplayed their hand for a long time. Hardly anyone believes them anymore, they just went too far.’ Yes, that’s the difference, I explain: In America the balance seems to be fifty-fifty. In Germany, most people still believe the stories of the mainstream – there, it's more like ninety-ten. ‘Germany is lost in any case,’ says the American, ‘just like France.’ This time I'm amazed at his knowledge. Only ‘Eastern Europe has good future prospects,’ possibly.
Despite all the efforts of the politically correct northern city dwellers, the Rebel Flag still flies in front of many houses – but often together with the Yankee flag, meaning: above all else patriotic. Or the motto of Dollywood, Tennessee, the conservative counterpart to Mickey's amusement parks in California and Florida, equipped with even bigger and faster roller coasters: ‘Southern Style - God, Family and Country.’
Another thing that hasn’t changed: the thoughtful curiosity, unobtrusive courtesy and cordial friendliness and helpfulness of the ‘normal’ Americans in everyday life. ‘The exact opposite of how their politicians behave,’ I hear and agree enthusiastically. The common American knows that his enemy is in Washington, D.C. This also distinguishes him in his behaviour from the comparatively rude German and his beloved government, so devoutly devoted to other leaders. Here too ‘the exact opposite’ – only, who is the hen, who is the egg?
The contrasts between rich and poor are omnipresent – but no one really cares. Americans often live next to each other in villas and shacks, as long as one defines ‘next to each other’ as a distance of a few miles. They don't know envy. This is one of the reasons why they are almost all so pleasantly apolitical. On the other hand, there is often a clear separation of black and white neighbourhoods. Race matters? Whoever has eyes to see can hardly deny this condition.
And the South is not all the same. Its western parts, on the Mississippi, are decaying. This can be morbidly beautiful to look at in the dilapidated, once majestically splendid old capital Natchez (insider tip) – however, the cultural decline in the multi-criminal party hubs of Memphis or New Orleans is less nice to perceive. On the other hand, in Georgia’s east (Savannah) and especially in South Carolina on the Atlantic coast, the old aristocratic spirit of the South still seems to be alive – beautiful in picturesque Beaufort and above all in Charleston, where the secession from the North was first proclaimed and celebrated. Not only the Hazards and the Mains send greetings from ‘Mont Royal’ (Boone Hall) – but from now on also the Lichtschlags. In the Confederate Museum of Charleston, this thriving pearl of the South, it is also possible to pay homage to a lock of hair of Robert E. Lee.
Which brings us back to Charlottesville. Have you ever read of a ‘right-wing’ protest – in other words, a counter-demonstration by classical liberals, conservatives or libertarians, (as brown and red nationalists and socialists are known to be leftists)? Ever heard of a ‘right-wing’ attempt to stop a leftist expression of opinion? Ever hear of the ‘right’ attacking monuments of the left? Have you seen who, in Charlottesville, started the violence against an authorized demonstration and who on which side was a provocateur? Who benefits from all that has happened there and is further being made out of it?
Asked after a possible impeachment of Donald Trump, my American dialog partner said: ‘They won't dare to do that, there would be civil war.’ But what if that's precisely the goal?
Translated from eigentümlich frei, where the original article was published on 19th August 2017.