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Some Germans Think President Trump Is Affecting Their Domestic Politics


President Trump is not a popular man in Germany right now. Even before his performance at the NATO summit in Brussels this week, a poll showed that almost half of Germans see the American president as a bigger threat to international peace than Vladimir Putin, a bigger threat than Kim Jong Un. NPR's Martin Kaste reports.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: To get a sense of just how toxic Trump's name is in Germany right now, take a listen to this moment from a big press conference a couple of days ago here in Berlin.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking German).

KASTE: That journalist is grilling the minister of interior, Horst Seehofer, who recently threatened to tear apart the governing coalition in an effort to get tighter restrictions on migrants and refugees. His tactics were seen as extreme. And the reporter is telling him that another conservative politician, a friend of the minister's, just gave an interview criticizing the minister, apparently saying one Trump is enough.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking German).

KASTE: The Trump label left the minister briefly speechless. Then after a few awkward seconds he joked lamely that maybe he should give that friend who gave the interview a call.

JOSEF JANNING: Whenever this is used on you, you know, you hold your breath for a second.

KASTE: Josef Janning is head of the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. He says, to Germans, the Trump name is synonymous with a superficial kind of politics based on quick wins and intimidation. But he says even as Germans may reject Trump the person, they do hear what he's saying, especially when he talks about the dangers of unrestricted immigration.

JANNING: Whatever you may think of Trump, in the German public, it strengthens the impression that people get that somehow this migration issue is echoing everywhere. You know, the effect on the average people - it could still be there's something to it.

KASTE: And that's just what you hear from Alternative fur Deutschland, or AfD. It's the far-right party once regarded as fringe but which has now become the major opposition party here based on its calls for less immigration. Georg Pazderski is the party's deputy chairman.

GEORG PAZDERSKI: Yeah, I would say and to a certain extent people see that Trump has some points which are true.

KASTE: Pazderski and the rest of the party are careful to keep a distance from Trump's persona, but he does note with certain satisfaction that some Germans do appreciate the way Trump has challenged the political establishment.

PAZDERSKI: Something is moving. He is somebody who is trying to change things. This is certainly seen in a way that people say, oh, look; he's trying to bring new ideas into politics.

KASTE: New ideas, or as many centrists and leftists here would put it, Trump is helping to normalize ideas that used to be unacceptable in mainstream politics here.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: He has a bad effect wherever (laughter). He has a real...

NINA SCHAFFENBERGER: He is not a role model - maybe a role model in a negative sense because especially we Germans trying so hard to not be racist anymore because of our past.

KASTE: Two women are relaxing on some steps where the Spree River bends around the German Parliament. Nina Schaffenberger shakes her head at the mere mention of Trump's name. She thinks his message may be bolstering the leaders of the far-right even when they don't associate themselves with him.

SCHAFFENBERGER: They might claim that another nation, like, has the same values, so we could do the same. And, yeah, I just think he's dangerous, and I hope that someone is going to stop him at some point.

KASTE: Martin Kaste, NPR News, Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.

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