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The US: “one of the biggest tasks in Joe Biden’s in-tray is ending the polarisation of the US”

17.01.2021 - Interview

Interview by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas with “Bild am Sonntag

Minister, Donald Trump’s term in office is drawing to a close with the storming of the Capitol and concerns surrounding further violence at Joe Biden’s inauguration. What does the new President have to do?

One of the biggest tasks in Joe Biden’s in-tray is ending the polarisation of the US. That won’t be easy, unfortunately. After all, Donald Trump will disappear from the White House, but not from the American public.

How much damage can Trump still do?

Trump will continue to tell tall tales about how he won the election. Even if Republicans have the good sense to finally sever ties with him, he will seek to fire up large numbers of supporters from the sidelines with his fake news. That’s why it’s right that Biden is putting together a coronavirus assistance package in the trillions of dollars. Successful economic and social policies to tackle discontent are one of the best vaccines against the division of society.

Is Trump to blame for the storming of the Capitol?

Anyone who deliberately incites hatred and violence must be held accountable. But Trump led people astray long before that with lies and conspiracy theories. His supporters have allowed themselves to be exploited for someone who, with all his narcissism, cannot cope with this electoral defeat.

Is Donald Trump an enemy of democracy to your mind?

Trump has neither understood nor accepted the rules of democracy.

That means he isn’t a democrat.

He used the mechanisms of democracy to gain power, but never understood that, in a democracy, fair losers in elections are also vitally important to the system.

Why are you criticising Trump so vehemently only now that he’s almost gone?

As democrats, we have to accept the results of democratic elections – whether we like them or not. For four years, we have sought the best possible cooperation with the US Government. That was difficult – to say the least – but we had no choice. I would always pursue that policy.

The Democrats have opened the second impeachment trial against Trump. Do you think that’s the right way to go?

I fully appreciate this step. By initiating impeachment proceedings, Congress is making it clear that the US is not prepared to simply stand by and accept the damage being done to its democratic institutions. The aim is also to prevent things like this from happening again.

Doesn’t this make Trump a martyr?

No. Trump is the intellectual arsonist behind the attack on the Capitol. We have to call a spade a spade, regardless of whether someone uses this to paint themselves a martyr.

You have proposed a Marshall Plan to the US to save democracy. Does Germany really have to save democracy in America?

This is about the fact that Joe Biden has announced his intention to convene a “democracy summit”. That has our support. Liberal democracies must come together worldwide.

Was the term “Marshall Plan” a mistake? It sounds patronising from Germany towards the US and like something a headmaster would say.

Democracy is being put to the test in many regions of the world. It’s important to me to point out how great the danger and the task is for all democracies. 

So you’re sticking with the term “Marshall Plan” then?

We need all democracies – worldwide – to close ranks. Seldom have democratic principles been under such pressure worldwide. Defending democracy is one of the greatest challenges of our time. It seems to me that not everyone has understood this yet. The time for taking things for granted is over.

Twitter has permanently blocked Trump’s account. Do you think that’s the right way to go?

That seems like a laudable step at first glance. But I’m not comfortable with it when I think about it more carefully. It’s not just Trump’s Twitter account that’s been suspended. When he tried to switch to the Parler network, which I don’t like either, Apple, Google and Amazon deleted the app from their product range. These internet companies wield too much power when it comes to influencing opinion-forming processes. It’s not for a company boss in the US to decide who is allowed to say what and where and who is not. There must be rules for this, set by democratically elected governments.

Why can’t Europe and the US manage to enforce common rules for social networks?

As Minister of Justice, I pushed through the requirement that criminal insults and threats be deleted from social networks. Social networks didn’t invent hate speech, but they spread and exacerbate it around the world. We must not cede more and more power to digital companies. Common rules for social networks and the freedom of expression must be at the top of the agenda at the planned summit of democracies.

One issue that Biden will certainly want to discuss with you is the dispute over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. What are you offering him?

There will be no fundamental change to the critical stance in Washington on Nord Stream 2 under Biden. The German Government is willing to talk, but our basic stance on the project remains unchanged. 

Your Party colleague Manuela Schwesig has set up a foundation with money from the Russian state-owned company Gazprom to finish building the pipeline. What do you make of that?

The German Government didn’t set up the foundation. We’re focusing on dialogue with the US Government.

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