Angela Merkel’s calm yet determined gaze followed me everywhere in Hamburg, Germany, last weekend. With the parliamentary elections having taken place Sept. 24, seemingly every available sign post and billboard is occupied by the face of a German politician pleading for votes.

I accompanied my European Politics class on our first study tour to Hamburg, where we met with German think tanks and discussed Danish-German trade policy with Denmark’s Trade Council, among other activities. Throughout our meetings and adventures in the city of Hamburg, we were able to experience German election season during its peak time. The German parliamentary elections lacked the fireworks and drama of America’s 2016 election, leading to a more issues-driven election season without frivolous distractions and debates, and this theme is reflected in the various campaign posters across Germany.

In her campaign posters, Chancellor Merkel, affectionately called mutti, or mother, by her German supporters, is shown confidently staring at the camera with a small, warm smile on her face. I could not help but contrast the way Merkel’s posters highlighted her experience and motherliness with the negative portrayal of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, despite Clinton possessing many of these same qualities as Merkel.

Merkel’s followers perceive her maturity as a strength during these tumultuous and frightening times. In contrast, the media brutally attacked Clinton as a member of “the swamp” due to her years of government service, turning what would have been a positive attribute into an almost disqualifying negative. Donald Trump slammed her physical experience and age — recall his inveighing against her lack of “stamina” — as his supporters and the right-wing media followed his lead and continued to pummel her throughout the election season.

My core course’s visit to the German leftist think tank Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung confirmed my thoughts on the German parliamentary elections and political environment. The German election’s main focus has been migration, due to Merkel’s acceptance of an influx of Syrian war refugees. Yet the debate has remained largely civil and professional. In their one and only debate before the elections Sunday, Merkel and her main opponent, Martin Schulz, found large areas of agreement instead of acrimony.

In contrast to the American system of government, where the two major political parties are consistently at odds with each other, Germany is ruled by consensus. Much of this has to do with the German parliamentary system, in which the political parties must bond together to form a working government.

This consensus-driven system has a trickle-down effect on German political campaigns, cultivating an issues-oriented political environment that is ultimately more beneficial for the German people. The Germans I talked to throughout my travels were extremely proud of their parliamentary system and the focus on accord in their government, in contrast to the brutal, partisan American campaign style.

Yet the importance of these elections cannot be understated: Despite the fact that the Alternative für Deutschland Party just became the first far-right party to enter the German parliament in over 70 years, Merkel won her fourth term as chancellor of Germany. Her victory ensures that her steady hand will continue to be the face of Europe for the foreseeable future.

However, the success of the AFD Party augurs trouble for Merkel and Germany ahead. Germany has long been a pillar of democracy and centrist governance in the postwar years, and Germans take their commitment against nationalism and fascism very seriously. Yet now the country must deal with the ramifications of the AFD’s new role in parliament. Most likely, Merkel will be able to assemble a government working together with the other political parties to prevent the AFD from becoming the main opposition party, but danger still lies ahead for Merkel and Germany.

My travels throughout Germany during the parliamentary election season were eye-opening and demonstrated to me the utter absurdity of America’s elections and political system. From the differences in the portrayals of Merkel and Clinton to the natures of the campaigns themselves, the contrast between cultures revealed greater truths about Europe and America. I hope to bring back some of the thoughts and ideas from Europe’s political system to Georgetown when my semester abroad concludes.

Grant Olson is a junior in the CollegeThis is the second installment of Chronicles from Copenhagen.

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