What holds American society together?

In the last years, we have repeatedly come across the idea that the U.S. is a deeply divided country. When you think about it, the (hypothetical) reasons for a separation among the population of the U.S. could be many: Democrats vs. Republicans on a political level, North vs. South and cities vs. rural areas on a geographical level, black vs. white on a racial level, poor vs. rich on a economical level, just to name a few examples.

The conflict potential is high and it seems that the citizens of the U.S. are growing even further away from each other. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, the Democrats and the Republicans seem to have diametrically opposed ideas. Or so it seems.

To find out what it is that makes U.S. Citizens feel united, we asked some of our interview partners to tell us what they think holds American society together. We got a lot of different, interesting answers which are resumed in the following video.


Landing in Berlin was the moment we understood that our Tocqueville-roadtrip was definitely over. On one hand we were happy to be home again, but on the other we already missed being on the road, meeting new people, learning new things every day, writing on our blog,…

So, to make a smooth transition to our daily routine, we’ve decided to continue the blog www.tocqueville2012.org for some time! On the road we accumulated so much material that we can go on for a little while. Later on, we will see what happens when we run out of footage.

Here is our next video for you! As there has been a increasing demand for Zombies, we decided to go with the trend and ask most of our interviewees who would be better at fighting a Zombie plague, Obama or Romney? Here are their answers. Make sure to watch it until the end!

“I’ve never seen my country so divided”

On election day, we had the great opportunity to talk to Richard. T. Arndt. Mr. Arndt started his career as a professor for 18th-century literature at Columbia University before taking up cultural diplomacy with the US Information Agency and the Department of State. Since retiring from this job in 1985, he has been working in senior positions for various universities and foundations, including the Fulbright Association, the National Peace Foundation, and Americans for UNESCO. In 2007, he published a book on cultural diplomacy called “The King’s First Resort”.

In our conversation with Mr. Arndt, he provided his insights on the United States’ standing in the world, on Obama’s accomplishments, on political and social divisions in his country, and on the idea of the American Dream.

Election night

So here we go, it’e election night. We’ve found a spot in the Busboys & Poets bar, a “democratic stronghold”, as somebody here just told us. The place is very popular, the atmosphere is a bit like the public viewing events we know from Germany when the big football tournaments are on. Everybody here supports the Democrats. It’s mostly young people with laptops and smartphones. We’ll comment on the results on Twitter. Continue Reading

Election time!

We’ve arrived in D.C. with just one day to go till the election. Here’s a summary of how we’ve experienced the campaign while traveling across the United States in the last four weeks. For more, check out the Election category on our blog.

Ryan’s Victory Event in Pennsylvania

We’ve been unfaithful to Tocqueville. Instead of following our friend’s route from Cincinnati to Pittsburg, we ended up visiting Sebastian’s host family in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. He stayed with them for a year during high school. Family comes before work, sorry Tocqueville! Before taking off from Johnstown, we found out that Paul Ryan was going to have a so-called “Victory Event” at the Harrisburg International Airport to do some last minute campaigning. Harrisburg was on our way to Philadelphia, so we decided to register online and head to the event. Here is our annotated picture gallery.

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The Battle for Ohio

Ohio is probably the most important battle ground state in this election and the race there is very close. According to the latest CNN poll, Obama leads Romney by 3 percent. Both candidates will campaign in Ohio repeatedly before November 6 to secure the 18 electoral votes that are up for grabs.

Once we crossed the state border, we could immediately tell the difference to other states where the race isn’t as close: The radio stations were constantly playing political ads from both parties (we know them by heart now). People told us that they get many (automated) phone calls each day from various local, state, and national candidates. The campaign teams drop entire brochures of voting information in people’s mailboxes. Many voters must be really tired of this by now. Some said they were happy that everything’s over on next Tuesday.

We went to the only voting office in the Cincinnati area (Hamilton County) where early voting is possible (all other locations will only be open on November 6). There was a long line, some voters had to wait outside for around 45 minutes. A few feet away from them, some of the local candidates greeted them (they weren’t allowed to talk to voters once those got in line) and campaign volunteers handed out last minute information and sample ballots. Here are some more impressions of what it was like:

Adam and Eve in Kentucky

A plastic version of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Kentucky

“A Protestant?” asked Eugenia.
“I am an Unitarian, madam,” replied Mr. Brand, impressively.
“Ah, I see,” said Eugenia. “Something new.”
She had never heard of this form of worship.

– Henry James, The Europeans

I just have to admit that it’s quite difficult for me to understand the differences between the various religious institutions of Christian faith in the U.S. While driving from town to town, we came across many churches and temples: Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, United, Episcopal, Evangelical, Lutheran Churches, you name it! I don’t know exactly how these denominations differ from each other: whether they believe in God as a single being or a trinity, whether they reject transubstantiation or pledge for a return to the biblical text – I really don’t care. They can believe in whatever they want and their faith should be respected.

However, today my tolerance in religious matters was pushed beyond its limits. On our way from Louisville to Cincinnati, we stopped at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. As it says on its website, the museum “brings the pages of the Bible to life, casting its characters and animals in dynamic form and placing them in familiar settings.” It tells its visitors, “prepare to believe”. Continue Reading

To Iraq and back

We just had a great time in Louisville (Kentucky) thanks to our host Mike. He’s only 27 but has already run a restaurant, finished a master’s degree in sport administration – and served for a year in Iraq. We had many good conversations with him and his friends, some of them about his time in the service. In this video, he talks about why he decided to join the army and how going to Iraq has changed him.

Titans and Republicans

We went to see a football game in Nashville today. The Tennessee Titans were playing against the Indianapolis Colts. Before the game our couchsurfing hosts took us tailgating in the stadium’s parking lot. Tailgating involves drinking beer and having a BBQ at around 9 o’ clock in the morning. Good times. While sipping away on our cans of Bud Light we met Scott, a friend of our hosts and a firm Republican. Continue Reading

The Continuing Struggle for Civil Rights

Martin Luther King was shot on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis which is now the National Civil Rights Museum.

“Slavery recedes, but the prejudice to which it has given birth is immovable.” Those were the words of Alexis de Tocqueville in 1835 and unfortunately his prophecy proved to be right for many decades to come. Some prejudices and cases of discrimination still persist today. But throughout the last century the position of Afro-Americans in American society has changed considerably, as our visit to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis this morning reminded us. Continue Reading

“Liberty and still more liberty”

We’ve been carrying around a big book with us. At first, we had been hesitant to bring it because it’s quite heavy. But now we’re happy we’ve got it with us. The book is called Tocqueville in America, written by George Pierson, the first official historian of Yale University. Pierson collected and translated many of Tocqueville’s and Beaumont’s letters, notes and diary entries. He then added his own commentary and explanations to arrive at a book that at times reads like a great adventure story.

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“Horses and Bayonets”

In tonight’s debate, Obama and Romney were supposed to discuss foreign policy issues. They did, in a sense, but they also brought up their standard talking points on domestic issues again and again, with hardly any interference by moderator Bob Schieffer.

Overall, a lot of important foreign policy topics weren’t discussed (e.g. war on drugs, foreign aid, Africa, drones, international cooperation regarding climate change and energy).

The most memorable moment of the debate came when Obama replied to Romney’s criticism that the US has an insufficient number of military ships. To this Obama said: “We also have fewer horses and bayonets (…) We have these ships that go underwater. (…) We have these things called air craft carriers”

Here’s a collection of tweets from this debate. Continue Reading

The Democrats of Wisconsin

The Obama campaign office in Appleton

According to Wikipedia, Green Bay is the smallest metropolitan area in the United States that has a professional sports team, the Green Bay Packers. But boy, are people proud of their football team! Everybody here’s a Packers fan. And when the game starts on Sunday at 12 o’ clock, you’ll find them either in the stadium (tickets are sold out for the next three years) or in front of a TV. When a Packer’s game is on, people in the Green Bay area forget about everything – including politics. Continue Reading

The Republicans of Saginaw

The Saginaw Republican Victory Center

As we were driving up North to Sault Ste Mary, passing through the city of Saginaw, we thought it would be interesting to see some Republican campaigning. Until now we had mostly met young, progressive people who either supported the Democratic Party or wished that they didn’t have to choose between either of the two candidates. Continue Reading

The Heidelberg Project in Detroit

At the Heidelberg Project, the entire neighbourhood has become part of an art installation

Detroit is a fascinating place. Driving around, you see many abandoned homes and industrial buildings. Former parking lots are grown over with grass and small trees. A large part of the population has moved away. And yet, we really liked it here. It seems like the dismal state of the city provides many opportunities to rebuild it in a new way. Continue Reading