The below paragraph appears in the article "USA nach Trump-Sieg. Gespenstische Tage" from Der Spiegel (my questions refers to the italicized portion of the sentence at the end of the paragraph):

Die Optimisten sagen, es werde schon nicht so schlimm. Es gibt Gründe, so zu denken. Trump mag ein hemmungsloser Populist sein, ein erzkonservativer Ideologe ist er nicht. Trump hat Schwächen in der Globalisierung erkannt, er will massiv in die Infrastruktur investieren, Jobs schaffen, die Sozialversicherung beibehalten. Niemand werde "unter ihm einfach auf der Straße sterben", hat er mal gesagt, und da haben sie alle ganz schön dumm aus der Wäsche geguckt bei den eigenverantwortungsverliebten Republikanern. Aber Trump, der Samariter, ist das denkbar?

1) Who are sie? It seems that sie may refer to optimists, but the sentence does not make much sense to me then.

2) Why did sie look stupid (dumm aus der Wäsche gucken = to look stupid)?. My translation of the italicized part of the sentence would be:

... and they all have looked pretty stupid in the eyes of the Republicans obsessed by the notion of self-responsibility.

But that's not very meaningful to me either.

  • 4
    I would have translated dumm aus der Wäsche schauen as looking stupidly.
    – Jan
    Commented Nov 13, 2016 at 16:34
  • Please titles never fully in English. They don't describe the actual question.
    – c.p.
    Commented Nov 24, 2016 at 13:47

4 Answers 4


Sie are members of the group eigenverantwortungsverliebte Republikaner, so translation would be

... and they all have looked pretty stupid, the Republicans obsessed by the notion of self-responsibility.

This becomes more clear when reordering the sentence:

und da haben sie bei den eigenverantwortungsverliebten Republikanern alle ganz schön dumm aus der Wäsche geguckt.

They looked stupid, since Trump did not state the hardliner point of view.


Dumm aus der Wäsche gucken does not exactly mean "looking pretty stupid". I do not know the best translation, but it can be explained as:

  • You have a very good idea how a situation should evolve. You set something up, you know what will going to happen.

  • Now something intervenes and the situation does not only change completely, it also gives you only disadvantages. The difference from "looking pretty stupid" is that this something need not to be your fault or lack of preparation and therefore an outsider does not need to see you as incompetent. Dumm aus der Wäsche gucken could also mean "Tough luck, your plan is going to the dogs due to unforeseen consequences and now you are annoyed, embarassed and feel duped". It could also the case that an independent observer has pity with you because the situation is really unfair to you.

The sentence essentially lays out the problem that the Republicans can hardly argue against giving help. "You are self-responsible" are socially acceptable codewords for "I don't give a damn about you, especially if you are poor and/or a minority/lower class". But if someone like Trump says "I am going to help someone" what could you do against him without sounding like an asshole ? So Trump essentially forces them to acknowledge Trumps proposal as good ("Christian values") when in fact many of them really do not want this. This is what the article is saying.

  • 2
    Thanks for ""You are self-responsible" are socially acceptable codewords for "I don't give a damn about you, especially if you are poor and/or a minority/lower class"". I'll happily use that when needed. Myself I observed that people calling for "self-responsibility" are usually refusing to take responsibility themselves.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Nov 13, 2016 at 8:01

I have also heard this expression with the meaning of being dumbfounded or baffled (verdutzt/verblüfft/sprachlos/platt sein) rather than just looking stupid. This meaning would also make a lot more sense in this context


"Den eigenverantwortungsverliebten Republikanern" are "laissez-faire" Republicans (the traditional, mainstream kind).

My history teachers taught me that no one could win the Presidency running against "free trade." But that's essentially what Trump did, threatening to raise tariffs, to "seal the border" (against immigration), to "renegotiate" trade deals, probably using threats.

In this way, he appealed to the lower middle class threatened by globalization, using economic themes historically the province of the Democrats. Thus, he won over the so-called "Reagan Democrats" (President Reagan was a Democrat before he became a Republican), who are pro-Democrat on economic issues, pro-Republican on "social" issues such as abortion, and were therefore pro-Trump.

This represented his margin of victory, and surprised Republicans almost as much as Hillary Clinton. Far from pulling down the Republican ticket, Trump's "unusual" approach may have been their best chance to win. That's why "mainstream" Republicans "looked stupid" for not seeing it earlier.

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