Originally published on the Star Tribune Blog.
Three years ago I studied abroad as a Rotary Exchange Student in Germany. When people found out that I was from the United States, the first questions were aimed at things like stereotypes of American culture — such as, obesity and fast food. Now, the 2016 Presidential Election is the current go-to topic. American stereotypes have been put on hold for the more burning questions regarding Senator Clinton and Donald Trump, but mostly Donald Trump. Not only have the questions themselves changed, but also the tone of voice in which they are asked. What may have been good-natured teasing three years ago, has evolved into a wary cautiousness.
I’m currently an International Student at a University in Germany, whose campus is largely international. The questions stated here are not limited to German opinions; rather they come from multiple European countries, West and East. These questions/opinions in no way speak for all European citizens.
1- Are you a Trump supporter?
This question, asked cautiously and with reserve, is always first; what used to be a source of humor is now a sobering reality. While some are still laughing at the absurdity of our election, others are angry that the United States has allowed someone like Mr. Trump to make it so far in the election. His success, paired with his blatant racism, sexism, and lack of political knowledge, is both troubling and completely confusing. The United States is a powerful country and our President affects more than just our country. In fact, some in the international sphere have suggested that the United States open this election up to the international society.
The questioners’ relief is physically visible when my response comes back a strong “no.” Although I do not know exactly how that reaction would change should my response be different, I doubt that anyone could get away with supporting Trump without a barrage of questions and disapproving looks. It seems as if this question is the “make it or break it” question: answer incorrectly and have one’s character judged and intellect questioned.
2- How has Trump made it this far in the Election?
This question is normally either proceeded with, or followed by the reasons that disqualify Trump as a presidential candidate. I never know how to answer this question. I do not support Donald Trump, and I too am troubled by his large following. I sometimes feel the need to defend myself, due to the demanding manner in which this question is asked. For the Europeans I’ve met, Mr. Trump’s run for Presidency should not even be happening. Examples of some comments I have heard include:
“He is not qualified; he’s just a businessman; he’s racist, sexist, homophobic, etc.”
“The United States of America, the “Land of the Free” wants to elect a man who wants to build walls, and force other countries pay for them. Isn’t that hypocritical?”
While United States citizens choose to focus on Mr. Trump’s success in business and his “honesty,” these factors are irrelevant abroad. The media abroad does not focus on his previous business successes, and international society does not have the same cultural associations with the name “Trump” as American citizens do. The world sees and judges the candidate for what he has done and said in this election, and they are not impressed.
3- Americans are “stuck” with Hillary.
Although it’s not a question, it is a statement on which I always feel the need to comment. Throughout the election, both the domestic and international media have heavily focused on the scandals of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, thus giving viewers an unfavorable image of both candidates. People may be disgusted by Mr. Trump, but many are equally troubled by Senator Clinton. For example, I have heard that neither candidate is stable, both are immoral, and it’s the end of the world regardless of who becomes President of the United States.
Currently residing in Germany, I have experienced firsthand the international coverage our election receives. Similar to the United States, the focus remains on social jabs and previous scandals of the two candidates. While watching a summary of the first debate, the only topic discussed was the childish banter going on between Senator Clinton and Mr. Trump. Unless a person has a deeper interest in changes a candidate hopes to achieve, the focus of information they will receive will revolve around who has said or done the most controversial thing.
Why is this International perspective important?
The United States is powerful and respected. Some people respect us because we are powerful, while others venerate our values of freedom and equality. Yet this election and possibility of Donald Trump becoming the next Commander in Chief cause doubt. Naturally one cannot judge an entire country and all of its citizens by the leader. Millions of people around the world have personal connections with American citizens and these relationships would not change simply because of one disliked or misguided President. The overall impression of the United States, however, would indeed suffer. The American values of equality and freedom cannot accommodate the election of a man who publicly deems only certain races, religions and genders worthy of these should-be natural-born human rights.
The United States should not have to impose itself on other countries in order to gain the test of respect. It would neither be true nor would it withstand the test of time. Just because we have power now, does not mean we will always be feared. If our power or respect is based on fear and intimidation, but in reality everyone hates us, then we will constantly be fighting to keep control, constantly having to push other countries down to stay on top. I personally would much rather work WITH other countries for the betterment of the world and international society, rather than against them for our personal gain. Many of the problems we face, such as global warming, cannot be solved without cooperation from multiple countries. Fear and intimidation may work for short-term goals, but they are no way to run a country.
I have attached an article from CNN, also addressing an international perspective from 10 Journalists around the world. Although written in January of 2016, I believe the views remain valid.