Voices around Globe Reflect on Trump Presidency
The Reporters Inc.’s staff, Board of Directors and Advisory Committee Members reached out to friends and associates–living in different countries around the world–for their reactions, hopes and concerns about Donald Trump’s ascendency to President of the United States.
We’ve compiled the responses of 14 “everyday” people from 13 different countries on four continents. Though by no means a scientific sampling, this wide array of thoughts and opinions provides a fascinating glimpse into the minds and hearts of people across the planet who are anxiously waiting to see what a Trump administration will do, the ways it will change the U.S., and how it will impact and affect their own lives — and the world in general. (Due to safety or privacy concerns, some have asked us not to reveal their full identities.)
From Lund, Sweden: Monica Libell, a married mother of two, a college professor of Intellectual History, and the Department Head for Arts and Cultural Sciences within the Faculties of Humanities and Theology at Lund University
As long as Trump was a candidate, people laughed; when he was elected people were baffled, then seriously concerned. Swedes fear a Trump presidency will bring poorer trade conditions and isolationistic tendencies, and that it may impact the security in our world. Pax Americana (a term used to describe the relative peace in the Western Hemisphere, and later the world, because of the preponderance of power held by the U.S. beginning around the middle of the 20th century) is a bygone era. What the relationship between Trump and Putin will amount to also draws interest, since Sweden always has had a difficult relationship with Russia.
We hope that Trump is not as bad and unpredictable as he comes across. Everybody is holding their breath to see what direction things will take. Remember that we gave Obama the Nobel Peace Prize whereas Trump terrifies and disgusts people. I have so far not heard one approving comment about Trump.
Sweden is a feminist and anti-racist country. It emphasizes human rights, has probably the most expansive universal healthcare system in the world, and advocates political correctness in all matters. So, Trump does not fit into the Swedish model, at all.
Personally, I am terrified. My husband and kids live in the United States, in an area that seems to heavily favor Trump. Will they be safe? However, as an atheist I doubt I would be more comfortable with fundamentalists like Ted Cruz. Trump pays only lip service to Christianity.
At the same time, I truly hope that some of Trump’s unconventional ideas actually pay off–that his ideas about retaining work in the U.S. will have at least some effect. (If less work is outsourced, for example, by curbing the H1B VISA program, fewer factories and companies move abroad.)
I am not surprised at all that Trump seems to have polarized people in the U.S. His rise seems like a logical continuation (or maybe end point) of a long American journey of division, separation, privileges and marginalization that have been part of the country for quite some time. The coasts have usurped the voices in the “fly-over states,” of the uneducated, of workers, and in rural communities for some time. So no, I do not think this is the work of Trump–the polarization was already there.
From London, England: MIchael Tibbens, a 44-year-old gay real estate financier for Goldman Sachs who moved to the UK a decade ago to marry his English husband
I think the general mood in the UK concerning Trump is one of shock and dismay. I also think there is a great disappointment with the rustbelt voters.
My main concern with this administration is a lack of clarity and his flagrant disregard for the Constitution. His low levels of comprehension are shocking and his Billy Badass attitude is even worse.
My main hope is that Trump makes it through his four-year term because his VP, Mike Pence, is even crazier.
Europeans in general have a great deal of respect for Obama, but the same does not hold true for Trump. Most people in my circles consider him a buffoon.
The effect that I believe it will have on the UK is a sense of coming together. Racism and sexism aren’t really tolerated here. Making racist comments here often makes you a guest of Her Majesty’s Prison Service. No joke.
I think the Russian hacking will be the downfall of Trump.
From Helsinki, Finland: Pirkko Tavaila, a health and wellness advocate and member of The Reporters Inc. advisory committee
As always, Finland stays officially very neutral. Well functioning relationships with all foreign countries is always our goal. We also consider environmental topics important.
However, there are also “more subjective” statements regarding Trump; for example, his inauguration speech. An ex-foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja (a social democrat) here in Finland found Trump’s address disturbingly similar to a speech that Hitler gave in January 1933. In comparison, the current foreign minister Timo Soini (far right politically) bluntly stated in a blog and Tweet that Trump’s speech was exactly what he would have expected from him and that it remains to be seen what will happen with his presidency.
Finland is leading the Arctic Council until 2019. The hope is apparently to get all members of the council around the same table during Finland’s chairmanship. That would mean a high profile summit where presidents of the United States and Russia would both be present. (The member states of the Arctic Council are Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Russia, the U.S. and Canada. The Council is a forum for promoting environmental protection, sustainable development and the inhabitants’ wellbeing in the Arctic areas.)
Support and opposition coexist in Finland for both Trump and the policies of Obama. This can clearly be seen in people’s social media news feeds. Opinions seem to be more strongly divided with President Trump. The two presidents attract completely different reactions and supporters/opponents because they are so different by character and political views. The energies around the two of them are obviously totally different, and energy attracts like energy. I don’t recall people talking about fear when Obama became president. All in all, I think that people were then, and are now, eager to see what will happen during the new presidency. Everybody wants to know how it will affect Europe and the rest of the world.
Given Finland’s history and geographical location, we are a very peace loving country. We believe in democracy and equality. Ultimate approval/disapproval of Trump will follow facts that remain to be seen. Obama was easy to admire. And he was widely admired. With that said, there are people in Finland as well, who admire Trump. Your new president certainly raises eyebrows, to say the least.
Personally, I refuse to give my energy to what I want to get rid of. This is a contrast situation. I am expecting that people everywhere (as individuals and collectively) will come to know what they value. Especially in the U.S. No more playing ignorant. People will be forced to form clear opinions on things and in areas of life that they have not even thought about before. I hope that more peace and equality will come out of this. Eventually. I hope there won’t be any more wars before that outcome.
Let me end by sharing with you an article that was published recently in the Finnish press. The title: Dear Mr. Trump, This is why you should come to Finland… It’s priceless!
From Bogota, Colombia: Sarah, a married American mother of two who travels regularly to Colombia to conduct business
El Tiempo is the newspaper in Colombia that is considered the most neutral. It runs political cartoons daily on Trump. Right after the election it conducted a poll that showed Obama’s approval rating was at 88 percent and Trump’s was in the teens, the second lowest of any political leader in the world, just above Nicolas Maduro (the president of Venezuela). I am too embarrassed to ask any Colombians what they think about he-who-shall-not-be-named. We avoid the topic, and most people are respectful about asking me about him, thank God.
As for me, I believe Trump is screwing his base in the U.S., he is threatening our collective security and wasting government resources with his executive orders, and many of our soldiers/people will die because of his xenophobic/islamaphobia. Yet I really believe the more we say what a nut job he is, the more his base just digs in its heels.
Please don’t use my real name because I fear a wave of McCarthyism is coming and I have no interest in being in the Trump camp’s spotlight. I can join the picket lines when I’m back in the US, but I can get sent home for the wrong step here, regardless of which administration is in power. It’s the price I pay to represent my company overseas.
From Sofia, Bulgaria: Marin Kolev, a 31-year-old gay male television producer in a long-term relationship and a member of The Reporters Inc. advisory committee
There are many Bulgarian immigrants in the United States who are now citizens of the U.S. My sister is one of them. All of these people have relatives, parents, siblings, etc. in Bulgaria. So the main concern is that Trump and his attitude to foreigners will limit the opportunities for these people to visit their relatives in the U.S. My tourist visa expires this year and if I am rejected for another visa I will not be able to come and visit my sister and two nieces.
I don’t know anyone here that likes Trump and supports his presidency. Everyone thinks that he is ridiculous. Actually, during the elections I was 100 percent sure that Hilary was going to win and was completely shocked that this didn’t happen. The next day after Trump won the elections I talked to a friend, who works for UNICEF, and he told me he was very worried that Trump won, because this choice is sending the whole world a very bad message about what a president should be like. The United States of America is one of the most influential and powerful countries in the world and with this choice for a president, this country is no longer a role model.
After the U.S. elected the first black president everyone expected the U.S. to rally behind electing the first female President in American history. That‘s why America is a role model, to influence and give a message to other countries. Everything about the U.S. is image and influence and now it’s a very bad one. A President must UNITE the people and lead them to progress, not polarize a nation.
Although my kind of people and my friends don’t support Trump at all, as in the U.S., here in Bulgaria there are many people, who are easily susceptible to propaganda. At the same time as the U.S. presidential election was being held, we had our own presidential election in Bulgaria. The system here is different; we had many candidates, but there were two leading ones—a general from the Bulgarian Socialist Party and a woman from a new, more democratic party. I thought that the Bulgarian people would vote for the lady, because she represents a more democratic approach and system. But the Bulgarians voted and chose the man from the socialist party as their next president. So I am confused and I don’t know what the majority of the people want.
Bulgarians also have serious concerns about the friendly connections Trump seems to have or want to develop with Russia. Bulgaria is a former communist country. Luckily, when I was four years old we became a democracy. While growing up I remember how things in life were changing. I remember very clearly the moment I saw and ate a banana for the first time in my life. You may think that’s something funny, but it’s not. Actually it’s very sad; in communist Bulgaria there were only apples and grapes, because we weren’t allowed to import fruits from other countries. We were under the strong influence of Russia at that time. There were probably no bananas and oranges in Russia, too. We only had what we produced in our country or what was produced in Russia. And yes, this is surprising to my American friends because Americans have everything.
More importantly, we could not be openly gay because we would be killed. Women couldn’t wear short skirts because if caught doing so police would stamp their legs with ink that wouldn’t wash off for months. We couldn’t live in another country because we couldn’t leave Bulgaria. Even people from certain cities weren’t allowed to travel to other cities within the country.
A non-Bulgarian impregnated a very famous Bulgarian singer, who now lives in Las Vegas, during the communism era. The government confined her to a hospital and removed the baby, because it was not allowed for Bulgarian women to give birth to babies with foreign fathers.
Bottom line, Bulgarians couldn’t make choices—we were denied a basic ability that God gave us. We couldn’t choose to eat a banana or an apple simply because there were no bananas. NOTHING GOOD CAN COME FROM CLOSE TIES TO RUSSIA.
Finally, I hope that Trump will change his mind about this stupid wall he wants to build with Mexico. I hope he will not be doing anything to set back or repeal gay marriage. I hope he will reconsider most of his ideas. I hope he will resign as a President!
From Abuja, Nigeria: Musa, a 34-year-old high school teacher
I believe Trump is trying to defend a broken American economy and the American people from infiltrators.
America should unite and support Trump in fighting terrorism. America has been targeted and hit too many times by homegrown and foreign terrorists so he needs to take whatever means possible to protect the American people. Those seven countries he placed travel bans on, how many of their people are protesting against terrorist attacks against America? How many? They too should defend America’s interest in their respective countries if they know they would like to seek refuge in America someday.
Americans should realize Trump has been sworn in constitutionally as president of the United States and they should respect that fact. Whatever executive orders he makes or policies he creates, if the people don’t agree with him they should be resolved to challenge them through dialogue, not by merely protesting.
America needs strong leadership now more than ever before, so the people should support Trump and stop the name-calling.
Politically, l think Trump should take action against all the politicians in my country who steal our money and come to the U.S. to squander it. Trump should ban all of them from traveling to the U.S.
From Asuncion, Paraguay: Selva Belen Berecochea Keim, 28-year-old dog breeder, make up artist and furniture renovator
In my country we are quite terrified of Trump as president because he’s similar to our president, Horacio Cartes, who was also a businessman with no political experience. They are both men with too much ego and that does not lead to anything good. Everyone is leaving or wants to leave Paraguay because there is no opportunity to get ahead. It is unfortunate that people in the rural areas had the last word in your election.
I obviously can’t compare a third world country like Paraguay to the U.S. but here the ambition of certain leaders influences a lot of situations; we no longer live in a dictatorship but some of our leaders still behave as if it is. And in some ways, we are afraid that what is happening here might happen in the U.S. with Trump in charge. When someone wants and gets more and more power it is worrisome.
I lived in the United States for three years and I really noticed the humility of Obama, and his kindness and respect towards immigrants and people of color who had suffered many indignities. Trump entered as a tyrant, yet he comes from an immigrant mother and has an immigrant wife and let’s not forget all the immigrants who work for Trump enterprises. Why then is there so much need on his part to denigrate immigrants? And how will the new rules he imposes affect us in Paraguay from entering the U.S.?
I hope that however the laws change in the U.S. they are fair to both immigrants and people of different thoughts, religions, sexualities, etc. because in the end we are all human and we should all have the opportunity to express ourselves freely even if Trump does not like the thought of “others.” Hopefully he has the ethics and morals necessary to accept and listen to each opinion without demeaning anyone.
As for Russia, the ties Trump seems to have to Putin are troubling. Russia has no pity for any situation and I believe its goal is to exploit the world. Any war it might generate would be a disaster for all of us.
I want to end by saying to all those Latinos who voted for Trump that they should remember that they or their relatives or grandparents were immigrants too, and came to the United States for a dream. Today many Latinos have American nationality but that does not erase the past from which they came or ensure them a safe future.
From Padua, Italy: Haruko, a native of Japan, doctoral level mathematician, mother of two, and devout Christian who moved to Italy in 1990 when her husband was transferred
I think the general attitude of Japan, for the moment, is the following:
1) We need to wait, see, and then analyze what is going on, and what will happen, in the U.S. Namely, we are all waiting until Trump really learns the basics of politics.
2) We need to correct his misconceptions and his misunderstandings concerning Japan.
3) We need to continue to develop a win-win relationship between the U.S. and Japan.
Since both Trump and Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s former prime minister, had great success in business before getting involved in politics, some Italians think that Trump is some kind of Berlusconi. However, I think they are basically very different. When Berlusconi was elected, he did things that were convenient for his own businesses and for his own family. Instead, Trump seems to be doing what he thinks is right for his nation although he is still ignorant about his new job.
Right after the election, I had the opportunity to talk to some American Christians. They said, “Trump is a jerk, but Clinton is a criminal. We had to choose between two bad candidates.” They were talking about the abortion issue. But choosing the president is like choosing a pilot of a very sophisticated airplane. Let us suppose for the moment that Clinton actually is a killer. My question is, “Is it right to choose an unqualified non-killer pilot rather than a very qualified pilot (but also a killer) to let him navigate our airplane?”
I think the presidential candidates should pass at least some kind of a qualifying exam. Before the election, the Italian news simply didn’t consider Trump as a possible president because they thought he did not qualify. The same can be said also in Japan.
Many power holders in history have manipulated information. It was usually done secretly. But Trump lies openly and publicly under the name of “alternative facts.”
I’ve been watching the growing fight between the judicial system and Trump’s abuse of executive orders. I hope the process of democracy keeps working in the U.S. I think that in order for that to happen, every voter needs to become far more aware of the essence of democracy, develop an ability to examine information they obtain more carefully, and have a much clearer idea about the prerequisites of the presidency.
From Paris, France: Isabelle, a 57-year-old hospital director
The segment of the French people who were able to appreciate Obama’s government (maybe 30 percent) is afraid of the arrival of Trump, because this echoes the risk of the emergence of the Front National (FN) in the next election in France in a few months. Front National is a right-wing populist and nationalist political party in France. Its major policies include economic protectionism, a zero tolerance approach to law and order issues, and opposition to immigration. The principal parties on the right and left have no leader emerging from the pack (it’s sad).
In France, many people often vote simply to obstruct the FN, but citizens are disengaged and indecisive. A week before it’s time to go to the polls, a good number don’t know who they’re going to vote for. On the other hand, few people dare say publicly that they’re voting for the FN (as if they know it’s not a good idea). This seems similar to what transpired in the U.S. with Trump.
It’s mostly the working class (I believe) who lean towards supporting the FN because political parties who in fact actually do defend the working class disappoint them. This situation is compounded by citizens with weak cognitive skills analyzing complex situations. The salary of a blue-collar worker doesn’t accommodate lodging and providing for a family of four. The FN lets them hope for better days, given that foreigners are taking jobs from the unemployed and accepting work for just a few euros an hour. (This too seems similar to the storyline in the States that got Trump elected.)
On the other hand, the upper class has exorbitant salaries (more than 20 times that of a blue-collar worker without counting various advantages like bonuses, tax havens etc.). There’s a feeling of injustice among the workers because there is no profit sharing with them, even when the businesses they work for are thriving financially.
Trump seems to be a manipulative phony. He advances ideas to protect the people who voted for him and, because of this, he’s ready to disrespect international rules with past accords, i.e. blocked immigration at the entry to the U.S. and the disrespect of the COP21 engagement. (COP21 is short for “Conference of the Parties 21,” the event held in Paris at the end of 2016 during which countries from all over the world met to try to decide the best ways to keep the planet from getting any hotter.) The problem is that these actions and decisions by Trump lead people into taking risks that could destabilize international powers. There will be a good number of mess-ups on defense records, nuclear attacks, intelligence—problems that we might only learn about in X years later, or never.
Trump wants to change alliances with influential countries. France risks turning its back on him to go towards the Nordic countries (Norway and Sweden) that have innovative economies and are therefore interesting for ours. Europe can now really upset the U.S. by putting them at a distance.
America’s coming decline? Perhaps it’s a new World War. This man will need to be stopped by his collaborators or by the people of the U.S. who elected him.
It’s too bad that world history doesn’t help us to avoid making the same mistakes. On the contrary; it seems to give us ideas to do even worse.
I don’t feel hopeless though, just realistic.
From Paris, France: Sabina, a retired university English teacher
75 percent of French people are worried about the direction the U.S. is headed–about foreign politics, of course, in terms of the alliance with Putin and the rejection of NATO– and in terms of domestic politics, immigration and social security (the end of Obamacare?).
Alas, the three powers in the U.S. are all majority Republican. For the moment, we can’t count on the Senate, the House of Representatives or the Supreme Court to stop anything Trump tries. So, maybe, two years for him to mess things up?
The anti-global trade economic system that Trump favors might also put the U.S. in danger. Regardless, those bored people [who voted for him] are going to cry.
Obama was someone big, although not much helped by the other branches of government. I have admiration for him.
America has already had presidents who endangered world peace, namely, the Bush son (consider the scheming in Iraq in 2003 and their dramatic consequences, including the fallout with our former president, Jacques Chirac).
The polls about Trump’s popularity and support in France aren’t settled yet, and these days the only people who get joy out of reading the newspaper are the Front National (hyper-conservative party in France) supporters.
As for the Clinton-Trump match, had the popular vote served its purpose and worked for the general good, we would’ve had Clinton–regardless of Russian (or others’) propaganda and skullduggery. I would have hoped that Americans would be better versed on the facts. Why not abolish the Electoral College system? It seems like it’s outdated and obsolete.
From Amsterdam, Netherlands: Johan, a 53-year-old gay airline employee, in a long-term relationship
The general public in Holland dislikes Trump, but the religious right here loves him because he puts the church back on the agenda. And another segment here loves him because he is against Islam and the refugee influx. These are the same people who will vote for Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician who is the founder and leader of the Party for Freedom. (Wilders is best known for his criticism of Islam; his far-right opposition views have made him a controversial figure in the Netherlands and abroad. He’s been charged with inciting racial hatred and been compared to Trump.)
According to the current polls, Wilders is now on course to become Holland’s new prime minister when the elections are held in March, winning by a large majority.
There are many people in Holland who say they won’t vote for Wilders publicly but, like what happened with Trump, it’s believed they’ll vote for him in secret at the ballot box.
Members of the far right in Europe are organizing or joining forces on the political stage and coming together. This is definitely not good for gay rights.
From Cape Town, South Africa: Nodi Murphy, a white lesbian and newly retired film festival director
Though I listen to BBC radio and read The Daily Maverick, a South African online news and opinion site, mine is a shallow pond, and these my shallow ponderings:
We here in South Africa are at the bottom of the planet, at the farthest remove from the United States. No doubt we trade with the U.S., we have our Globals that plough and mine all kinds of useful stuff, but I reckon we are a small player. And, since the change in regime in 1994 (when apartheid ended), we’re off that pariah radar and are considered, mostly, one of the more stable countries on this continent.
So, America is a little far away, and we are of little concern to you. We didn’t feature much during Obama’s tenure and I doubt we’ll be of any real interest for Trump. Or for Americans in general. You have Others, and yourselves, in your sights.
We, my milieu, were gobsmacked by your unpleasantly combative election. Will it spill over on to us, this Trump presidency? No doubt. There are overwhelming changes a-coming, but I have no way of calculating the ways or the cost to us. We are mere onlookers, innocent bystanders perhaps, and, maybe, we think you got what you deserved for not being vigilant enough.
And we have our own profound problems to worry on. Trump is a sideshow to the drama that is the ANC (African National Congress, the social democratic political and ruling party of the country beginning with the election of Nelson Mandela in ‘94) that is losing ground and credibility. Scandals abound, incompetence and looting are the headlines. Have we, too, got what we deserve?
My stalwart ANC friends take the long view–the tenets of the movement are deep, well thought out and generous, our Constitution is a magnificent work–and say that after the high of liberation, there is the trough, and then the rise. Sadly, it seems, we are not at bottom yet. And you’ve a way to go. I just hope you don’t take us with you.
From Singapore in Southeast Asia: Nataly, a married mother and Russian native who immigrated to the U.S. years ago but then moved to Singapore four years ago when her husband was transferred
We don’t even know whom to trust anymore as we got pretty disgusted by the media during the campaign. When you take yourself out of the U.S. and start looking at it from the outside in, you realize that very little of what is on TV or the Internet is unbiased and is actually journalism, as opposed to someone’s opinion.
Keeping in mind that most of our friends are expats as well, most (Australians and Brits) are not fans of Trump or what he stands for.
In speaking generally with some local cab drivers, their thoughts can be summarized as (a) they loved Obama (b) the current situation is making them nervous mostly because of the trade, and (c) Singapore heavily relies on the U.S. as a friend and a partner, and because people are afraid of China having too much power, that nervousness expressed in (d) has been compounded by Trump.
As for me personally, I wasn’t a fan of Trump or Clinton. It was sad that neither party could come up with a candidate who had strong principles, morals and an actual positive plan as to how to bring change that is desperately needed.
When you live in a country like Singapore where not paying taxes is not even an option, where the government runs a surplus that is then constantly reinvested into infrastructure and making government systems efficient, where the possession of drugs is punishable by death so there is no drug problem, where there are no shootings because possession of guns of any kind is illegal and punishable by death, where it takes me to go from the shower at home to the gate of my plane just 40 minutes because going through security is not a two hour waste of time (Singapore Changi Airport being named one of the best airports in the world), and where I don’t have to sit in traffic because the number of cars on the roads is regulated so there is no over pollution and congestion on the streets, it is easy to start seeing that things could be done differently and there is a different way to live that can actually work.
As far as the U.S.-Russia situation goes, as a Russian who hasn’t lived there for 20 years now, but who goes back once every year or two, I’ve never heard Russian media or Russian people or even Putin (a few times I saw him speak to the public on TV which he does often) express any negative sentiments about the U.S. or make it sound like America was its enemy.
And lastly, as far as polarizing the country, I think it’s impossible for any unpopular candidate to be a popular president. I do feel that American politics got so complex during he campaign and, in the absence of unbiased journalism, it’s now, sadly, hard to differentiate truth from “alternative facts.”
From Hong Kong, China: Kong Tsung-gan, a political activist, writer, and married father of two
In a country like China, there’s a gap between the government and people. Perhaps that’s the case to an extent in most countries, but China’s more extreme because it’s a dictatorship. The dictator, the Communist Party, prefers predictability, and so it’s uncomfortable about Trump because it doesn’t know what he will do, and statements by him and his cabinet nominees on Taiwan, the South China Sea and trade worry it.
Basically, U.S. policy on China has been more or less the same ever since Nixon’s rapprochement with Mao in the early seventies. That’s nearly half a century of the U.S., on the one hand, rhetorically “standing tall for rights” while, on the other, putting security and trade interests above all else.
Trump talks tough on trade, but little of what he says makes sense. If he really wants to “change the game” on China in terms of trade, he’ll have to confront Americans, who are not only workers but also consumers, and who are addicted to cheap stuff made in China. Will they put up with the disruptions and probably higher costs that any kind of barriers placed on imports from China will bring? Are they prepared for the sorts of retaliatory actions China could take?
Trump is a businessman and trumpets his pro-business agenda, and businesspeople in the U.S. are almost entirely pro-status-quo when it comes to China. If anything, they want the U.S. government to lobby China harder on allowing American businesses greater access to Chinese markets. When push comes to shove, will Trump say no to them? I’m skeptical. No other U.S. president has. So the question is the extent to which Trump will be a departure from the status quo. To some extent, he is in terms of rhetoric, but in actual practice? We’ll see.
The other matter is security. There’s been tough talk over the South China Sea, and really, the rest of the world does need to stand up to Chinese imperial overreach on the matter, but again, it remains to be seen whether Trump goes beyond talk. Talking tough is risky because if you follow through, you increase the chances of instability and even war, and if you don’t, you lose credibility and are perceived as weak.
Many think the Chinese government sees a Trump presidency, if indeed it means America retreating from the world, as an opportunity to exert greater international influence, to fill the vacuum, so to speak, and they point to Xi Jinping’s (the current General Secretary of the Communist Party of China and President of the People’s Republic of China) recent appearance at the World Economic Forum in Davos as an example of that. The Trump presidency could buttress the Chinese dictatorship in that you have a strongman/authoritarian type as the head of the most powerful country in the world at a time when strongman-ism and illiberalism seem to be in the ascendancy (Russia, Turkey, India, Poland, Hungary, etc.). So democracy does indeed appear to be on the defensive.
On the other hand, apart from trade, China’s got almost nothing to offer the rest of the world. Its immediate neighbors despise and fear it, and it’s got almost zero cultural or ideological appeal beyond its borders. So it will largely use leverage on trade, its position in international organizations, and its relations with global elites like those at Davos to try to take advantage of any vacuum left by Trumpian isolationism. Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact is regarded by some as an opportunity for China to fill the trade vacuum, but I don’t see it—China’s already strong there and will continue to hold and strengthen its position, regardless of the TPP. The TPP was flawed, Obama refused to address its flaws, and it deserves its death: No more big multilateral trade treaties based on neo-liberal principles that disproportionately benefit businesses to the detriment of workers’ rights and interests, please! The bigger question is whether Trump will really isolate the US economically.
There’s virtually no expectation that Trump will be an influence in improving the terrible human rights situation in China.
For ordinary Chinese citizens, U.S. politics can often seem more spectacle than reality. Many appeared to enjoy the spectacle of Trump during the elections, and there’s much Chinese government propaganda along the lines of, “See, that’s what you get with democracy.” But when it comes down to it, most Chinese respond to U.S. politics in general with a shrug—it all seems very distant and far away. They have more pressing concerns in their own lives. Obama didn’t really register for the Chinese. He didn’t do much on China. Trump will only register for Chinese if his actions, on trade or security for example, have an impact on their lives.
As someone who’s worked hard on issues having to do with human rights, freedom and democracy in many places around the world, I believe Trump could very well be a catastrophe, both for the U.S. and the rest of the world. Whether or not he proves to be depends to a large extent on ordinary Americans. The estimates of the turnout for the Women’s Marches around the U.S. on January 21 are a low of 3,278,497 and a high of 4,833,719. Those extraordinarily high numbers are encouraging: there’s strong resistance.
The pressing question is whether that resistance can be sustained and turned into power within the formal political system. I should say that on this matter, Americans have not been active enough in recent years. Everyone’s talking about Trump as something incredibly new, and in many respects, that’s true, but I remember Bush very well. It was not so long ago. In the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, millions protested around the world, but the turnout in the U.S. was quite low. I remember marching in Minneapolis on a freezing cold day in February. We were perhaps a few hundred, at most. It was a lonely feeling.
You really wonder sometimes what it takes to get Americans to act, to stand up. They are now, and if they keep doing so, I think they can succeed to a great extent in “keeping those tiny fingers off our human rights,” as one sign at the Women’s March put it. The best case scenario is that Republicans lose control of Congress in two years and Trump is out in four, having caused only superficial damage with his largely numbskull and incompetent cabinet. The worst-case scenario hardly bears thinking about, but could involve a significant deterioration of American democracy and perhaps war, the latter involving a terrible decision by an impulsive Commander in Chief that leads to the use of nuclear weapons. Americans need to look beyond their borders and realize their fight against Trump occurs in the context of the fight of millions of people around the world for democracy, human rights and freedom.
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