Inter [national] view – The US primaries

The face of this year's primaries: Donald Trump and his winning pose. As a person, Americans still can't tell if he is a joke - as a political actor he certainly is a threat. (Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore/5440393641)

Social and political matters from all around the world are brought to us every day through online media, blogs and news. Some issues are so present that we might feel like experts after reading the sixtieth article about them.
Futur drei sets up a new series of interviews with a kind of expert we don’t always have the chance to talk to: Incoming students who have experienced their own country dealing with problems and events that we only read about in German media. This week, Phillip met with Shaini & Molly to discuss the US primaries and get insider’s views on US politics in 2016.

 

It is not like German politics are boring these days. The migrant crisis, elections in various states and shifts in the traditional party system are heating up discussions and are being covered by every news channel available. However, US domestic politics are without a doubt almost as prominent in the news right now. And it’s not just that. They have been an unusually present topic for half a year and the climate has changed overseas, too.

Molly and Shaini, who both have been in Germany for three months, have not followed the primaries as much as it would have been the case in the US, but both are alarmed. When I ask Molly from Kansas if the political discussions she is having with friends and family now changed compared to four years ago, she says: “Oh yeah, big time. The political climate has changed drastically in the last 4 years.” Shaini agrees, but “in the sense that it is a continual evolution. Before, we thought it was heated – now it’s even more so. We didn’t think it could get as heated as it is now.”
When we Germans talk about the US primaries from an outsider’s view, it is Trump, Trump and Trump. Californian student Shaini has realized this, too: “Since I’ve been here, everyone seems to be centered about Trump but when I hear stuff from the US, it is more inclusive of Clinton, Cruz and Sanders. So I guess in that sense, me being a person of communication and international studies, it is interesting to see how everyone else looks at the US versus how the US sees itself. I’m like: This is nice, that is the impression we are giving off to the rest of the world – Trump.”

Both girls are rather surprised that the first question they are asked always is if they are going to vote for Trump. I try to explain the German curiosity in the presence of “first-hand information”: “It is something that doesn’t get into our heads. Because everyone sees that you wouldn’t vote for Trump, but in the end there is a huge percentage who would vote for him. 35, maybe 40 percent.” And that seems to be something many Americans themselves do not understand. “In the beginning I thought everyone was joking because I couldn’t believe how stupid he is. But now I think maybe we should reconsider our concepts of how people are voting, especially in comparison to past elections. This is very serious. I thought we were more progressive than this”, says Shaini. It is this kind of self-criticism and reflective faculty that reminds me of the way Germans talk about their political attitudes. I ask the girls which stereotypes they have been confronted with here in Friedrichshafen, and they both mention the same thing:

“Many things are about us not being aware and Americans being rather ignorant about what is going on in the world, which I think is true to some extent, and sad.” And Molly adds to her discontent: “It is disappointing; there is a whole world and they are choosing to see one corner only.”
“There are 7 billion people in the world, you should pay attention to at least some of them”, is Shaini’s opinion.

The next critical topic we turn to is the media’s role in the elections. Of course, they focus on the most exciting stories and report about the candidates that the people are interested in. But Molly thinks that the influence is even stronger the other way around: “Participation depends a lot on the media. That is also partly why Trump has been successful so far: That’s what the media covers!” Shaini tells me about the other side of campaigning, about a friend of hers who is feeling the Bern and therefore reports about every single one of the outstanding rallies and initiative that is being held. “She posts all these things that people do for Sanders that CNN or FOX do not cover. She is constantly saying ‘this is the real story, we have hundreds of people holding We Love Bernie signs, but you don’t see it on TV’.”

According to the two Americans abroad, the enthusiasm we can see for Trump, Clinton or Sanders is only a temporary one. Both have seen Obama’s campaigns impress the people who then weren’t taking a look at politics for four years. This is why policies, programs and concepts take a back seat in the heated environment of 2016. “That is what Trump is gaining on: There are many people that still have very discriminatory feelings” and “he is pulling up their emotions, not necessarily thoughts about politics” say the students. They experience the effect the ongoing campaigns have on their fellow Americans. The results are astonishment and uncertainty: Both don’t know who they would vote for, although their liberal and progressive thinking would surely make them seem like democrats for an outsider.
Shaini thinks her uncertainty is no exception: “More and more people are refusing this: identifying with a party. They look at the parties’ policies and think ‘I don’t agree with this’. They tend to be independent.” Some also vote for third parties, but no one believes they can make a difference.

Just out of curiosity, I ask them: “If you could choose, would you rather have a multiparty system in the US? Just theoretically?”
“I have never considered that”, is the honest answer. Shaini as well as Molly see the potential benefit but they also see the many tries to establish new parties that were always swallowed up by either the Republicans or the Democrats. In theory, it would be great, but Americans couldn’t adapt to such a change.

I’m quite stunned by the impressions that I’ve received. On the one hand, these primaries seem to leave a trace in the already scarred political landscape. On the other, even the young generation doesn’t see change coming around the corner soon. At least no positive change…
“Every time I watch Trump talk about international politics I think: He doesn’t know squat! He would just screw up everything and piss of every world leader, even our allies.
People hate us now – I don’t want to know what happens if he wins.”

Well, and if the prayers are heard and he doesn’t win, things might calm down as fast as always. When we talk about the last election four years ago and the fate of ex-Obama-contender Mitt Romney, I politely remind the girls of his name. “Wow. Exhibit A of American stupidity”, is Molly’s quick reaction. If more Americans explore their reflective, aware side, these primaries and elections might take a good turn after all.

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