Eyes Overseas: European and American concerns (and fears) over Trump
Americans in Prague have voted differently in recent U.S. presidential elections
One of the first things many Americans living overseas are asked about by natives is often, “What’s your opinion on Trump?” It’s unavoidable, as the fascination and media frenzy around Republican front-runner candidate Donald Trump extends well beyond the United States borders. People globally are carefully watching this year’s Presidential elections, and the results so far have been semi-startling for citizens globally. During the last two Super Tuesday elections, both Trump and Hilary Clinton of the Democratic Party have appeared as front-runners, winning the most amount of state delegates.
The reactions from Americans living overseas however have been very different. The results of the Democrats Abroad vote, in which 170 countries collected ballots, showed Democratic nominee Bernie Sanders as the favorite. Sanders received 69% of the vote in the Democrats Abroad’s Global Presidential Primary, winning 9 delegates, whereas Clinton only received 31% of the overseas vote.
And though Republicans living overseas do not have a separate Republicans overseas primary vote, they are loathe to support Trump.
“Trump is not received well overseas,” said the Republicans Overseas Chairman Czech Republic, and Republicans Overseas Vice President Eastern Europe Roger Johnson. “I find him very radical and dangerous.”
Republican Ciaran Kelly agrees with Johnson and feels that both of the remaining Republican candidates are inadequate. “Both are too extreme, limited and out of touch with regular Americans,” he said. “The people who voted in the primary don’t want a center candidate.”
Kelly points out that voter turnouts in the primary is routinely low and does not represent the majority view of registered Republicans. He said “Republicans are actually embarrassed that Trump is doing so well.”
However, he also believes that the Republican Party has strayed from its roots. “I joined the Republican party because I loved Ronald Reagan, and I think they’ve turned their backs on everything that he stood for,” he said. “They’re now the party of exclusion. It’s like if you’re not a Protestant, you’re a second class citizen. Current Republicans are catering to a non-centrist view and are shooting themselves in the foot.”
Johnson describes himself as a rabid moderate. “I don’t think compromise is a bad word and I find it regrettable that some parties think it is,” he said.
Overseas, the ability for Republicans and Democrats to work together over common issues and goals isn’t as far-fetched as it is in the states. Johnson routinely works together with people from the Democratic Party, such as Julia Bryan, Chair of Democrats Abroad Czech Republic, and the International Secretary for the global organization. Some of the biggest issues that they work on together involve international taxes and other international affairs and concerns. Bryan believes that currently the “Republican party is really split.”
Support and membership for the Republican Party overseas is routinely lower than for Democrats, with exception to military bases. In 2012, the American embassy in Prague couldn’t initially find any representatives for the Republican Party. “I think living overseas gives you a broader perspective, which turns into a democratic perspective,” Bryan said. “Living abroad makes you more civil society minded because you realize that you rely on society to survive. It’s different than in the United States, where you often feel more independent.”
Lisa Nguyen, a democratic voter who has lived overseas for over two years, is a testament to this shift. “I think living abroad made me more liberal than I was before,” she said. Her opinions sharply differ from her parents living in America, who plan to vote for Trump.
Contrary to the stereotype that Trump supporters are uneducated, both of Nguyen’s parents are ivy-league educated doctors from Stanford and Cornell. Nguyen’s father plans to vote for Trump because he likes how “Trump tells it like it is,” and her mother plans to vote for Trump simply because she doesn’t like Clinton. When asked about her parents’ voting decision, Nguyen commented, “If they vote for Trump, they’re not getting grandchildren.”
Nguyen calls Trump a “bully and an imperialist,” and even went so far as to say that “Trump is like Hitler.”
Another voter, Chris Bahr, who holds a dual German and United States citizenship and has lived in the Czech Republic for over two years, agrees with this comparison.
“His sentiment to ‘make America great again’ is much more radical,” Bahr said. “It’s like a second Nazi regime in a way.”
One of Nguyen’s biggest problems with Trump is his idea that America is the best country in the world. She said “We grew up listening to American exceptionalism, believing that capitalism is the best,” she said. “But when you live abroad you broaden your perspective.”
Many Americans lack this perspective however, and can be ignorant about issues relating to foreign affairs.
“Americans typically don’t have an informed viewpoint on the rest of the world,” Johnson said. “People that live in America that don’t travel or have passports, don’t know what it’s like overseas. They don’t understand things beyond their everyday experiences.”
He continued, “Americans tend to think that we have the best of everything, but there are better places to live, and I really enjoy living in the Czech Republic.”
The tendency to believe that America is the best country in the world runs rampant within Trump’s campaign, and Trump’s narrow viewpoint on foreign policy has many people worried about his global impact. Trump has finally begun to name his foreign policy advisors, but many of the people he has named so far are controversial figures. Additionally, what he has said so far on foreign policy worries Americans and other global citizens alike.
Trump recently told CNN that he believed the U.S. should spend less money on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. This would weaken relations between the U.S. and Europe, according to Tomas Klvarna, a professor of media at New York University in Prague. “My most important worry is the transatlantic relations between the U.S. and Europe, who have shared values,” he said. “I worry that Trump would weaken these ties because he doesn’t understand foreign policy or NATO. He might not see a rational reason to defend Europe.”
Even if Trump is not elected as President, many people argue that the damage to America’s reputation has already been done. “I spend half my time apologizing for being American,” said Nguyen.
Part of the reason for this extensive damage and for the fascination that global citizens now seem to have on Trump is because of Trump’s antics in the media. “Clips of Trump’s outrageousness are flooding the election season and are taking over any productiveness of the debate,” said voter Abbey Drane. “Any insightfulness by other candidates is overshadowed by Trump’s ridiculousness.”
Even 12-year olds living in the Czech Republic are captivated by Trump’s presence in the media. “My daughter goes to school and all of her friends ask her about Trump. They’re worried about Trump,” said Bryan. “The whole world is worried about this.”
Bryan continued to say that even though Clinton’s name is well known overseas, no one is really talking about her, or the other candidates as much. “It all pivots towards Trump,” she said.
Largely the attention is negative. Bahr’s Czech University classmates also talk about Trump, and every time American politics come up within his classes, they make fun of it.
“People criticize Trump and attribute him to America. They call America a shit hole,” he said.
Of course, not all foreigners dislike Trump. Hate groups within the Czech Republic who are xenophobic or anti-Islam have actually made videos supporting Trump, and telling Trump to embrace the label of “islamophobe.” Trump’s stance towards anti-immigration and extremist views causes him to be seen as similar to the Czech Republic’s President, Miloš Zeman.
“It’s a pretty apt comparison, except of course, Trump is not a drunk,” said Klvarna.
Klvarna points to the fact that both Trump and Zeman are smart and know how to manipulate people’s feelings. To him, both men’s successes represent a rise of populism and pseudo-authority within politics.
“Voters believe Trump ‘tells it like it is,’ which is ridiculous because he lies and doesn’t have correct numbers,” he said. “But people believe the same thing about Zeman, and call him both ‘no nonsense’ and ‘authentic.’”
Klvarna went on to say that Trump “might get elected as President if he ran in the Czech Republic.”
However, to the majority of educated Europeans, Trump is unpopular, and his popularity is as confusing as it is surprising.
“Most people are scratching the back of their heads asking, ‘What is going on with America? How can such a buffoon be so popular?’” said Kelly. “Trump looks like an orangutan when he speaks.”
Trump’s boorish behavior has an “undeniable negative impact” on America’s image, according to Kelly. He is baffled by people who plan to vote for Trump.
Among Trump’s supporters is one of Kelly’s own cousins. “I have one cousin who thinks Trump is the greatest thing since sliced bread,” he said. “When I asked her why she were supporting Trump, she actually told me ‘God told me to vote for Trump.’”
People endorsing Trump are not entirely irrational however. Klvarna can understand why people have been voting for him, and doesn’t think that they are entirely crazy or unhinged. “The part of the electorate that is voting for him are simply angry or they feel threatened,” he said. “Typically his supporters are poor white people.”
While Drane doesn’t support Trump, she too can understand why some of her friends back home are voting for him. “He instills fear,” she said. “He is increasingly putting the blame on some foreign entity and is convincing the American people that he is all-knowing.”
However, to outsiders, Trump’s success makes no sense, causing them to have negative views of Americans. “Most Europeans don’t understand this,” Klvarna said. “They just see a crazy guy with crazy ideas coming close to getting elected.
Democrats Abroad www.democratsabroad.org
Republicans Abroad www.facebook.com/republicansoverseas
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