There is a certain amount of schadenfreude associated with the global view of the current race to become the next Republican presidential nominee. Another Trump-centric debate? What fun! Bring on the popcorn!
The world likes to laugh at America a little. Sure, you could militarily stamp us out like bugs, your economy is the yardstick by which the rest of us measure performance and your innovation sector leaves the rest of us in the dust…while attracting our own best and brightest. But you drink sodas the size of your heads while fretting about an obesity epidemic! A vast proportion doesn’t even own passports! Only a fraction knows the difference between Austria and Australia! These titbits make us feel better, maybe even smug.
And then came Trump.
Now, at first, we weren’t too worried. Obviously as (ahem, self-proclaimed) leaders of the free world, the rest of the planet takes a keen interest in your politics. In many ways, your president is a global president. If aliens landed tomorrow, they would be fronting up to the White House, and the rest of us would be pretty happy to have Obama speaking on our behalf. As a left-leaning liberal, there are some policy bones I would have to pick with him, but you can’t deny the extraordinary things he has achieved, and the way he made US politics, especially after W., something the rest of the world could more easily relate to.
You were on the right track! Keep going! No one wants the aliens meeting Trump or Cruz.
The republican race is no longer funny. It is no longer a blip. The two remaining front-runners are, quite simply, terrifying. While Trump is obscenely inflammatory, at least we can all hope that we’re being globally punked. He was a Democrat two seconds ago, and does anyone really believe he thinks women should be punished for getting abortions? There is a sense that he is just saying what he thinks the very conservative heartland wants to hear, but maybe if he actually made it into office, he’d be much more pragmatic. Then again, maybe we’re clutching at straws. Cruz, however, is a true believer and therefore much more dangerous.
The legislative deadlock of the past few years indicates that even if successful, it is possible neither candidate could get much traction on their more controversial policies anyway. The Democrats could regain the senate, or other Republicans could refuse to back their less popular measures, fearful of losing their own constituencies. Perhaps they wouldn’t be able to build walls, or start wars, or blow up IS militants with nuclear bombs, as has been floated in various debates and interviews.
But the cultural wars, for want of a better term, extend far beyond the borders of the United States. Where you lead, many follow. While speeches on the campaign trails are for domestic audiences – and the few who are motivated enough to vote in primaries at that – the world is listening. Globally, we need to be talking more about fuzzy things like love and peace and justice. In a world where social media trolls bully successful women on a daily basis for their looks, sexuality or ideas, we need world leaders who will stand up against toxic social environments, not presidential candidates who make international headlines for basking in misogynistic glee. How can the west credibly campaign for women’s rights when these are the leading news stories?
We in the western world need to support our Muslim communities, and create safe spaces for understanding and dialogue for populations who have formed part of our social fabric for generations. We don’t need to give oxygen to talk about their mass deportation, or banning from the countries they call home. Other minorities deserve the same respect. When a presidential candidate vomits these ideas from a podium with the cameras of the world on him, it normalises them just a little bit more each time. It shifts the barometer of what it is acceptable to say, how acceptable it is to treat people as second-class or other.
Worst of all, Donald Trump is an international businessman who has had two foreign wives. Do we really believe he endorses what he is saying? Or is he just having “fun” and saying what he thinks people want to hear? It is unclear which one is worse. But it is changing the way the world speaks to each other, and it is impacting on how others now see western values.
Last month, China’s state-owned Global Times insinuated that Trump’s rise demonstrated the inherent weaknesses of the democratic system. This week, newspapers in Australia – a steadfast US ally – expressed grave concern over Trump’s remarks on nuclear weapons in South East Asia, and his casting doubt on US bases in South Korea and Japan. The Sydney Morning Herald sounded the alarm over Trump’s thought bubble, quoted in the New York Times, that he might claim one of the islands in the South China Sea for the US. In an area already extremely volatile with numerous territorial claims, this is very risky rhetoric.
The Trump joke was initially just on you. Now it’s potentially on us too.
Of course, the election of the next American President is the sole decision of the American people. We can have our opinions, but you don’t want us meddling in your politics anymore than we want you meddling in ours. But we are your friends, we want the best for you, and we do hope you choose wisely. Please know that it’s not just the final result that matters, the words and spats leading up to the general election count too. Being leaders of the free world carries many heavy burdens, and that popcorn the rest of the world was snacking on is starting to catch in our throats.