Dear America, Please Vote for Hillary!

Crazy, exceptional, scary, revealing, momentous, entertaining – many words have been used to describe this year’s presidential election in the United States. And it can be said without a doubt that the latter of these words best describes the election battle that was indeed entertaining. For the media, the nomination of Donald Trump as Republican candidate for the nation’s highest office has been a lucky strike, as nothing sells better than sensational news. This has been a conventional wisdom ever since Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst revolutionized the newspaper business in the 19th century. So over the past twenty-two months, stories about Trump’s moral trespasses and his controversial ideas for America’s future have kept writers busy and citizens entertained. But as time gets closer to the actual election day next week, it should dawn on many people that this election is not some kind of reality show that makes you laugh but has no consequences for people’s lives once it’s over. Whatever happens in this battle for the White House should be taken seriously and should be looked at with the future of the world in mind.

I have been asked several times by Americans, what Germans think about the election battle. “They must think Americans have lost their minds” is an assumption I have heard. Germans have asked me about my opinion regarding the craziness in America, as I am an American Studies student and have close connections to the United States. My answer to all of them mostly ended up being: “We cannot really understand it, as the German and the American cultures are much more different from each other than people think they are.” It is sort of a diplomatic answer, coming from someone who has been exposed to both cultures for longer time periods and who knows about the different ideological and historical foundations both countries are built on. In fact, many Germans cannot at all understand how someone like Donald Trump could become the Republican presidential nominee. Just like me, they wonder what kind of people would think that he could lead America, and the world, into a positive direction. But to relativize this statement, most of us Germans also do not understand how people in our own country can sympathize with groups like Pegida, the anti-Islam movement that has gained momentum last year, or a political party like the rightist AFD that has been able to win seats in many state parliaments recently. Just like citizens in every other country in the world, we Germans do not understand everything that’s going on.

Since I have been asked about my opinion so often and the developments in the United States do frighten me to some extent, I feel the urge to speak my mind in this post.

I have been both surprised and shocked by Donald Trump’s success. Despite my extensive knowledge about the United States’ history and culture, which I have gained through both my academic education and personal experience living in and travelling through this beautiful country, I cannot fully understand that a large proportion of the U.S. citizenry wants an immoral, ruthless businessman turned populist to handle the fortunes of their country. Of course, I can imagine their reasons. Frustration and dissatisfaction with the political establishment, which has allegedly contributed to their declining personal wealth. They are angry and feel left behind in an ever-changing society that has had to adapt to globalization and becomes more and more diverse ethnically and religiously. Their hopes lie in the possibility to turn back time and revitalize an America led by a white majority that dominates the world politically and economically. They want to travel back into the “American” 20th century. Into a time when American goods and the American lifestyle were exported into the world and the United States turned out to be the only remaining superpower at the end of the Cold War. Donald Trump makes such time travel seem possible. His campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” is evidence of that. Hillary Clinton on the opposite side is seen as the personification of the political establishment that is seemingly living in its own elitist bubble in Washington D.C. and has fallen completely out of touch with “ordinary America.” Additionally, her agenda represents a mere continuation of the “Obama doctrine”, which is seen as the root of all evil. By cheering and voting for Trump, the ones who feel left behind want to punish Clinton and her peers. They want to protest against a perceived post-democratic system dominated by special interests and Wall Street.

If I imagine myself in their shoes, I understand why they are frustrated and want to make their voices heard. I understand that they are looking for people to blame. And even if I cannot agree with many of their opinions on political and social issues, I accept them. It is the base of democracy that everyone can have an opinion and is allowed to stand in for their beliefs and cast their vote accordingly. However, I’ve also got news for these people: Time travel is not (yet) possible! If Donald Trump is elected, things won’t just change over night into what they were twenty or thirty years ago. The world has changed and just as we have had to adapt to these changes, our politics will have to adapt accordingly. Trying to solve twenty-first century problems with twentieth-century solutions simply will not work. And that isn’t even what “the Donald” really wants to do. In fact, no one really knows what a Donald Trump presidency will look like, as his policy descriptions have been more than vague. Instead, America will have a leader, who not only lacks political experience, but who also lacks a precise plan, not to mention the potential threat he poses to international cooperation and peace. People intending to vote for Trump should ask themselves the following questions: Do you really want “the Donald” to decide on American foreign policy? Do you want him anywhere close to the nuclear launch codes? Strengthening the American economy by cutting taxes is one thing, but deciding on matters that could impact the whole world is another. It is not the right time in history to use your right to vote as a tool of protest and Donald Trump simply is the wrong guy for the job.

election-2016The decision the American people make next Tuesday will determine a lot of things. It will determine if the United States turns its back on people in need, illegal immigrants most of whom have come to the country in search for a better, safer place to live and who are willing to contribute to America’s well-being. The integration of immigrants takes a lot of time, it spans generations. America as a country founded by immigrants, as the ultimate “melting pot” of cultures, should know that. Tuesday’s decision will determine, if America might turn its back on the same international institutions it once helped establish, NATO and the UN. It will determine if America continues to invest in new energy technologies as part of its mission to fight climate change. It will determine the fate of millions of refugees and people affected by wars in countries like Syria and Iraq. It will also determine my own future. I have loved the United States and its people all my life and it has been a dream of mine to move there permanently one day. However, if I’m honest, I’m not so sure if I want to live in a country run by Donald Trump.

These are just some of the reasons why I urge everyone eligible to vote next Tuesday to vote for Hillary Clinton. Even if you do not like her personally and feel resentment towards her, it is necessary that you vote for her in order to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office. Voting for any of the other candidates will only help Trump, as your votes might be the deciding ones Hillary Clinton might lack in the end. The same is true if you decide not to vote at all. This week, I heard a Bernie Sanders supporter state that he will not vote, because he wanted Bernie Sanders to gain the nomination. Exactly this behavior could turn out to be a terrible mistake. Even if Hillary Clinton does not inspire and motivate people to be politically active, the frightful prospect of having a President Trump should! In fact, I believe that if you have the privilege to live in a democracy, you should use your right to vote and see it as a personal duty. Many people have fought or still fight for the same right!

Before I end this very personal post, I want to emphasize that I love the United States and believe in the American people and its judgment. I believe that no one really wants Donald Trump in the White House, if he or she listens to their heart and reflects on his or her hopes and dreams for America and the world. My deep fear, which urged me to write this post, is that people underestimate the scale of the decision they make next week. Voting for Trump would be wrong, voting for a candidate without a chance of winning would be wrong, not voting would be wrong. Instead, voting for Hillary Clinton would be right, persuading people to vote for her would be right, and urging people to make their way to the ballot box would be right!

That being said, what remains is for me to say that I hope you will make the right choice on November 8th: for yourself, for America, and for the world. #imwithher

The day we saw President Obama

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On our way to Hannover, Lower Saxony. (Photos: Nicole Wagner)

“This will certainly be the highlight of my time in college.” Christin Schmidt takes the words right out of my mouth when we sit on the train from Göttingen to Hannover, the capital of Lower Saxony in Germany, early in the morning of April 25th. Together with 21 fellow students of North American Studies at Georg-August-University Göttingen, professor Babette Bärbel Tischleder and teaching assistants Marleen Knipping and Susann Köhler, we are following an invitation issued by the U.S. consulate to attend Barack Obama’s eagerly anticipated keynote speech during his last state visit as President.

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President Barack Obama during his keynote speech at Hannover Messe.

“The invitation from the consulate in Hamburg arrived on very short notice. I had to choose a specific number of students within a day’s time”, Babette Bärbel Tischleder, professor of North American Studies at the Seminar of English Philology, recounts. “We maintain a good relationship with the consulate and back in 2012, the former U.S. consul Inmi Patterson visited us for a student talk. I guess that is why they chose to invite some of our students.” 21 of my fellow students and I were chosen from about 50 interested young scholars on a first come, first serve basis and are part of approximately 400 invited students who, amongst others, mostly come from American Studies and Political Science departments at universities in Berlin, Hamburg and Hannover. “They surely want to foster the cultural understanding between Europe and the United States”, Babette Tischleder believes. “Our students are the mediators of the future.”

We are all very much looking forward to the President’s speech, who visited on the occasion of the Hannover Messe, the largest industrial fair in the world. “To hear him speak will surely be a great experience”, says Frederick Prush. Caroline Bürmann adds that she is curious “what arguments he will come up with”. Except for its focus on foreign policy, not much of the keynote speech’s highly anticipated content was previously known. However, most of us expect him to talk about the advantages and neccessity of TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which has provoked harsh criticism and sparked major protests in Hannover during Obama’s visit.

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Witnessing President Obama’s speech.

After our arrival in Hannover and a short bus ride to the fair grounds, we are put on the rack for about two hours before we are finally able to pass the meticulous security checks and can take some of the sought-after seats in the pavillion. There, we find ourselves in the company of the international press, Secret Service personnel and German political VIPs. After catching a short glimpse of German chancellor Angela Merkel, who takes her seat in the first row next to government spokesman Steffen Seibert just behind the barrier, we are finally rewarded for our previous patience. An energetic Barack Obama enters the stage with a smile on his face and greets the attendees with a friendly “Guten Tag” before he begins his 45-minute speech.

Our assumption about a focus on TTIP is not confirmed. Instead, President Obama offers a broad summary of the imminent challenges facing us in our world today. From the bloody civil war in Syria and the connected refugee crisis Europe is struggling with to the pitfalls of climate change, he talks about measures his government has already taken or is planning to take in the remaining time until the presidential elections this coming November and the end of his period of governance early next year.

“The United States, and the entire world, needs a strong and prosperous and democratic and united Europe.” – President Barack Obama

But the essence of his address turns out to be a call for a restrengthening of the European Union, which Washington fears to be falling apart in the wake of the refugee crisis and recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels. Obama touches upon numerous subjects and connects them each time to the necessity of a strong European Union, which is one of the most important allies of the United States. Additionally, he commends chancellor Merkel on her refugee policy stating that she “is on the right side of history on this”.

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The President’s motorcade at a Hannover intersection on the way to castle Herrenhausen.

On our way back to the train station, we surprisingly catch a glimpse of the President in “the Beast”, his presidential limousine, on the way to castle Herrenhausen, where he meets the German, French, British and Italian heads of state in the afternoon. Everyone in our group seems impressed and gives the experience a positive review. “Obama touched upon different subjects like the refugee crisis and international terrorism”, Theresa Croll explains. “I liked that the speech was not primarily about TTIP.” Laura Cavallaro adds that he came across “very down to earth and realistic” and “directly addressed us students several times”. Laura was the luckiest of us all on that day, as she got to shake the President’s hand after he finished his speech and came down to greet some of the invitees. “That was an unforgettable, exciting moment. I will still tell my grandchildren about it.”

For me, this was the third time I was fortunate enough to see and hear President Obama speak and, like the previous two times, I was deeply impressed by his demeanor, eloquence and ability to captivate the audience’s attention. Despite the fact that he was not able to implement all of his well-intentioned plans in the gusty political waters of Washington D.C., to me he represents a type of political leader you scarcely find in the often dirty business of politics. That is most certainly due to his intellect and global perspective as well as his seemingly empathetic personality, which is rooted in his familial background and the diverse experiences he made during his forming years living in Hawai’i, Indonesia, and on the American mainland in Los Angeles, New York City, Boston and Chicago. It makes me sad to know that he will leave the oval office next year, as the prospective leaderships of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton seem to be either a complete catastrophe or a political compromise – especially for a Europe battered by crisis.

Watch President Obama’s keynote speech at Hannover Messe here and read more about Göttingen University’s English department trip to Hannover over at the department website.

Why Trump’s success is just an entertaining wake-up call

When does populism emerge in democratic systems? Which typical features constitute it? Why do many people see it as a threat to democracy? All these questions are frequently discussed whenever populist phenomena appear on the political scene. Currently, the candidacy of controversial entrepreneur and billionaire Donald J. Trump for the presidential chair has violently rekindled the flame of populism in the United States that was about to die down after the Tea Party movement surmounted its zenith. Sensation-seeking headlines fill our newspapers, social media and television screens on a daily basis and discuss the consequences of a possible election victory and paint a bizarre picture of a world in which the 69-year-old New Yorker holds the most powerful political office. But how realistic are these predictions? Would the American people really elect the big-mouthed, xenophobic business tycoon, who wants to solve America’s problems by building a wall along the U.S./Mexican border, denying Muslims entry to the country and cutting economic ties to China? Or do the media simply embrace the offered opportunity to boost sales figures, get more hits or increase average viewing figures and deliberately blow the success and prospects of Trump’s self-financed and highly entertaining campaign out of proportion?

When the Tea Party movement arose in the early months of 2009, shortly after Barack Obama’s election victory, the reasons were pretty clear. The financial crisis had battered the American economy, the unemployment rate was at a high and the new President’s plan to pass a taxfinanced “stimulus package” to help the economy recover did not sound promising to many white, conservative, middle-class Americans, who feared alleged socialist policies and blamed the incompetence of a distanced political elite in “hypocritical” Washington for their hardships and a gray-looking future. Additionally, the Republican Party was lacking strong leadership and inner unity after candidate John McCain failed to convince the electorate of his policies and leading quality. Consequently, many disenchanted people were looking for an alternative and found it in the loud voices propagating a return to the principles and values established by the founding fathers.

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Will Donald Trump move into the White House? (Photo: Wagner)

The revivalist atmosphere already evident in its historically referential name and an almost non-existent agenda manifested the main features of the Tea Party phenomenon and are typical of populism. Donald Trump as a one-man movement and his campaign strikingly resemble this scheme. Targeting the exact same group of frustrated white middle-class Americans, it almost seems like he was able to win over the complete group of supporters who used to rally against immigration and health care reform during the heyday of Tea Party mobilization. At a time when most politicians associating themselves with Tea Party ideology have either integrated into mainstream party politics for the sake of their careers or vanished from the political landscape due to an abating Tea Party popularity, the billionaire himself must have been surprised how quickly he was able to woo voters away from the traditional “mainstream” candidates. In fact, Trump admitted that in the beginning, his candidacy was just a fun experiment and he merely wanted to spoil the plans of the other candidates.

But what does all this tell us about the state of the Republican Party? It seems like even after the necessary realignment within the GOP, which was sparked by the jolting success of Tea Party members, especially in the 2010 mid-term congressional elections, the party is still lacking able candidates who can convince the electorate of their potential to lead the country. How else should one interpret the instant grassroots success of someone lacking major political experience, who insults various ethnic groups living in the United States in unsubstantial speeches, who has only been a member of the Republican Party since 2009, and who formerly gave financial support to the Democrats in 2004? Furthermore, despite some GOP members complimenting him now on his success, Trump was initially lacking inner-party support of any kind, as most partisan politicians peevishly saw him as an invader damaging the GOP reputation.

At the moment, it really seems like Trump will become the Republican candidate in the election taking place this November, possibly running against former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who, despite her reputation as an elitist career woman too old to endure the stress inevitably brought about by the vacant position, currently leads over Bernie Sanders in the democratic primaries. This situation by itself should only be seen as the people’s answer to a failing Republican strategy, yet another wake-up call, and constitutes an expression of a general frustration with Party politics in Washington.

Regarding the outcome of the general election this fall, the prospect of a future President Donald J. Trump seems ultimately improbable, as his supporters are mainly white, middle-class and working-class right-wingers, who feel unrepresented and first and foremost want to punish the Republican Party and the remaining political establishment. Thankfully, the diverse people of the United States consists of various other groups eligible to cast their ballot, many of whom have previously been offended by Mr. Trump. It is also questionable, if even his most persistent supporters will ultimately cast their vote for him when it really matters. Given Trump’s catastrophic agenda, many of them might eventually duck their heads in fear of remorse.

In the end, Donald Trump’s gag to become the next President of the United States might merely be the best thing that could have happened to Hillary Clinton, who wasn’t nearly able to gain as much support among Democratic voters as she and her Party initially expected. A final Republican decision to make the highly controversial billionaire run for office could open the door for her to enter the Oval Office.