Foreign Perspectives on American Politics

By Chris Barton, Staff Writer

“I have to say this. People outside of the United States do not understand what’s going on in this election. They really don’t,” claimed President Obama during his speech at the Democratic National Convention.

In an election that has seemed at times more like the last season of a badly-written political soap opera than the democratic process in action, Obama’s claim seems apt. Baffled disbelief is common among Americans – it seems at times that no one really understands what’s going on in this election. But could it be true that people from outside the country are even more confused than Americans are? We asked around our famously international campus in order to find out.

“It’s impossible to understand your politics, generally,” claimed Pier Vender (MAGAM ’18), a student from Italy. “the culture here is so different – for example, it’s impossible to think about having a gun. Not understanding your culture, none of your politics make sense.”

Yet some aspects of our national conversation resonate with foreign students. For example, Abdullah Alenezi (MAGAM ’18) sees a parallel between American politics and politics in his home of Kuwait. “Our politics are the same, except we have a king. There’s also a lot of polarization.” Politics in Kuwait share a similarly antagonistic tone: “There’s a lot of trash-talking about specific groups”

Ming-Hsuan Lee (MAGAM ’18), from Taiwan, finds the strongly worded rhetoric unfamiliar. “Back in Taiwan, every candidate cares about what impression they leave with the voter. Candidates try to take an opinion that everyone will agree with. They are conservative.”

For Vender, the fact that we even care this much is new. “In Italy,” he said, “there is simply disinterest in politics. We don’t get involved as much.”

Donald Trump. Courtesy
Donald Trump. Courtesy

The rise of Trump was commented on by everyone interviewed for this article, and seems to have caught the whole world off guard. “I thought Trump had no followers, but apparently they exist,” said Alenezi. Lee was surprised that Trump’s aggression towards certain groups has garnered him support from others. “We want a candidate that is friendly with Taiwan, to help us leverage power against China. Taiwan, in general, believes that Trump is too aggressive.”

Yet, as Vender pointed out, “This election has been covered more by the media than other ones.” The apparent novelty of Trump’s politics has potentially been inflated by his ubiquity in the global news. “We perceive this election as different because the rhetoric is different.”

But with distance comes perspective. While it is tempting to view the 2016 election as a national bout of temporary insanity, Alenezi points out that “the politics are the same as always, they feel the same. There is always uncertainty about who will win.”

Considering that none are from the US, the Tbirds we talked to all knew a fair amount about ‘what’s going on in this election.’ Everyone echoed a common sentiment: American politics have global influence. The results of this election will be felt beyond our national boundaries.

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