By Julia Huentemann, 1st year student from Germany studying BA International Relations at King’s College London.
Even though I wished the results of the presidential elections were different, I do not find the outcome surprising.
After Brexit, these elections once again reveal how well established parties/politicians have obviously failed to sufficiently acknowledge the needs and sorrows of a broad range of the population. I believe that – just as with Brexit – the majority of the Trump supporters used their vote in order to express fear. They have reached a point at which they have nothing to lose anymore. The desire for change has become the driving force for their actions and decisions, no matter how questionable the candidate running for presidency and the consequences might be.
The United States is not an individual case. My home country, Germany, is experiencing a similar development with the German government not actually having a realistic understanding about what is an acceptable burden to place on its citizens. Obviously, a well- earning and well-educated citizen is able to deal with the constant influx of refugees in a much more relaxed way than a member of a low-earning, less-educated class. After all, the members of a well off upper class do not live next door to the refugee camp. They do not have to compete for employment and their children do not have to be afraid of not getting allocated to the favoured kindergarden/school etc.
Anyway, this privileged position is not enjoyed by a vast majority of the population and the influence this vast majority can have is obviously being underestimated. Despite general commitment shown towards the refugees by the general public, we should not neglect the fact that this influx of “strangers” is causing huge fear and envy among the citizens being worse off than the average. They fear of being deprived from privileges and now having to compete against an enormous number of newcomers. This fear is universal in its nature and applies to both Americans in their anxiety about immigrants from Mexico & Co. as well as Germans and their anxiety about refugees from Syria & Co. No nation simply exists of wealthy and privileged. There always exists an equal proportion (if not even more) of poor, uneducated and narrow minded. And still those less privileged have to be considered as equal, especially in their right to vote.
The outcomes of the elections show that the gap between rich and poor, educated and uneducated is becoming wider and wider. Here I see the most urgent need for action not only in America but also in Europe. Education, and with it the opportunities for social upward mobility is, among other things, a prerequisite for a functioning and sustainable democracy.
Democracy in itself has its limitations. It assumes every citizen to be mature, to make rational decisions to promote the common good but this is rather an unrealistic illusion. As long as everyone is content, values such as tolerance, freedom and solidarity are being promoted, but as soon as there is a tendency towards misery, rather negative sentiments move to the focus of attention. And those sentiments are very unlikely to conform to such honorable values as tolerance, etc.
Without social equality it will become increasingly difficult for liberal-democratic governments to acquire a majority in governmental elections and the presidential elections in the US is just one example revealing this ugly truth. We should acknowledge the fact that Trump, other than Hillary Clinton, has managed to see and incorporate the desires of the so-called “silent majority” into his campaign. We should acknowledge the fact that Trump was able to use the weaknesses of democracy (namely the dissatisfaction of the people) to his advantage, which is not illegitimate as a means of acquiring power, and that this has made him a successful candidate.
If we truly believe in the concept of democracy, we still have to respectfully accept what the people in the United States have voted for. There is no point in complaining about the outcome of the 2016 elections, even if it is tempting to do so, to join the ones proclaiming a global apocalypse. Future politicians can actually learn a lesson from the recent developments, may it be Brexit, the refugee crisis or the presidential election. There is an urge for an increasing awareness of the needs of the less privileged who feel neglected by the establishment. Too many events have proven this social group to be underestimated in its actual impact upon the outcome of public votes from which they must and cannot be excluded.
Instead of complaining about the past, we should attempt an optimistic outlook into the future as things never turn out to be as bad as they might have seemed. We should have faith in the American population, we should have faith in the survival of democracy and we should understand it as a chance to return to more solidarity in Europe. I strongly believe that the outcome of those presidential elections provides enough motivation for European nations to form a closer union in order to withstand Trump´s America and to be considered as a serious partner on equal level. God bless America and God bless the rest of the world.