OPINION | The Shape of Things in U.S. Election 2016: A Non-American View

OPINION | The Shape of Things in U.S. Election 2016: A Non-American View

By Dr. Monish Tourangbam 

OPINION | The Shape of Things in U.S. Election 2016: A Non-American View

Image Attribute: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton during United States presidential election 2016, Source: Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. presidential election 2016 has defied conventional notion of U.S. politics for both American voters and for U.S. election watchers outside the United States. Roughly a year ago, one would have safely assumed easy nomination wins for Hillary on the Democratic camp and mainstream Republicans like Jeb Bush on the other side. However, the rise of two insurgent voices within both parties turned the nomination cycle on its head. Many were kept wondering, as to what was transpiring among American voters, and many still wonder how Donald Trump became a Republican nominee, or how Bernie Sanders gave Hillary a run for her money. The primary season in 2016 did throw up considerable confusion on what the two political parties and their candidates stood for. The debates transcended the traditional divides on domestic and foreign policy issues within and across the Republican and Democratic parties. Populism on the left and right moved to the center stage of American politics. If Trump’s vitriolic expletives raised questions on the inclusiveness of the American dream, Bernie’s calls for a more egalitarian America, during the nomination race, brought forth the issue of economic inequality in America.

In the aftermath of the financial crisis and the Occupy Wall Street Movement, anger and frustration are palpable among Americans aimed at big businesses and beltway politics. From someone dismissed as popular but non-serious, Trump has emerged as a serious candidate who has a real shot at winning the White House. The current election season has seen the rise of fringe candidates, like Trump to the centre-stage and the continuing impact of Bernie’s positions on the democratic camp, even after his defeat at the nomination. This phenomenon has been largely attributed to prevalent economic anxieties, concerning income inequality as well as bleak job opportunities in the U.S., the latter leading to the electoral rhetoric of bringing jobs back to America and outburst against outsourcing. There seems to be a growing sense of popular backlash against globalization and rising economic protectionism in the United States. Such sentiments are by and large reflected in the unpopularity of trade initiatives like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) or the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) in both the party campaigns. Trump has even threatened to renegotiate long held arrangements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico and impose crippling sanctions on China.

Election campaign rhetoric like ‘Make American Great Again’ is fine but in the globalized interdependent world, America cannot be great alone; its “greatness” is deeply connected to its relations with other countries, specifically trading partners. Concerns have been expressed by none other than the World Trade Organisation (WTO) boss Roberto Azevedo. “I’m very concerned with the type of debate I see in campaigning about trade and about the negative trade effects because that may lead to the wrong policies, to the wrong decisions,” Azevedo said on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Hangzhou, China.

More than anything else, Trump’s popularity among sections of the American electorate has been bewildering for external watchers of the U.S. elections. His animated anti-immigrant calls, defying any sense of sensitivity, and misguided bravado seems to fall into the stereotypical vulgar exhibition of American power and wealth. Trump’s rise has caught international attention, with some hardly bothered and others concerned by his unrestrained vulgarity and political expletives. Trump was reported as saying that the 2016 presidential election was “going to be the last election that the Republicans can win.” According to him, if he is not victorious, undocumented migrants “legalized” under a Hillary Clinton presidency with the right to vote, will tilt the electorate in Democrats’ favor. Moreover, foreign policy professionals have written a number of open letters, all questioning Trump’s candidacy for the Oval Office. His inconsistent vision of America’s place in the world and relations with America’s allies, his views on trade practices, use of torture during interrogations, his anti-Muslim rhetoric, ways to prevent illegal immigration, and most of all, argument that his business acumen automatically makes him a good candidate to lead the United States have been fervently attacked. 

Compared to Trump, Hillary with her years of experience seems to be relatively better appreciated in America and around the world. Moreover, there is a perception that, under her watch, U.S. course of action domestically and abroad will more or less see the continuity of the Obama administration. However, to many inside and outside America, she seems to be seen as, just, a better alternative compared to Trump. Despite the novelty of being the first ever woman with a very high probability of becoming the next Commander-in-Chief, her candidature has not been seen as exactly revolutionary compared to the kind of enthusiasm that Obama brought to the scene in 2008. She is being seen to be a highly conventional presidential candidate, who has been in public life for decades, is a beltway insider and comes with all the trappings of a political dynasty. The attention garnered by issues regarding the finances of the Clinton Foundation, her handling of the Benghazi attacks as Secretary of State and use of her private email servers for official purposes has dented people’s confidence in her honesty. Moreover, male reaction to women aspiring to top positions, something not sui generis to American politics, has seen ample display during the campaign season in the U.S. 

The significance of foreign policy issues in U.S. presidential elections has often been a matter of debate. However, despite persistent arguments, there is no denying that the debates that ensue during the campaign and the outcome of the presidential election do reflect America’s own sense of standing in the world, and also impact the way the world views the fate of America’s future. More than in any other country in the world, elections in the U.S. feature discussions on foreign policy issues including trade and commerce, response to crises around the world, security alliances and partnerships, climate change, transnational terrorism, nuclear non-proliferation, America’s wars in foreign soils, etc. Pertaining to the nature of U.S. foreign policy that spans the globe in terms of both strategy and implementation, there is enough reason for the world to closely follow the election of the next U.S. president, assess the likely trajectory of U.S. foreign engagements and accordingly chart out their own strategies towards the U.S. 

About the Author:

Monish Tourangbam (TR RID: L-2939-2016)  is Assistant Professor at the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations, Manipal University (Karnataka), India

Cite this Article:

Tourangbam, M. "OPINION | The Shape of Things in U.S. Election 2016: A Non-American View" IndraStra Global Vol. 002, Issue No: 09 (2016), 0017 | http://www.indrastra.com/2016/09/OPINION-Shape-of-Things-in-US-Election-2016-A-Non-American-View-002-09-2016-0017.html | ISSN 2381-3652 | https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.3822606
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