The world wakes up with President Trump
Should we be deeply concerned about the America of Donald Trump? Or will he bring about positive change? This was the main topic of discussion between researchers and students at the Big Leiden Presidential Breakfast on 9 November.
An American student is visibly emotional as she listens to guest speaker Hajo Smit. Smit, the author of a book on Trump, speaks out in defence of the new American President. Smit calls Clinton a war hawk because he believes her to have supported many wars. ‘Trump wants to focus primarily on America, which means the world has now moved further away from a third world war.’ The student cannot endorse such an optimistic perspective on Trump. ‘How can you be so positive about someone who humiliates people and assaults women? He even brags about it!’
At 7 a.m. on the morning following the elections a large group of students and staff members gather in the Kamerlingh Onnes Building to talk about the for many of them surprising election results. Emotions range from distress and level-headedness to, in a few rare cases, pleasant surprise. Researchers from four faculties comment on the results. Why do they think Trump won? Americanist Sara Polak: ‘Trump offers a gorilla-like masculinity. Many people don’t dare to be that masculine, even though they would like to.’ Professor of Journalism and New Media Jaap de Jong argues: ‘We underestimate how angry people are. They didn’t want to vote for the candidate of the party that was in power for eight years.’ Many legal Latino immigrants voted for Trump, remarks Smit. They too are against migration.
Trump is unpredictable
What does the future hold in store with President Trump at the helm, asks panel member Geerten Waling. Historian Eduard van de Bilt and PhD candidate in Law Reijer Passchier are concerned about the incredible power of an American President. His powers have greatly increased over recent decades and the regulating ‘check and balances’ system no longer works, especially now that the House of Representatives also has a Republican majority. A number of speakers emphasise Trump’s unpredictability. Under Clinton, America’s course would have been more predictable. This fear is shared by a number of students. Law student Carina says: ‘Trump probably forms a greater risk because his policies are so unpredictable. He seems to stand apart from the Republican Party and just follow his own course.’
Fed up with the Clinton dynasty
Not everyone agrees. Philosopher of Law Paul Cliteur expresses his preference for Trump, who in his opinion represents a fresh new perspective. ‘At least Trump dares to speak out against radical Islam.’ Cliteur is fed up with the ‘Clinton dynasty’ and the - in his opinion - dubious Clinton Foundation that accepts money from a country such as Qatar. He also criticises the media for their blatant pro-Clinton campaign during the run-up to the elections.
And then there is the memorable moment. The assembled audience watches Trump’s victory speech live on a big screen. People are heard groaning but also laughing out loud when Trump's young son can hardly keep his eyes open. Once the discussion resumes, American political scientist Brandon Zicha expresses his deep concern. According to him, Trump’s speech celebrates the Republicans now holding seats in the House of Representatives. They are not likely to contradict him any time soon.
The media take Trump too literally
Trump is not half as dangerous as many fear, says legal expert Roy van Keulen. ‘He just aims high for his negotiating position. When he says ‘I want to leave NATO’ he actually means that other state members have to pay a higher contribution. The media take Trump too literally.’ Americanist Albertine Bloemendal counters: ‘That might be a strategic move. But trust is also an important element in negotiations and I am not sure that Trump can provide it.’ She suspects that Trump will cause a lot of tension in the diplomatic world. But the time has come to be pragmatic. ‘Diplomats will congratulate him because they have to work with him.’
Zicha hopes that these election results will be a lesson. ‘Victory against the establishment is not just an American phenomenon. There is a wave of it moving across Europe too. Look at Brexit. For decades now, old institutions such as trade unions have been crumbling and individuals have been acquiring more political power. This is a wake-up call. We have to take this phenomenon much more seriously in Europe.’