Wednesday evening’s panel, “America, the Whole World Is Watching,” consisting of Alan Friedman, journalist and author of This is Not America; and Andrew Spannaus, founder of Transatlantic.info; was moderated by journalist and author Caterina Soffici. The panel centered around the “American mess;” the contributing factors of Trump’s presidential victory and understanding its global consequences.
Friedman began by discussing what led to Trump’s election. He lists three reasons the first of which calls out Hillary Clinton as a poor rival. In the state of a divided country, Americans felt they could not trust Clinton. Trump was successfully able to exploit the fear and anger of poor whites and delivered messages of hope and promise, messages they were unwilling to accept from Clinton. Friedman states that Russia’s involvement in the campaign, what he dubs “Russian-gate,” rounds out the reasoning of Trump’s victory.
Spannaus argued that the issue of 2016 was in fact 30 years of economic policy that excluded a large portion of the U.S. population; for many, the economy did not improve after the financial crisis of 2008. Trump, he argued, is an effect rather than a cause of the current political climate. His economic policy of bringing back industry and manufacturing and his criticism of spending money abroad instead of rebuilding U.S. infrastructure, appealed to working class Americans. To make America great meant reinvesting in American industry and its people, or so it was advertised.
Both Friedman and Spannaus commented on ideas of nationalism that currently influence elections, domestic and abroad. In terms of a national identity, Americans find solace in the Constitution, the country’s founding document and supreme law, whereas Europeans connect nationalism to ideas of blood and soil. Whichever the definition, globally politicians have created a sense of “us versus them” pushing the political spectrum further to the right. Trump and America’s decision do not solely affect Americans; rather they influence and dictate the patterns and shifts of global policy and economy and attitudes toward anything deemed “other.”
What does this mean for the future of Europe? Spannaus answers with a question of his own; Why do you want the European Union? To be able to answer means to understand the current political disunity of Europe. In its current affairs Europe, Friedman argues, won’t count in future decisions.
And what does this mean for Americans? The country, Friedman says, has become a shell of its former self. Its once enticing promise of realizing opportunities has found to be empty. Trump emerged as a mirage to the forgotten class; those who never had the “American Dream.” Friedman argues that the “American Dream” does not, and has not, existed for poor whites, for poor blacks, or for women. So what then, does it mean to “Make America Great Again?”