Campaigning Across the Pond: Durham Students on the US Campaign Trail

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The President of the United States is often referred to as the ‘Leader of the Free World’ implying the US’ position as the principle democratic superpower. In this role the country and specifically its president wields tremendous power in the global community. Every four years, the people of the United States are tasked with electing arguably the most powerful man in the world, this year the 2016 US Presidential Election will determine the economic climate, social tolerance and international security of the planet we will live on for the next four to eight years. Unfortunately, it is the circus surrounding this election that led five Durham students to venture to the US this March to learn more about the electoral process and the candidates themselves.

The citizens of the US are often insulted and criticized by international, especially by European students for their lack of knowledge and engagement in politics. After a week in the US however it is easy to see that these criticisms are unfounded, while we may not agree with their support of radical candidates such as Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, as observed by James Tune (2nd year politics), ‘Everyone had an opinion from the Trump loving cab driver to the college students feeling the Bern.’ In our time in Ohio, during primary week, everyone wanted to discuss their political views and everyone was open to debate on the various issues ranging from healthcare to building a wall on the Mexican Border. From speaking to these people however, one clear message was that although many supported a specific candidate, it was not necessarily because they agreed with their views instead many supported the candidate they viewed as the lesser of many evils.

It was clear from discussions that many American’s believed that no candidate properly represented their views and that none of them would be an ideal President. This problem can be attributed to the system of electing candidates in primaries. The election of party leaders by the public forces presidential hopefuls away from the center towards either the left or right so that they can appeal to the base of their respective parties. Such inherent radicalization caused by the political system is a large reason that Americans feel misrepresented.

While in the US, we had the opportunity to meet with and hear most of the presidential candidates. This experience allowed us to develop more informed views of the candidates and their positions on the issues. With many sources failing to provide unbiased opinions of the candidates, the views of many in the UK, Europe and even in the US are sadly formed by misrepresented information.

The first candidate we were fortunate to hear speak was the infamous Donald Trump, at a rally in Cleveland, Trump spoke of how he would build a wall on the Mexican border to prevent illegal immigration, re-negotiate the US’ current trade deals and levy large tariffs upon American companies intending to relocate to other nations. I must admit, although I was surprised at the presence of any policies in his speech, those presented were all drastic shifts from the status quo, which would cause huge unprecedented economic turmoil for the US and the world. While I still hold the belief that ‘The Donald’ won’t go forth with all his proposed policies, the atmosphere at the event and the tensions and divisions caused by Trump lead me to believe that he would be a horrific President for the US although not as dangerous as many may fear.

Equally as frightening was Hillary Clinton. During her speech to the Democratic Party at their fundraiser in Columbus, Clinton was very Trump like in her policies and delivery. Like Trump she consistently attempted to scare her audience into supporting her, talking about the horrors of a country where a Republican was President, if you had replaced Republican with Mexican or Muslim in her speech you would have believed it was Trump speaking.  Additionally her policies were all very similar, like Trump she wanted to work to secure the border to prevent future illegal immigration, she also wanted to re-negotiate trade deals and even used the exact same words as Trump when she stated that as President she would win against other countries.

It was very disappointing to see that the likely Democratic nominee was simply a politically correct Donald Trump. Sadly the two best candidates we saw, Bernie Sanders and John Kasich are trailing far behind in all polls. Sanders was very inspirational in his speech as he looks to bring healthcare and better education to the United States. Kasich was also enlightening as he repeatedly expressed that he refused to take the low road to the highest office.

After a week working on political campaigns, attending rallies and being directly involved in the US electoral process the most logical conclusion to draw is that Americans hate their candidates as much as you and I. Unfortunately their system has created a scenario where we have 5 people (as of writing) running for President none of whom are truly qualified for the position. Hopefully in the months following the conventions the two nominees will begin a race to the center in the hopes of collecting all undecided voters.

It is most likely however that the 45th President of the United States will not be elected due to policies, like Barrack Obama – elected on hope – the next President will also be elected based upon personality and emotions. The American people recognize that their leader will not fulfill all campaign promises; instead they look to elect someone who they believe will make the greatest decisions when presented with problems, which are the appeal of Hillary Clinton’s experience or Donald Trumps business acumen. Sadly it appears that this year’s election will be decided on fear. Who do Americans fear more, the external threats of ISIS, Mexicans and foreign economies or a radical, volatile and unpredictable President.

Photograph by ed ouimette via Flickr

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