The View From Abroad

German class. Seventeen students from 14 different countries. Apparently, there is one that most of us have in common, aside from our inability to communicate in German.

I don’t know how we got on to the topic, but it seems most of the class is thoroughly convinced that Donald Trump is an idiot. From that I would infer that they think Americans are idiots for electing him.

I thought about trying to explain. I have a better understanding of America, Americans and American policy than my classmates, most of whom have never been there. There was no way though that I would have the vocabulary to enlighten people on the Electoral College, voter alienation and the appeal of the outsider. Nor do I have the words to talk about gerrymandered districts, questionable campaign spending and foreign influence. My German is still pretty much limited to “how are you today.” Plus, as a Canadian I don’t need to apologize for what the world hopes is an aberration, a fit of temporary insanity, rather than a permanent condition.

If I had had the words they probably wouldn’t have believed me anyway. Things like Donald Trump aren’t supposed to happen to America. Most of the world sees America as great – there was no need to make it great again.

Trump hasn’t been the disaster my classmates think he is. Domestically his message resonates with a lot of people. And his foreign policy, as bizarre as it can be, makes sense if you have a particularly American perspective and believe you can survive isolated from the rest of the world. Europe is so interconnected that I don’t think people here appreciate that. People tend to confuse policy and personality in politics.

It is very easy to point the finger and denounce Trump. American presidents are an easy target, free speech is permitted. Yet some of my classmates come from countries with worse leaders, corrupt rulers with blood on their hands. If they had spoken of those men they way they did about Trump, they might be visited by the secret police. Or just disappear. There are countries where this happens as a matter of course. That is worth remembering when we criticize Trump. As bad as you might think he is, there are many far worse in much more corrupt systems.

President Trump doesn’t seem to care about how the world sees him. President Obama cared too much. And he cared about the opinion of the wrong people, which created a foreign policy arguably no less disastrous than Trump’s.

A happy medium might be nice. It would prevent us getting off topic in German class.

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