9. November 2016

Donald Trump: The American Tragedy?

Donald Trump’s surprise victory will lead to a redefinition of the transatlantic relationship. Now it is high time to ask what this means for Germany and how we should react to the challenges lying ahead in the Trump Era.

A Comment by Daniel Weimert and Sylvia Wittmer


The course of true democracy never did run smooth.”

The Shakespearean tragedy of the US elections has kept us busy all year around speculating about topics ranging from defense policy, Daesh and climate change up to grabbing our beloved female citizens “by the pussy”. But what does the final outcome of the election mean for Germany and Europe? Well, before we get all into that jazz, let’s figure out real quick what it actually means for the country that has been raising the stakes for us all during the oh so dramatic and almost pleasantly presented political spiel between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.


The Winner Takes it All

It was close. Very close. And yet, despite everyone’s best hopes and wishes and numerous polls and predictions, Trump managed to win this election. The next POTUS has been discriminating against large groups of the American population and the world by outwardly degrading them and their equal position in society, thus damaging the reputation of the American people to an unbelievable extend. Entire nations, cultures and religions were insulted by Trump’s statements on the campaign trail, on his policy choices (to the extent that they were expressed) and on his allies (most notably his murky relationship towards the KKK and Alt-Right groupings). At this point, it seems hard to imagine how the US will turn back from this throw back in history and Trump’s World War II rhetoric. The challenges resulting from the election will primarily regard the solidarity of the American population towards one another.

In his acceptance speech earlier this morning, Trump found a reconciliatory tone. However, from our personal experience regarding his previous behaviour, we are doubtful about the persistence of this more moderate approach in the future. Trump’s win will very likely result in the reestablishment of many glass ceilings for the years to come. When Hillary Clinton lost against Barack Obama back in 2008, one would argue that it was because of Obama’s shining qualities rather than Hillary’s unpopularity. However, with the way this campaign was fought, it will take a very long time or a very strong woman to try to shatter the glass ceiling further. Either way, the US made a historical decision. According to us, it wasn’t necessarily the right one. We do hope that social progress will continue, yet probably slower than anticipated.


Playing by the Rules of Democracy

We have been at least spared from one immediate challenge to the American democratic system by Donald Trump. He has accepted the election results because he won. It took eight hours and the final swing state of Pennsylvania to achieve the historic victory he referred to in his acceptance speech.

On a larger scale Trump’s victory illustrates a systematic failure within the American election system. And despite the fact that it is him who benefits from the exact system, he still believes in the system’s manipulative nature. Since there is no contrary evidence, everyone else must for now assume that he won fair and square according to the rules of the American system without taking actions against it. However, his candidacy has opened discussions within the Republican Party whether there should have been a fail-safe plan preventing Trump’s rise through the ranks or whether there should have been some way to stop him from benefitting from a system that he clearly despises and from a party that does not align with his positions.


Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

Trump’s victory was based on his non-traditional campaign. He managed to mobilise electoral segments which normally do not feel represented by either one of the two main parties. It is the underestimated white vote – many of whom are scared of losing the privileges granted to them implicitly or explicitly by society due to their race, gender and economic status. One of the major surprises according to the television live coverage by NBC are the Latino votes that partially went to Trump as a response to Obama’s policy towards Cuba.

Still, we thought that today would be a day to celebrate the victory of democracy and diversity over bigotry and racial hatred. All predictions were wrong because the majority that showed up for the election decided that their fear, anger and perceived loss of privilege are more important than unity – both within the country and with their allies. After the Brexit vote, we have once again been witnesses of the outcome of populism and power in the wrong hands.


Germany and Trump: Star-Crossed Lovers?

Since the Bundestagswahlen are coming up in 2017, we have to ask ourselves how our next chancellor will cope with President Donald Trump. But regardless of who will be granted that task or not, we have some things to speculate on.

Considering the same general trend in Germany towards the right of the political spectrum, the chance of having a rather leftist chancellor is unlikely, unless we will actually see a red-red-green coalition. Even a conservative government (conservative in a German sense) would in Merkel’s words base its cooperation on democratic values which have been put in question by Donald Trump’s previous statements. A central-leftist government would have even less in common with POTUS Trump, which might result according to Steinmeier in more tense transatlantic relations. We therefore conclude these relation to change into a lame duck, waiting four very long years until there is hope for change and a common denominator.

Despite all of this electoral madness, there are a few rare subjects where we see some cooperation potential between Germany and the Trump administration. According to the “White Paper” published by the German Ministry of Defense earlier this year, we continue to increase our defence spendings especially for cyber defense mechanisms – a field that Republican Trump has identified as something where things needed to be done. With Germany’s rising expenses for cyber defense and its increasingly stable position in foreign relations and conflicts, the US-German defence alliance might improve even more so.


Is there Light at the End of the Tunnel?

We must find a way to play with the cards that were given to us and prevent the worst on our side. So what does a Trump presidency mean for the rest of us?

With Brexit coming up in 2017 as well, Germany will take on a bigger role in defense in the European Union, which is already noticeable in Germany’s agreed upon position as framework nation for the multinational presence in Lithuania after the Warsaw NATO Summit in July this year. Donald Trump has repeatedly pointed out that he demands other NATO partners to pay their share and carry their own weight, since otherwise the coalition would be obsolete. And even though Trump has a much more dovish approach towards Russia than Clinton, he will most likely not improve NATO-Russia relations (at least not for all of the other nations in the NATO) but rather foster bilateral relations between Washington and Moscow. Concerning the Middle East or Daesh, there is not much information about Donald’s plans other than “bombing the sh*t out of them”, as he wants to keep more specific plans secret for the “element of surprise”.

Given Trump’s stance on trade deals, TTIP is dead and whatever other proposal his administration will come up with, these new deals will be very contentious given his “America First” mantra, although some might welcome a fresh start in negotiations. It is, however, this isolationist ideology, his impulsive unpredictability and Trump’s tendency to perceive foreign affairs as a business deal rather than reciprocal diplomacy that will lead to unreliability on the negotiation table and adherence to international agreements such as the Paris Agreement and the Iran Deal. Iran’s Foreign Minister has already asked Trump to respect the Iran Nuclear Deal, which is according to Trump “the worst deal the world has ever seen.”


To be Continued…

When trying to find the silver lining here, this could actually mean that we get finally rid of our ‘daddy issues’ by waiting for the US to take action first, since Trump will always “put America” first. In another desperate attempt to not perceive this electoral outcome as the doomsday of modern civilization, one can hope that Donald Trump’s presidency will ease tensions between the United States and Russia as his enmity targets China and Mexico. Because contrary to Hillary Clinton’s Russophobia, Trump has called several times for an improvement of the relationship with Russia and its President Vladimir Putin. What remains to be seen is whether or not he turns out to be a matryoshka doll.


The Polis Blog serves as a platform at the disposal of Polis180’s members. Published comments express solely the authors’ opinions and shall not be confounded with the opinions of the editors or of Polis180. Image: http://bit.ly/2fCHFXH.

Daniel Weimert

Daniel Weimert studied media and communications at Freie Universität Berlin and the University of California San Diego, where he first got a glimpse of the American perspective on foreign policy. He interned at the U.S. Embassy Berlin and is now studying Strategic Communications in his masters at Universität der Künste Berlin and the Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris III.


Sylvia Wittmer

Sylvia Wittmer promoviert an der Humboldt Universität zu Berlin. Ihren LL.M in International Criminal Justice and Armed Conflict hat sie von der University of Nottingham erhalten. Bis Februar diesen Jahres war Sylvia als Gastforscherin an der Fordham University in New York. Bei Polis180 co-leitet sie das Programm Frieden & Sicherheit.


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