Rejection or Connection: Western Europeans and the U.S. Election

The results of the 2016 Presidential Election were not only relevant to the United States, but to Western Europeans as well.

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“Where are you from?”

“America.”

“Oh okay…. So, how do you feel about Trump?”

“…So, how do you feel about Hillary?”

“…So, how do you feel about the election?”

I lived in Paris from August 17th to December 21st, 2016 and traveled to 12 other European cities outside of Paris during my time in Western Europe. No matter where I went, no matter whom I spoke to, the topic of conversation was the same: the U.S. election. For the sake of this article being purely about the election, I will not state whom I voted for, but rather focus on the feelings I encountered from our Western European brothers and sisters.

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I’m going to start off by saying something that seems obvious but still needs to be said: this election shook the world like a class 5 earthquake and affects more than just Americans.

I went to a French university with a high internationally diverse population. The courses were taught in both English and French and is well accredited, so it is a very attractive option for many international students. With that said, everyone I spoke to was very intelligent. So, I really did not mind talking about the election, since everyone had something relevant to contribute.

It became such a norm to speak about the election with my European classmates that I forgot they were not directly participating in the election.

Each person could reference articles, statistics, comparisons to their home states, etc. Only by mid-September did it hit me that the whole world was watching, not only watching, but intentionally tuning-in more intently than Big Brother.

Aspects of the election and our candidates were used as examples in every one of my classes: from Trump’s marketing tactics of placing a negative adjective before each of his competitor’s names in Influence and Marketing, to what would happen to the U.S. Dollar should one or the other be elected in Finance. Every time I passed the computer lab, non-Americans were watching CNN or MSNBC or Fox News. One Portuguese classmate talked about it in every class — he was absolutely fascinated by it, and probably knew more than most of my American classmates.

By the end of October, the election was literally everywhere. At this point, a majority of Europeans stopped asking about the election out of interest but now out of disgust or a lead in to ridicule me for the “circus,” as one referred to it, which was my country’s Presidential election. The Europeans around me were alarmed, very alarmed, specifically by Trump’s choice promises…as evidenced by the quote below courtesy of BBC News:

“Most Europeans would argue that Mr. Trump appears to have taken things down to a new level. So it is hardly surprising that opinion polls suggest that if Europeans had a vote in this election Hillary Clinton would win by a landslide… But it is the suggestion that he might be prepared to ignore Nato treaty obligations, and the overall unpredictability of his foreign policy pronouncements, that has really ruffled feathers. Hillary Clinton by contrast is a known quantity. A former secretary of state and First Lady, she is steeped in the tradition that allies in Europe form an important part of the American view of the world… But there would be far more sense of continuity in relations with Europe, and for that Europeans would be grateful. In the EU, they have enough crises to deal with already.”

Overall consensus pre-election: Hillary was safe and going to win, and Trump was either a clown or a mighty business destined to lose.

November 8, 2016: a(n) (in)famous day in history.

November 9, 2016: the day I learned to stop introducing myself as an American.

Believe it or not, it was universally understood that Hillary would win the election, no matter how you felt about it. After the election, I felt there were definitely more hateful and accusatory tones and words when strangers would find out I was American than before. It stopped being funny, and it started becoming scary at times.

When Hillary did not win, I received a lot of mixed reactions from my classmates who knew I was American. A majority of the reactions was overall confusion and/or worry of how Trump won and “what did this mean” for their country. Several Russians and Ukrainians I had met were rather pleased that Trump won. They liked Putin and they believed that Trump would whip America back into shape. The most concern came from the French, whose election was quickly approaching. Well, for those who are not a fan of the right wing, they were right to be concerned.

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On November 29, 2016, The New York Times published an article, “In Paris, Worries That Trump Will Embolden Le Pen.” Marine Le Pen, for those unfamiliar with French politics as of late, is the current candidate for the National Front party, known to be on the far right, in the running to be the next President of France. She is also the daughter or former French politician, Jean-Marie Le Pen, and was even the one to expel him from the National Front party. #fambam

Let’s list some of her promises, and see if any sound familiar, shall we?

  • “The European Union is firmly in her sights, with her reiteration to put France’s membership to the vote if elected.”
  • “…she also vows to ‘break with mass immigration’.”
  • “There’s mention of ‘reconquering’ urban no-go zones, lowering taxes and what she calls ‘economic patriotism’.”
  • “If elected president, Le Pen promises to ‘defend the rights of women, their freedoms and their dignity, put in danger by fundamental Islam.’”
    • Note: please read article for further explanation of the situations between women and male Muslim establishments in France.

It is safe to say that there are fundamental similarities to Trump and Le Pen — at least the press likes to think that way. Here is Page 1 of a New York-based Google search for “Marine Le Pen”:

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The opinions of Le Pen seem to be in line with that of the opinions of Trump when he was elected: you either love ‘em or hate ‘em. At the moment, Le Pen is second in the polls to centre-right candidate of the Republican party, Francois Fillon. He served as Prime Minister from 2007-2012 under President Nicolas Sarkozy. He has been compared to former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, for his policies on unions.

By the end of my time in Europe, the overall consensus I had collected is that Western Europeans, predominately Parisians, are restless from the U.S. Election. The impossible became possible. The world’s largest superpower was turned on its head — despite confidence in what they saw as a qualified candidate. There is an aura of hope for some, and fear for others.

Either way, European democracies saw for themselves what happened in the United States. Either way, they learned from our decision. Now it is up to them to either follow in our path or take the road with less caution tape.

 

Disclaimer: The political views presented in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Not Another Millennial Blog. 

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