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What do non-Americans think about American politics? We asked.

Over the last 4-5 years, America’s role as a geopolitical powerhouse has shifted. Donald Trump’s “America First” rhetoric has frayed ties between allies, and courted historic adversaries. Grit Daily interviewed people from various countries: India, South Africa, England, South Korea, and Canada, to get an idea of how their views toward American politics have changed.  

Johannes Joubert of South Africa calls American politics “a popularity contest, absolutely something to be televised for ratings.” Yasir Dharsi of England says that, “it was always a little bit dysfunctional, but it’s taken dysfunction to a whole new level.”

Joubert expressed disbelief at how divided people were during the 2020 election, surprised that friends would write each other off if they supported a different party’s candidate. As for the division, Christine Young of Canada, when asked what stands out to her about recent U.S. politics answered, “people’s blatant disregard for right and wrong when it comes to party lines; this commitment to upholding your party at whatever cost is just shocking to me.” She expressed that, while growing up, she felt that Canada was always in the U.S.’s shadow, and that Canadians looked up to the U.S. When she started her undergraduate degree, however, she learned more about America’s quest to co-opt resources around the world under the guise of building “democracy.” She feels that the negative parts of American politics that were previously swept under the rug have now been exposed. 

Padmashree Somanna of India believes that American politics have become “bitter,” and that, “politicians are more concerned with proving their ideological purity,” than with people’s democratic rights. “They just want to win – at the cost of democratic values, at the cost of people’s interests, at the cost of the economy.”

2016 Election & The Media

All respondents described their reaction to Donald Trump’s 2016 election win as a shock. Moon Hyeon-jin of South Korea said that she stopped believing the media when Donald Trump won after all the polling data showed that Hillary Clinton would prevail. Yasir Dharsi expected Trump to win in 2020, despite polling data that showed Biden ahead, saying, “Once bitten, twice shy.” He went on, “I’ve been saying Trump was going to serve a second term for the last two years because I figured he would stack the system. And the fact the system allowed it to be stacked means the system doesn’t work.” He said UK news talked a lot about how Trump was trying to stack the election by inserting an allied postmaster general who got rid of post boxes at a time when so many Americans were voting by mail.

Padmashree Somanna says that Indian media tends to portray people with business interests in favor of the Republicans, and social issues as being handled better by Democrats, believing that a lot of filtering happens throughout the media, and that she, therefore, prefers to go to a country’s own national news sites rather than believing Indian media for foreign news stories.

Foreign Relations

Somanna says that, while bilateral relations between her home country and the U.S. seem fine, she believes the U.S. is losing its competitive edge because all of the division and political turmoil may deter international investors from wanting to do business in the U.S.

Dharsi says that Trump’s tenure was good for relations between the U.S. and the United Kingdom because President Trump and Prime Minister Boris Johnson are “bedfellows.” Regarding Brexit, “Trump told Boris Johnson that, ‘I am a Brexit supporter and if you guys vote for Brexit, we’ll do a (free trade) deal with you and we won’t do a (free trade) deal with Europe.’ He was lying, of course but Boris fell for that.” Dharsi also drew on the parallels between Brexit and Donald Trump supporters, as “the forgotten many,” who bring a swing element to elections that polling doesn’t account for.

Christine Young says that Canadians felt that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should have stood up to President Trump over the detainment of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, which caused outrage in both Canada and China. “A lot of people accuse him (Trudeau) of just bending over and letting Trump push him around a little bit too much. They think that Canada should be a bit tougher.” On the detainment, she said many Canadians felt that, “this is not our place to do this, we should not be just bowing down to what the US asks us to do.”

Moon Hyeon-jin says that Trump demanded huge defense expenditures from South Korea, stating, “I guess he’s a businessman, not a politician.” South Korea and the United States have been military allies since the Korean War, when the U.S. came to their aid against the communist north under Kim Il-Sung. Today, thousands of American troops are stationed in South Korea to deter nuclear aggression from North Korea.

Joubert was glad that Trump tweeted about the farm murders happening in South Africa. “That tweet actually made our ministers very nervous.” He hopes that the U.S. will impose sanctions on his country to force his government into doing more to protect farmers.

Trump’s Tenure

When Donald Trump was elected to be the leader of the free world, he had never before held public office, so naturally people expected some hiccups and surprises during his administration. Somanna says, “Personally, what changed my view is the way he conducted himself in certain interviews. I can see he’s underprepared for interviews and most of the time he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Being a president, you should be a role model for people.”

As for how Donald Trump’s tenure has affected her view of American politics, Christine Young says, “It’s just funny to hear these people who are talking about how they’re going around the world promoting democracy and human rights just blatantly undermining it and being complete hypocrites about it with just no shame.” She also expressed concern that Trump’s rhetoric had galvanized right-wing Canadians, stating, “In the past few years a lot of right wing Canadians have become more outspoken about issues that have been coming up in the U.S., like being more openly xenophobic and kind of trying to promote more xenophobic policies.”  

Regarding the pandemic, Moon Hyeon-jin says, “Trump was completely defeated on coronavirus,” and she hopes that President-elect Biden copes with the pandemic more wisely. South Korea was the first country outside of China to have a major outbreak of coronavirus, but the government stepped in and took measures to contain it, having learned from past experience with MERS.

Joubert says that, “In South Africa, Trump is very well loved, but it’s probably because we have a more conservative mindset and our country respects that he said, “I’m going to put America first – my country first,” Trump is quite loved because we really want a stronger economy and that is what [we] see. When [we] hear the name Donald Trump, we see money. That is what we associate with him, which is very different to what Americans would associate him with, cause to us, Donald Trump is a reality TV star that had “The Apprentice.” He always talks about how successful he is.” Joubert added, though, that many were not impressed with Trump’s treatment of the American people during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I have been informed that a lot of policies have been changed while big events were occurring, and I did not like the fact that healthcare – I’m not sure if it got completely canceled, but I don’t think that is a nice person’s move – that you would (try to) take away healthcare in the time of a pandemic,” he says.

America’s Influence

Joubert says, “I don’t think the American dream is really something anymore, and I would like it to be the land where things are possible. Like all refugees say, ‘Hey, if I can escape to America I will have a life, I have the opportunity to be a business owner, to not fear for my life when I walk in the streets, not to be persecuted for my religion or my sexual orientation or my gender even.’” As the extent of America’s income inequality gets more exposure around the world, many have begun to wonder whether the American Dream is attainable, but the mere idea of it continues to instill hope.

It’s clear the Trump administration changed the way the world views the United States and American politics, but many of the respondents expressed hope that, under Biden, the U.S. would get back on its feet and reinsert itself into a leadership role that fosters inspiration. Of the Biden/Harris ticket, Joubert says, “I hope they honor the promises that they have made for building a united America, which is what the world would like to see.”

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