The election of America’s next president will have vast global effects. This is inevitable, due both to the United States’ pre-eminence and the nature of globalised economics, and means that the current tangle of primaries and caucuses to decide the parties’ nominees is watched with great attention around the world.
The atypical nature of this election, which is dominated – at least in media coverage – by insurgent, anti-establishment candidates, has also piqued a great deal of international interest. In Europe especially, the reaction to the American election is unlike anything I can remember, even when considering the scope and scale of the love affair my continent had – and to an extent still exhibits – with Barack Obama.
The European view of the Democratic contest is an interesting one, especially as most European countries lean to the left of the United States on economic issues. One might expect Europeans to be enthusiastic supporters of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, but the perhaps surprising thing is that this simply isn’t the case. While there are devoted fan clubs of both candidates – students in particular, dismissed by a friend of mine at Edinburgh University as “over-excited first-time primary watchers,” seem to ‘feel the Bern’ more than is sensible – it’s notable how apathetic many others seem.
After all, many appear to think, Sanders does not seem fresh and exciting to a continent full of socialist parties; his much-vaunted freshness has none of the appeal it is said to exercise over part of the American electorate. And anyway, he has very little chance of winning, so why bother getting excited?
The attitude towards Hillary Clinton is interestingly double-edged, too. There is nothing exciting about her: nothing to motivate or inspire, nothing to enthuse. My friends think she will win the Democratic nomination and attain the office of president, but there is nothing terribly pleasing about that thought; her coronation will not be an exalted one.
Clinton is in many ways a figure entirely inseparable from some of the Obama administration’s less than glorious moments: many in Europe blame her for the mess which was made of Libya – some for the intervention in the first place, and others for the failure of reconstruction which blighted the aftermath of Colonel Gaddafi’s overthrow.
One cannot also forget the dynastic aspect (no doubt odd in a continent still home to monarchies), which makes her seem less of a new force in American political life than a wary Imelda Marcos-type figure.
Turning to the Republican field, there is a remarkable movement within European countries against Donald Trump. A great deal of this, no doubt, is empty virtue-signalling – witness for example the utterly pointless debate in the British Parliament, spawned by an equally absurd petition, to ban him from entry into the country.
The debate was especially irrelevant since the power to block people from entering the United Kingdom rests with the Home Secretary, not Parliament. But this more or less typifies the reaction here: genuine distrust (that cannot be avoided), coupled with over-exaggerated and impotent statements of disagreement.
Ted Cruz is little known in comparison to Trump. He has little of the name-recognition one might expect of a politician who could soon be leader of the free world. The only thing many Europeans remember him for is his role in the federal government shutdown of 2013, which smacks of ideological extremism. Perhaps luckily for Cruz, many European memories are not that long; instead of the government shutdown, most probably associate him with the bizarre Zodiac killer meme, which is apparently funny and made funnier by endless repetition.
The few friends of mine who support John Kasich do so, I expect, with the knowledge that most of their fellow countrymen have no idea who the guy is – though no doubt this is of secondary consideration now he mathematically cannot win the nomination under normal circumstances.
In short, many in Europe look on with both boredom and impotent horror at the choices America has made and will have to make in the near future. Whatever the result, in a world stage more than ever influenced by personality, it looks likely that America’s next president will have a tremendous image problem in the Old World.