My English class was going so well. I had just delivered a pretty basic lesson on New Year’s Eve. There were about 15 minutes left of class, so I decided to show my students a video of Times Square. They loved it, and I patted myself on the back for another successful lesson—that is, until I closed the full-screen video. Almost immediately after hitting the escape button I heard one student exclaim, “Ah, Donald Trump! Der nächste Präsident! (The next president!)” Sure enough, just underneath the video was a link to an article about Trump’s latest primary victory. I responded, saying Trump would not be the next president…or at least I hoped not. The teacher in the classroom supported my position, adding, “Das wäre eine Katastrophe! (That would be a catastrophe!)”
Ever since Trump’s entrance into the race this summer, the naysayers and fortunetellers predicting his demise have been proven incorrect again and again as his popularity and campaign only continue to gain momentum. Now, halfway through the primary season, he leads the Republican field by about a 300-delegate margin over his next closest rival, Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
Commentators and analysts have exhaustively described the havoc a President Trump would wreak on U.S. domestic policy. However, as my classroom experience suggests, electing the real-estate mogul would also devastate U.S. relations with its allies and its standing on the world stage.
It seems that as soon as any German I meet learns I am American, they immediately want to ask about or offer opinions on Trump. These opinions are generally not positive. Reactions run the gamut from disgust and shock at his crass comments—my German roommate suggested some of his more racially-tinged comments would be labeled hate speech in Germany—to comparisons to Adolf Hitler. Unlike Americans, who brazenly throw around such comparisons, the German people place great emphasis on remembering and continually atoning for the atrocities committed by the Nazi dictator and do not make Hitler characterizations haphazardly.
“Unlike Americans, who brazenly throw around such comparisons, the German people place great emphasis on remembering and continually atoning for the atrocities committed by the Nazi dictator and do not make Hitler characterizations haphazardly.”
Trump is clearly no fan of Germany or Europe in general. He referred to Brussels as a “hellhole,” and Germany as a “disaster,” while saying German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee policies are “insane,” to quote just a few of Trump’s thoughts on the continent. The feeling seems to be mutual. The German magazine Der Spiegel recently labeled Trump “The Most Dangerous Man in the World” and featured his face on their cover over the word Wahnsinn, meaning “madness.” The magazine argued Trump would be a direct threat to world peace, and suggested his election would jeopardize the decades-long relationship between Germany and the United States, rooted in the shared values of democracy and freedom. Nicholas Vinocur, writing for POLITICO Europe, concurs, adding the perhaps hyperbolic possibility that what we know of as the “West,” built on decades of positive relationships, military alliances, and trade between the United States and Europe, would be threatened by a Trump presidency.
It would not be fair to completely lay the blame for this potential shift in Western relations at Trump’s feet. Europe too has seen its share of ascendant far-right parties. Marie LePen’s Front National in France and the AfD (Alternative für Deutschland, Alternative for Germany in English) come to mind. Both parties have found marginal success in anti-immigrant rhetoric and distrust of the political establishment, which are also embodied by Trump. While AfD rails against accepting Syrian refugees, Trump thunders against our porous Mexican border and argues for the mass deportation of “illegals.” Where Marie LePen decries the European Union and the influence of detached and corrupt politicians in Brussels, Trump actively campaigns against Washington, D.C. insiders while positioning himself as a political outsider who will take on the political establishment.
“While AfD rails against accepting Syrian refugees, Trump thunders against our porous Mexican border and argues for the mass deportation of “illegals.” Where Marie LePen decries the European Union and the influence of detached and corrupt politicians in Brussels, Trump actively campaigns against Washington, D.C. insiders while positioning himself as a political outsider who will take on the political establishment.”
The difference, though, lies in electoral success. While neither Front National nor AfD has found much national success at the ballot box, Trump is currently leading the Republican field and the chances of his becoming the presumptive Republican nominee look better and better every day. Many political observers are hoping that Trump will have the nomination stolen away from him in a brokered convention, or that Americans will have the sense to vote for the Democratic nominee, either former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. The problem is that almost every prediction about Trump and his campaign since he entered the race has underestimated his ever-increasing popularity. Come January, there is a very real chance that we may find ourselves with a President Trump.
We cannot put our relationship with the Western world to the test by electing a man who our strongest allies see as a danger and a genuine threat to world peace. In a world already beset with so much turmoil, is it not enough for us to worry about our enemies? Let us not have to worry about our friendships.
Image: Donald Trump at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr, Creative Commons)
Brandon Ouellette is a current Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Berlin, Germany. He is a graduate of Bowdoin College, with a double major in government and legal studies and psychology and a minor in German. He was awarded the Government and Legal Studies Department Prize for Excellence in American Politics. Opinions are his own and do not reflect the views of the Fulbright Commission.