The U.S. presidential race isn’t only drawing attention and controversy in the United States – it’s being closely watched across the globe. But what does the rest of the world think about a campaign that has already thrown up one surprise after another? CNN asked 10 journalists for their take on the race so far, and what their country might be hoping for in America’ s next president. (We’ll also be checking in again with some of them as the campaign continues). The views expressed are the writers’ own.
Canada: Nervous laughter over U.S. campaign
There was a time when we Canadians experienced U.S. election campaigns in the same way that a grandmother experienced bingo: The only reason we watched was to hear our numbers called out. Free trade, acid rain, softwood lumber, NORAD, border security. These were the entries on our game sheet – the only ones we cared about.
All that has changed over the last decade: Thanks to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other free trade mechanisms, most of the bilateral issues between Canada and the United States have been resolved. Fear of the American colossus, once the great neurosis of Canadian public life, is now very much in decline.
In fact, the sense of intimidation that we once felt has been turned on its head: Many Canadians now observe America’s political spectacle with a sense of smugness. The unhinged rhetorical fusillades and open conspiracism of Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, in particular, have become a form of ironic reality show entertainment. “I would build a great wall” and all the rest are laugh lines in the Canadian media.
But it is nervous laughter they elicit. We wonder: How could this great nation to our south – a beacon of liberty, and the West’s great protector – have become a place where popular presidential candidates jabber about banning Muslims, or casually propose “carpet bombing” Middle Eastern population centers?
Dig beneath the spasms of insecurity, fear and smugness that Canada’s intellectual class has exhibited toward the United States, and you find an underlying attitude of warmth among ordinary people. Most of us travel to America, at least occasionally, for vacations and work. We talk to Americans every day on Facebook and Twitter, watch the same TV shows, follow the same sports.
America is a friend, in other words. Even left-leaning Canadians politicians such as Justin Trudeau will tell you as much.
But the face that this friend has shown us during the current presidential campaign – of naked religious bigotry, of race paranoia, of curdled nostalgia for mythologized “greatness” – is not a face we recognize or appreciate. And once the voting is done on November 8, we hope it is a face that Americans never show to the world again.
Jonathan Kay is editor of The Walrus magazine magazine.
South Africa: It’s Trump this and Trump that
Donald Trump? After Barack Obama? For those South Africans paying attention at this point in the U.S. presidential race, the primary campaign has prompted furrowed eyebrows. Indeed, the word “incredulous” best describes the response here to Trump’s howl-a-minute, holler-a-minute, horror-a-minute bid to become the Republican nominee.
When Obama was running for the White House, it felt like a home race – and then a home run – for many South Africans. We were transfixed, as was most of sub-Saharan Africa, at the sight of this young, lanky, beautiful, clever, black man stepping up to take one of the most powerful jobs in the world. And then there was Michelle Obama. And Malia. And Sasha. It was black can-do in a perfect package.
Obama’s campaign of hope and change energized us, and biographies flew up the bestseller lists here. Of course, Obama’s message of hope and change have grayed at the temples, just like his hair has. True, he has managed to put in place a system that is transforming health care, and under his administration’s watch, sexual orientation is now just that – a sexual orientation, not some kind of abomination in the eyes of the law. True, he didn’t manage to close Gitmo, or end the conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq, but his presidency has still been transformative.
Now the same country that elected Obama seems to be toying with the idea of electing a comb-over king who doesn’t seem to like Muslims and Mexicans very much, leaving some here to wonder what he feels about black Americans and Africans.
I realize that Trump isn’t the only one running for president, but as in the United States, he has dominated the coverage of the race, and the other candidates have simply not found space in South Africa’s coverage of the primaries, outside of small, intellectual circles. It is Trump this and Trump that, outdoing himself again and again with his bigotry.
Even the fact that the United States might elect its first woman president in the shape of Hillary Clinton has not yet become a talking point, although here sub-Saharan Africa has already bested the United States – Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has been president of Liberia since 2006.
So the focus has been on Trump, who unfortunately has run an insular campaign. If asked about his African foreign policy, I fear it would sound something like this: “Kenya? Isn’t that the place where Obama was born?”
Ferial Haffajee is editor of City Press newspaper.