One month on from the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States, the shockwaves of his victory show no sign of subsiding. Quite the opposite.
As 70-year-old Trump assertively espouses his „America First” policy, rulebooks are being torn up and acclimation to unpredictability is the order of the day. The younger generations across the world are sensing that a new era has begun – at least those of them who have a personal stake in following the news.
Brave new world
The motto of Ajou University in South Korea is „Asia’s best university in the 21st century”. Dating back to 1973 and originally established as a joint Korean and French undertaking, it is a research university with a strong international focus. Students from across Asia and beyond major in subjects deemed to be important in tackling the global challenges of the unfolding century, with many programmes taught in English, such as International Development and Cooperation, NGO Studies, International Trade, and International Business. Their lives and careers are going to be affected by a staggering barrage of emerging factors characteristic of the interconnected and interdependent world, the policy of the American administration but one of them. Ajou University is therefore uniquely placed as a vantage point to survey the internationally-minded generations that are intellectually coming of age in this turbulent time.
We asked students and alumni of Ajou University to tell us what they think about and expect from President Trump and his nascent first term in office. Our four questions covered topics ranging from Trump’s personality and reasons for his victory to changes he can bring about and the world’s reaction. Our respondents’ answers seem to indicate a widespread mood of instability that had been growing even before Trump’s rise to power, with the escalating unrest in the Muslim world, immigration crisis, climate change, and Brexit its main drivers, but also of expectation that the coming years might finally provide long-overdue solutions to the mounting social, economic, political, and cultural challenges faced by many communities. The conflicted sense of threat and hope permeates the intellectual climate that shapes and is shaped by our respondents’ thinking.
What follows below offers – we believe – a thought-provoking glimpse into debates and discussions on the Trump presidency currently being had across the globe.
What do you think of Donald Trump as a person?
Trump’s temperament had been a hot topic even before he made a foray into politics, and since then it has regularly made headlines.
Amine (Algeria): „From my view point and I think of the majority of people around the world whatever their religion or culture, President Trump is an odd person. We don’t know how he won the elections. I think Trump is a business man, he doesn’t have experience in politics.”
Andy (Austria): „Trump is an honest person. I doubt that he is a true Christian but he still upholds some Christian values. He received a lot of hate from the media even though it was his first day of presidency where he did not do anything. He might have said something bad about women he shouldn’t have said, but we all said something bad once that we should not have said.”
Anh (Vietnam): „I think he is a horrible person, the kind that any educated person will not want to associate with. The kind that will not improve himself but push others down by under-handed methods to compete. He will be a bad example for the world.”
Bahor (Uzbekistan): „It is not an ordinary man that Americans have chosen as their president. Therefore, all is interesting about him, from his childhood and adolescence to his hobbies, his books, his sayings, his friends and family. Moreover, according to some, he exemplifies those aspects of traditional American mentality that are considered socially blameworthy in the progressive media: strength, confidence, courage, traditional view of the family. Many are tired of ‚softness’ and uncertainty, which they link to the presidency of Barack Obama. In addition, with his potential, experience, popularity, success and other positives features, he can achieve his goals.”
Diana (Ecuador): „He is a human being full of fears, as all human beings are. In his path of growth and development, he has difficulty handling those fears in a healthy manner because his ego has taken over his mind and heart.”
Dung (Vietnam): „As a person, not a politician or a businessman, Donald Trump is a dominant, aggressive and indecent human being who represents the outdated conservative point of view in a patriarchal society. While the world is acknowledging and fighting for equality between races as well as genders or sexual orientations, Trump denies every effort done by global activists. He proved his determination in fulfilling his election promises by signing the anti-abortion executive order on his second day as President. It would not be unpredictable if in a very near future he made some other moves against human rights.”
Evans (Ghana): „I think Trump is realistic and approaches issues without recourse to political correctness.”
Fatin (Malaysia): „A businessman with profit constantly on his mind. Racist and heartless. Ever keen to be ‚the greatest’.”
Kai Zhao (China): „Trump is a straightforward person with a business mindset. He is trying to make politics more practical, just like doing a business. Some people may think he is selfish and mean, but he is just following his business mindset in thinking through problems.”
Kingsley (Nigeria): „He is a good businessman but lacks the qualities needed to be the president of the most powerful country in the world. America cannot afford to deviate from the course of soft and smart power. Trump’s ideas showcase a policy based on hard power. Thus America needs diplomacy in dealing with the world now more than ever judging from the increasingly complex and tense situation with Russia and China.
Pagna (Cambodia): „Donald Trump is a very persistent and determined businessman. He will say it out loud what is on his mind.”
Perpetual (Ghana): „I think he is optimistic and frank about issues and not pretentious. He expresses his feelings as is, holds on to his principles and acts in that regard not considering how many will be hurt by his actions.”
Prump (South Korea): „A businessperson with low sense of political correctness. Also somewhat naive, for instance in his reckless actions that do not consider consequences.”
Shean (Malaysia): „In my opinion, he is a self-centered person. Example: the banning of Muslims has shown that he is misusing his power for his own interest/preference.”
Simon (Czech Republic): „As a non-American citizen I was not familiar with him before the election so I can judge him just based on what he showed (said) in the election and based on his short time as the president of the United States. The first and most important thing to me is that he is a liar. It is quite easy to follow his statements that contradict each other to prove just that. I also think he lacks the manners a president should have, such as not trying to fight and ridicule anyone who opposes him or his ideas.”
What are the reasons for Trump’s rise to power?
Trump entered the presidential race as an outsider and fought an uphill battle in a way that left many pundits and commentators at a loss.
Amine (Algeria): „He rose to power promising to give power to USA more than before, and to seek benefits for America whatever the means or costs. He doesn’t care about other countries, even his neighbors. All his policies are strange.”
Andy (Austria): „The reason is clearly his charisma. A nation will always seek a man with heaps of charisma if there is one. Trump obviously has a lot of it and is not shy to show it. The reason he won is also that Hillary Clinton was just bad and didn’t perform well during the campaign, and the people were fed up with a war-hungry feminist seeking to fulfill her corrupt dreams.”
Anh (Vietnam): „First, taking advantage of misinformed people. He was indeed a good salesman, applying selling techniques that circumvent people’s logic. His speeches are full of flaws but they tapped into some people’s soft spot. Second, making use of being the more advantaged stereotype: white, old, rich and masculine (but also misogynistic). Third, producing an illusion that America was weak and making use of people’s hate. Whether he deliberately deceived the public or got lucky is a question though.”
Diana (Ecuador): „Widespread fear in a vulnerable population.”
Evans (Ghana): „He is smart and knows how to take advantage of opportunities.”
Fatin (Malaysia): „The votes from the rural areas.”
Kai Zhao (China): „America is a capitalist society focused on money and profit. Trump pays attention to the interest of an average American and that’s why people supported him. Even though he has many opponents, his rise means that American society is still focused on money and profit.”
Kingsley (Nigeria): „Several reasons are attributed to Trump’s rise to power. Among them was the ‚make America great again’ campaign strategy. The resonating sound of this slogan resurrected the idle mind of Americans who felt that their motherland had been hijacked, thus staking all they had towards retrieving America from supposed intruders. This was central to his victory.”
Pagna (Cambodia): „I believe the reason why Trump has risen to power is the many scandals of his opponent, Hilary Clinton. Moreover, majority of American people care more about their economy and Trump is a self-made billionaire, so this is why people believed Trump would lead the country to prosperity and success.”
Perpetual (Ghana): „His nationalistic appeal is a major contributing factor to his rise in American politics, coupled with his concern of and priority for providing practical and fundamental development initiatives to his people.”
Prum (South Korea): „There are multiple factors but I personally believe one of the reasons is the backlash against liberals and intellectuals. The middle and low income conservatives of the US felt the liberals were ‚taking charge’ of the country while Obama was in office. Although they were unhappy with it, they could not easily express dissatisfaction because the liberal ambience was dominant throughout the country. Trump acted as a spokesperson for them.”
Shean (Malaysia): „He has a big group of supporters behind him, that helped him outnumber Hillary in the election.”
Simon (Czech Republic): „I think it was the frustration of the middle class or the poor who wanted a change – people who might have felt that they were being ignored for a long time. It is also some kind of inability of the society (and maybe a lack of education) to deal with his style of communication, which is not based on facts (or is based on ‚alternative facts’) but mostly on emotions.”
How will Trump’s actions change America and the world?
Trump’s unorthodox rhetoric and sweeping policies now combined with the much-touted status of the US as the sole superpower have undermined the predictions of „business as usual”.
Amine (Algeria): „I think Donald Trump will destroy everything if he follows through with his policies inside and outside the USA. The evidence for that is what’s happening these days in the USA, with the demonstrations against him and his weird speeches and policies. I’m expecting another war to start somewhere in the world because of him.”
Andy (Austria): „I think he provides a counterweight to the leftists. A nation always needs a balance between the right and the left and the US was administered too much from the left under Obama. Muslims might believe the media that he signed a ‚Muslim ban’ which isn’t the case, as there were also Christians and other people, basically all people of the respective countries were banned. Only idiots say it is a Muslim ban.”
Anh (Vietnam): „He is a step down in the human evolution. He will be a bad example for the world. This can have negative effects on globalization, human rights and social equality.”
Bahor (Uzbekistan): „From my point of view Trump will introduce reforms in areas to do with the military, energy, terrorism, national security, and relations with other countries. Before being elected he was vocal and critical about these.”
Diana (Ecuador): „On a plus side, he will ‚make America and the world great’. Not because of his policies and strategies but because of how his decisions are awakening and bringing people together.”
Dung (Vietnam): „Trump is trying to make some bold moves with the controversoal travel ban. However, Americans have shown that they would not be defeated easily. His actions are indeed unlike any other previous presidents, therefore international relations are uncertain, and the leaders hate uncertainty.”
Evans (Ghana): „It’s too early to conclude what the outcomes of Trump’s actions would be.”
Fatin (Malaysia): „He has messed up the world peace. For example, tens of thousands of visas were revoked by his executive order that bans the citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the US.”
Kai Zhao (China): „He will change the world into a place of self-interest, with little regard for the poor and weak. And cultural understanding will become much weaker between nations.”
Kingsley (Nigeria): As stated ab nitio, Trump’s policies are outside of the USA diplomatic and smart power paradigm. Consequently, this will continually provoke conflict within the USA and endanger their diplomatic ties with the international community (the ongoing conflict with Mexico, the failed conversation with Australia).
Pagna (Cambodia): „Trump is unpredictable, so it is very difficult to make an accurate prediction. However, I think his actions will not benefit the USA at all. It is already a very difficult situation for him as a lot of people hate him and will always look at him negatively. Likewise, in the eyes of foreign leaders, Trump does not have much impact on them. Thus, the world is unstable and in recession.”
Perpetual (Ghana): „Trump I believe will be helpful to America because he places his country first so he will try to strengthen and protect its borders from invasion or any forms of external threat as well as help deliver development opportunities to better the lives of the American people.”
Prum (South Korea): „Economically, he will hamper free trade and possibily change trade routes. Traditionally the US was the hub of international trade but if they close their gates, other countries and corporations may have to find a new partner. Socially and politically, minorities will face harsh discrimination and maybe even violence. There have already been cases of violence since his election and other countries’ right wing groups are gaining power. Thus the increase of discrimination towards minorities may become an international issue. Paradoxically, liberals and human rights advocates may grow in strength to counter his ‚hate’ policies. Organisations such as Planned Parenthood have seen a significant increase in donations after Trump was elected. I believe this indicates that people are willing to help others and fight against his rightist policies.”
Shean (Malaysia): „America will soon have fewer refugees and Muslims. However, Muslim’s hatred towards the country will be worse than ever. In addition, his actions have caused massive protests by his own citizens. His actions might help decrease the chances of terrorism but he will not win people’s hearts and chaos will take place eventually.”
Simon (Czech Republic): „I think the US has a strong democracy and one person should not be able to destroy it. In a short term the system might be put to a test but we have already seen there are independent courts that protect the constitution and rights of the citizens that are based on it. Also if the president oversteps too much there is the option of impeachment. However I am more worried about the rest of the world. The most I am concerned about is Trump’s views on energy (global warming is a hoax, coal is a clean source of energy), which might destroy hard-won agreements between countries on how to fight climate change. The rest is not very clear since Trump doesn’t mean all that he says and is quite unpredictable. He might try to change the status quo in many areas – North Korea, South East Asia, nuclear weapons. Also he can affect how NATO will work. His efforts to dismantle the EU might also help some populists who want their countries to leave. Cancelling the TPPA might allow China to make a trade agreement/union with some countries in Asia instead of the USA and change the spheres of influence.”
How should your country deal with Trump?
As the international society is heading for a shake-up, governments and communities around the globe may need to reassess their role in it and adjust accordingly.
Amine (Algeria): „My country is like the rest of the weak and developing countries. It will watch from the sidelines what happens and deal with Trump’s policies in a diplomatic way to keep the peace in the region.”
Andy (Austria): „My country should respect Trump and should not believe everything the media tells us about him. Just give him a chance, as long as he is nice to us we should also be nice to him. Simple as that.”
Anh (Vietnam): „The Vietnamese should be more aware of world politics and more outspoken in speaking up against Trump. Trump’s isolationist policies will be harmful to Vietnam.”
Diana (Ecuador): „That is difficult to answer because of this month’s presidential election in Ecuador. As the country’s political and economic environment might change, it becomes more difficult to predict what the best policies and strategies should be.”
Evans (Ghana): „My country should approach Trump on the basis of mutual benefit.”
Kai Zhao (China): „China may have a challenging time with him. The trade between China and USA may be more difficult for China if the tariffs rise. Also the Apple manufacturing base may be shifted back to the US and some people will lose their jobs.”
Kingsley (Nigeria): So far my country is not in any conflict with Trump but should that be the case, just like Mexico and other states, counter policies will be promulgated to address these challenges.
Pagna (Cambodia): „Frankly, Cambodian leaders do not want too much pressure from the US regarding how they run the country. When Trump is in power, he does not pay much attention to small and unnecessary countries, so Cambodian leaders are more than happy now.”
Perpetual (Ghana): „I think Trump’s actions will weaken international cooperation, thereby reinforcing the already rapid upsurge of nationalism. His harsh attitude and subjective actions towards Islam can as well trigger wars and conflicts in several parts of the world.”
Prum (South Korea): „Negotiate over what we can offer him as a business and military partner. Since Trump is a business person, he may react when there is ‚loss’ to his business, which is governing a country.”
Simon (Czech Republic): „Our country is divided between the president (by constitution not responsible for foreign policy) who is quite similar to Trump and will likely get on well with him (he has already been invited to the White House) and the government, who opposes his ideas in many ways. Most of the estabilished parties/politicians in Europe do not support Trump. I believe the Czech Republic should stand strong with the rest of the EU, resist Trump’s efforts to dismantle the EU/NATO and also not accept his style of communication.”
The generations born and raised on either side of the turn of the millennium, with its seemingly unstoppable globalisation, ever-expanding free trade, and enthusiastic multiculturalism, are now intellectually coming of age in the Trump Era, with its increasingly vocal populism, protectionism, and distrust of others. The political, economic, and ideological orthodoxies are starting to erode and there is no telling whether their eventual crumbling is a matter of „if” or „when”. The age of stability – if there ever was one – is over and, to repeat a cliché, we are in uncharted waters. Whatever awaits beyond the horizon is yet to be discovered.
Given the magnitude of disruption that the Trump presidency promises to deliver to the established order, whatever happens in the next few years is certain to have a powerful impact on lives and careers of young people anywhere for decades to come. It is also certain that the current intellectual climate is going to have a profound influence on the way they see the world and their own place in it.
And that is the only certainty they can count on.
Dawid Juraszek and Changyi Wang