A VIEW OF THE AMERICAN ELECTION FROM FOREIGN STREETS
As President Barack Obama embarks on his last foreign trip as President of the United States, countries around the world are considering the future of their relationship with the United States of America. Americans have been far more occupied over the past week with the impact the new President will have on immigrants, minorities, women, the elderly and disabled than on the effect the new regime will have on relationships that date back to the founding of our nation.
Leaders in Asia, Latin America and Africa are looking at the United States in a new light. Across Europe, extreme right-wing parties are rejoicing as their own elections loom. Radio commentators on a news program in France on Sunday talked about finding a new “multi-polar” power structure aimed at reducing America’s influence, regardless of whether we honor our commitment to NATO. They agreed that Americans may have chosen to follow this new leader, but Europe did not and will not, and this divorce requires a shifting of power and the construction of new alliances.
The opinions at the top are easy to see. It’s harder to know what people on the ground in other countries are thinking about the election. But I am fortunate to have thoughtful, articulate colleagues working with the poor in their home countries of Kenya, Ghana, Haiti and India, who in emails this week provided a glimpse of what people in the streets of their countries are thinking and feeling about what we’ve just done.
So here, with their permission (but not their names), I am sharing a view from abroad on the outcome of our election and the conclusions people are drawing from the choices we’ve made.
We are so heartbroken here in Kenya. You know we had a mock U.S. election in Kogello (near Mama Sarah Obama’s home), and Hillary won and it was all over the local news in Kenya. Yesterday (Election Day) all Kenyans were glued to the TV. Employees were at work, but not working waiting to hear about the electoral vote tallying and hoping that a miracle would happen. The day felt like 9/11 only that this time Americans bombed themselves on 11/9.
I have always wondered how men like Hitler and Stalin came to power. I witnessed it firsthand with the U.S. elections. Trump’s victory sort of proved that at least 50% of Americans are racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and illiterate. It is very sad. People were heartbroken here in Kisumu, but also at the same time happy that finally some of their relatives who have stayed in America for over 30 years would finally be heading back home to build Kenya. Kenyans take politics very seriously. Yesterday you would have thought it was Kenyan election results we were waiting for. Yet about 40 percent never bother to register to vote and … I am very worried about our upcoming elections next year, too.
During this entire U.S. election period, I kept thinking Hillary Rodham Clinton showed everyone what it means to “fail forward” — a slogan that is all over the internet, yet most of the time lacks any meaning. But Ms. Clinton demonstrated that even though it is now 40 years since the United Nations declared a year of the woman, equality is still a long way off. Not because she ultimately didn’t win the presidency, but because of all the mud and the dirt she had to constantly wade through and that each of us hopes our own children won’t have to experience.
Let’s not be afraid to remain curious and welcoming and determined to eradicate bigotry in every shape and form! We can create a new story by giving our girls today the power of quality education, knowledge and equity, so they can learn in a world where their voices can be strong and fierce and honest and true. We have to move on. It is not only a president who builds the world. We can do it, too.
It has been quite stressful here, especially as media commentators are reading all sorts of meaning into President-elect Trump’s victory and what that means for our elections here on December 7. Elections in this part of our world tend to be an ugly, divisive and name calling game that can and does lead to rioting. There is always fear of what can happen after the polls close. I hope that Hillary’s calm acceptance of defeat (albeit painful for us) and Trump’s demeanor during his victory speech will serve as an invaluable lesson for our presidential candidates.
America’s democracy has far reaching effects for the whole world, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. We pray and will continue to ask the Good Lord to guide President-elect Trump so that his team, the House of Representatives and the Senate will work together for the good of America and the rest of the world.
There are many similar wounds across our lands and similar struggles for liberation from exploitation, sexism, racism and greed for power and resources. Watching the U.S. election unfold from rural Haiti is a view from another reality. It is like sitting on the edge of the world. I am hearing people theorize about these results from the bottom up, from a place poor in resources and infrastructures but rich in human potential and wisdom. They see the vulnerabilities and the fault lines in the global system, as well as the phony discourse on equity, open access, collaboration and concern for the poor.
In the months leading up to the election, I spent time in Haiti, Belgium, France, England, Germany and India, where I saw how absorbed people were in watching the U.S. campaign. Everywhere I went, people who had respected and admired America’s first African-American president asked me to explain the Republican nominee. Now, people around the world, from the bottom to the top, are closely watching to see how America handles the transfer of power between two such different men, whether this new president will govern in the same way he campaigned and what it means to see a decline in America’s global — and moral — influence.