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Trump in the White House

Date:18 January 2017
Author:Christine Straehle
President-Elect Donald Trump
President-Elect Donald Trump

This Friday, January 20th, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as US President. Much has been written since his unforeseen election to the White House. There have been at least two distinct reactions: First, there are those who ridicule ‘Trump Voters’, and who ridicule Trump himself. Comics all over the world are having a field day with a Trump presidency, and some may believe that the election of so garish a character is a ‘typical’ American event, never to happen in Europe. And then there are more ‘serious’ commentators who speculate about what a Trump presidency will bring. Is this the end of multilateralism? Democracy as we know it? The rise of post-truth politics?

To simply ridicule those who voted for Trump is fundamentally undemocratic. Moreover, to say that ‘this’ could only happen in the US is surprising, especially when thinking of such populist parties as the AfD in Germany, or Marine LePen’s Front National in France. The second reaction may be motivated by sincere concern. Many worry about loosing some of the political achievements that we hold dear as democratic and pluralist societies, such as civil rights and the protection of minorities.

Both reactions, though understandable – and thinking of the first one, sometimes very funny - miss the opportunity to learn something from this election. And that is, after all, what we are in the business of as a university community. There are many questions that need to be asked: what made people vote for Donald Trump? Or, closer to home, choose Brexit over membership in the EU? Or think of this: what makes people march against global market policies, such as TTIP or CETA? Take a quick look at your favourite news outlet and you will notice that voters in America (even those who didn’t vote for Trump) believe that it is ‘unjust’ or at least ‘unfair’ that they are out of work and that their cars are made elsewhere. But of course, to say that something is just or unjust, we first need an idea of what it means for something to be just. And many of those who vote for political newbies like Trump, or who opt for more protectionist policies such as Brexit, seem to have a vision of justice, or of how their country should be run, or of how the economy should work. Just because many economists argue that global markets yield better lives for people doesn’t mean that people actually experience their lives to be better. And of course, the question is better than what?

So this is the first lesson to be drawn from the inauguration this Friday: we should take Trump’s election as our cue to study what makes policies just, what it means to have good political representation, and for markets to work for the greater good. And then we need to assess the policies that govern our lives to see if they live up to the ideals. If not, we need to change them.


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