Symposium on the American Presidential Elections

Without a doubt, the upcoming 2016 Presidential Election is a worldwide topic of sensation, scandal and intrigue. What one student compared to as being another American “reality TV show”, the Clinton and Trump campaigns of slander and crowd-lustering slogans have cast the candidates’ images into a dark light internationally. From the rhetoric I hear my Belgian students and peers throw around about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, I’ve come to the conclusion that many onlookers believe that the race to the White House is some sort of bad joke.

In an effort to educate myself further about the precariousness of the 2016 elections (and to explain to my Belgian students that Americans supporting Trump are not necessarily racists), I attended the “Symposium on the American Presidential Elections” in Brussels last week. I was excited about the panel of speakers (Professor Jane Hall, Professor Dr. Bart Kerremans, Retired Ambassador Larry Wohlers and Professor Dr. Jerome Sheridan) as I felt their knowledge in the respective fields of media, the American political system and foreign affairs would bolster my own understanding of the direction America is heading this upcoming November.

What fascinated me most about the symposium was Professor Hall’s deconstruction of the American news environment in relation to the “Rise of Trump”. The media bias toward conflict and outrageous remarks was, as analyzed by Professor Hall, a major factor in winning Donald Trump the republican party nomination. The disproportionate level of coverage, which estimates to be two billion dollars’ worth, has not only given Donald Trump the platform to get away with his outrageous remarks but it has taken away from coverage of other candidates’ campaigns in addition to the Clinton email scandal. Now that American media is becoming more critical of Trump’s remarks and “Fact-Checking” him in real time, Americans are becoming further polarized in their political views of this election.

Hillary Clinton is in a strong position to win the upcoming election, as Professor Kerremans remarked. By analyzing voter distribution from past elections and recent popularity polls, one could easily come to the conclusion that Hillary Clinton will win the upcoming 2016 election; the only caveat now being that her as well as Trump’s unpopularity could still affect voter turn-out and choice. As more and more Americans become frustrated with this boxing-ring like showdown between the Clinton and Trump campaigns, it appears that America’s only hope is to grit its teeth for the upcoming four-years. I personally hope that it won’t be under the leadership of a president who plans to impose fear-stricken isolationist policies.

At the end of the symposium, I felt that my own frustrations and concerns about America’s future were both justified and somewhat eased. It was the factual and analytical realizations of respected and knowledgeable professionals that helped me mentally prepare for how I will be approaching my ETA lessons about the American political system and the upcoming 2016 election. I appreciated that the speakers presented the historical and present-day facts (no fact-checker necessary) without expressing either disdain or praise for the presidential nominees. It is an approach that I think my students will benefit from as it will challenge them to think critically about other factors leading up to America’s current situation.

– Brandy Miller
2016-2017 U.S. Fulbright grantee to Belgium