A Model UN student’s reflection on the 2016 presidential election

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Matt Mainzer ’17, in the Council Room at the United Nations Office in Geneva’s Palais des Nations, during the 2016 Geneva International Model UN conference in Switzerland.

In the following blog post, Matt Mainzer ’17, who recently returned from the 2016 Geneva International Model United Nations (GIMUN) conference in Switzerland, reflects on what he learned about the US Presidential Elections while in Europe:

(Re-posted from Pace University’s Path to the Presidency blog)

It is an easy time to be upset as a proud American. The extreme partisanship in Washington, DC is not just in my generation’s imagination; our elders are quick to confirm that it was never this bad. Simultaneously, the establishment that we tacitly assumed was capable of producing candidates worthy of our vote, worthy of the highest position in US government, presents us with radicals and candidates seemingly indifferent to their controversies and scandals. Misinformed voters, the media, super PACs, you and I… the culprits are endless, but the crime is by now routine. The moderates, the sensible, the individuals willing to compromise are axed first and from the gauntlet comes a new generation of American leadership. In this pack, one candidate has fueled, and rose, on a fear-mongering wave of fascist rhetoric. The circumstances for Donald Trump’s rise will be queried by intellectuals and those wishing to exploit the same conditions for years to come, but that is a topic for another conversation.

Today, I feel foolish for brushing off Trump as recently as a few months earlier. When he criticized Mexicans I felt confident telling friends back in California that Trump would never come close to the office he sought. After the Paris attacks in November of last year, Trump proposed a ban on all Muslims entering the U.S. I received a notification of his announcement while in an Arabic class, so did a few of the other, majority Muslim, students. When a conversation on the topic began, I told them that this man was not a serious candidate. But I believed my own words less this time. Later, in Morocco and Spain, a friend and I brushed off questions about Trump. He was a liar, a fraud, a clown. There was no reason to worry about it. It was the media looking for a ratings boost when he made ridiculous comments. It was a small group of people he had fooled. It was a show, a circus. It wasn’t real.

During the 2012 Presidential elections, much was made by Romney and the right of Obama’s apology tour. After being elected in 2008, they claimed he traveled the world apologizing for the actions of the U.S. This was a mortal sin, they said. He had humiliated us. He had criticized our actions, not to other Americans, but to foreigners. A few weeks ago, I was in Geneva for a model United Nations conference. I was surrounded by young, bright, politically-oriented students from around the world, and they wanted to hear about Trump. I was trapped on an apology tour of my own. I felt like I was explaining that a person who was just convicted of a serious crime was a good person, they had just made a mistake. I was being drowned in open source intelligence about the world’s reactions to Trump. It was painful and upsetting just having my country’s name associated with this man and his rhetoric.

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What my own personal experiences from this election have proven to me thus far is that there should be no comfort in the belief that this man can never win a general election. Anybody who understands the world today, including Trump himself, knew that his comments about Muslims would be seized on by ISIS and other Islamic extremist elements as a recruiting tool. But, Trump’s comments have not just damaged our strategic goals in Iraq and Syria. Every moment he has a platform from which to speak, real and significant damage is being done to our soft power across the entire world.

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About Matthew Bolton

I am assistant professor of Political Science at Pace University and author of Foreign Aid and Landmine Clearance.
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