Exchange students describe Trump’s reputation abroad

Illustration by Raya Deussen

By Amelia Eichel

The Trump election came as a shock to most liberal Americans in 2016. Given that Lewis & Clark attracts mostly liberal students, much of the student body finds Trump’s politics shameful and destructive. How did people from other countries react to Trump’s victory and the actions of his presidency since then? Three LC international students from Bosnia, Spain and Lebanon share their reactions to Trump being elected, how his presidency affects their home country and how current US politics compare to politics in their home country.

Ema Ibisevic ’19 moved to the US from Bosnia to come to LC in Aug. 2015. She was at LC when Trump was elected and was surprised by the fact that liberals did not take seriously the possibility that Trump might be elected.

“The fact that Trump came so far that he was able to run, for me, was an obvious sign that it was very likely that he was going to be elected,” Ibisevic said. “I was shocked that people were treating it as a joke.”

Ibisevic thought the shock that followed Trump’s election was due to the fact that LC students were not paying attention to the huge portion of the country that shares Trump’s ideologies.

“I thought people needed to stop ignoring the fact that so many people in this country stand behind him,” Ibisevic said. “It was so easy to dismiss half of the country. If liberals could understand why people support him and think like him, maybe you would have a better society. I was angry to be part of the group that was against him just because I felt like so many of them weren’t able to get out of their bubble.”

Ibisevic was part of the International Affairs Symposium in 2017, the semester after the election. The committee invited Jessica Vaughan, policy director for right-wing Center for Immigration Studies (labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center), to speak at the Symposium.

“There was so much backlash, even from professors,” Ibisevic said. “They were not providing the space to get to know the other side when we are living in the age when this is so crucial. This is an educational institution and you’re preventing people from being exposed to what a huge portion of America thinks and to engage with someone who thinks those things.”

Conservative ideology is prevalent in Bosnia, so Ibisevic engages with people with different opinions than her whenever she goes back home.

“I decrease how radical my views are when I go back to Bosnia,” Ibisevic said. “When we’re talking about women’s rights, I don’t even bring up equal pay, I’m just thinking about the basic right for a woman not to be (catcalled). I feel like I have to change who I am politically when I’m back home. I get to really push myself when I’m here and be more radical than I am when I’m back home.”

Miguel Haro Ruiz ’20 came to LC from Spain in 2016. The People’s Party, a conservative Christian political party, has been in power in Spain since 2011. Since then, there has been a rise of right-wing ideology throughout Europe.

“Brexit happened before (the Trump election), so back home the Trump election was interpreted as Brexit volume two,” Haro Ruiz said. “There has been a rise of conservative ideology in Europe for years. It was just interpreted as following that trend.”

Nationalist parties are becoming increasingly popular in Europe, and they, like Trump, campaign with the promise to keep refugees out of the country.  

“I think with the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, there’s a lot of reactionary ideologies and policies in Europe and now in the US,” Haro Ruiz said. “That is becoming a more prevalent ideology.”

Because he has an outside perspective, Haro Ruiz is able to view US politics within the broader scope of common historical and global political trends.

“It’s interesting to see how conservatism is on the rise, but people were going crazy for Obama and liberal politics 10 years ago,” Haro Ruiz said. “That same thing happened back home before the more conservative parties got into power. These waves have happened throughout history. In a few years we’ll probably see really strong liberal politicians in power.”

Pamela Altabcharani ’21 arrived in the US last August to attend LC. She is from Lebanon, but moved to Armenia when she was 16 to attend the United World College there.

“When Trump was elected, I was still in my international school, so it was pretty interesting to see the dynamics,” Altabcharani said. “We had Americans, Chinese students, a lot of Syrian and Arab students and Palestinians, French people. My school was pretty left-leaning, so everyone was shocked and disgusted with (Trump’s election). Everyone thought Hillary was going to win. In some sense she did, but in the most important sense she didn’t.”

Altabcharani talked about how people are paying attention to US politics in Lebanon, as it is a pretty westernized country.

“Some of the people I know in Lebanon have changed their outlook on the US since Trump has been elected, mostly negatively,” Altabcharani said. “But there’s quite a few people who have applauded Trump for his arguments and comments about Iran, for example. There are big groups in Lebanon who are against Iran for religious reasons. It’s not really Trump himself (that they’re supporting), it’s the way he addresses issues they care about.”

Being that tensions are extremely high in countries that border Lebanon, especially Syria, Altabcharani expressed concern about how haphazardly the US government is handling situations in the Middle East.

“I think a lot about how little some Americans understand the complex situation in Syria,” Altabcharani said. “I feel like the US knows how much power it has and a lot of Americans are aware of that, but I feel like they don’t understand where that power comes into play.”

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