Throughout Ireland and Europe, the first thing I’m usually asked after stating that I’m American is “what do you think about Donald Trump?” I didn’t think much of it at first, but over time I spotted a trend: I was having more conversations about American politics in Europe than I ever did back home.
In Ireland, the level of engagement and knowledge about the American political process has been astonishing. Over lunch with a colleague at the Seanad (Ireland’s version of the Senate), we had long debate over whether Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio would win over the largest donors in the Republican Party. At a fundraising event for a local non-profit, I was asked for my thoughts about the differences between Hilary Clinton’s run in 2008 versus this year’s campaign. Even my boss at Social Entrepreneurs Ireland made a blog post about the rise of Trump in the U.S.
Birds-eye view of Leinster House – home to the Seanad Éireann.
Even at a more informal level, most of the travelers I’ve hosted in Dublin through Couchsurfing or through my own trips around Europe have involved some discussion of the American political process. Though the level of in-depth knowledge and interest varies, there has been a consistent level of engagement and interest. One of my best friend’s in Ireland could name more U.S. politicians than Irish.
Regardless of where you sit on the political spectrum, the implications are quite staggering: the entirety of the U.S. political process is being critically followed by the international world. As a U.S. citizen and student, I didn’t quite grasp the degree to which our political process was at the center stage of the global system. Arguably, the rest of the world is paying more attention to our political affairs than the average person in the U.S.
This raises a couple of interesting issues. First, whether we like it or not, our political process is under the microscope. Our international reputation is not just a function of the policies we enact, but also the way our politicians behave (or misbehave) during the election cycle. Though few American politicians are probably considering this, bombastic speeches and grandiose claims have ramifications in terms of our overall reputation abroad.
Second, it is clear to me that the U.S. educational system has a lot of catching up to do in terms of getting our students up to speed on the international political system. At the very least, we need a working knowledge of what is going on in the E.U., its basic structure, and the key figures in government at the international stage. While the rest of the world might know a good amount about the U.S., I’m not confident in our knowledge of what’s going on abroad. Civic education needs to expand past just what’s going on inside our borders.
Though it is a cliché to say at this point, technology is changing the way global audiences can access information about the American political system. This also means that we may need to reconsider the potential impact of our political theater on what eventually has to come after: the hard work of building international good will and progress around the major issues we face.