Reflections on the US Election

New president faces many challenges

By Stuart Bell, a first year BA History & Politics student

This article is part of our series ‘Reflections on the US Election’

Donald Trump proved the polls and the media wrong yet again, with the predicted ‘blue wave’ not materialising. He still received the second highest number of votes in US election history, with over 70 million votes and winning in key states such as Florida and Ohio. Similar patterns were seen in the Congressional elections. Despite not winning the House, Republicans made significant gains – winning at least 12 seats previously held by the Democrats – and the party has a strong chance of holding control of the Senate.

With Joe Biden elected as the 46th President of the United States, I feel that this result is damaging to the ‘special relationship’ that exists between the US and UK and that the next 4 years could be unpredictable and challenging. This is due to Biden not being a supporter of Brexit (compared to President Trump) which could lead to problems in the hope of a favourable trade deal being struck between the US and UK, especially if the UK leaves the transition period without a deal. 

This could mean the UK is pushed to the ‘back of the queue’ as former President Barack Obama stated before the UK voted to leave in 2016. Also, Biden may focus more on building better relations with the remaining 27 EU countries which had a challenging relationship with President Trump during his time in office.

As for the US itself, in the short term it will be a challenge for Biden to try and bring the nation together, as the country is more divided than it has been for a generation due to the election and the Coronavirus pandemic. The issue of race has also caused there to be an increase in tensions, especially after the death of George Floyd. Violence erupted in many cities, with further tensions prompted by the tearing down of statutes. This must be a priority for Biden and Harris as America cannot move forward if it is not united.

Turning to the immediate challenge of handling the pandemic, the outcome of the election leaves as many questions as it does answers. How Coronavirus continues to affect the US will play a very important role in how the economy rebounds and whether the potential vaccines prove to be effective or not in the long-term.

Thinking about broader foreign policy, the next four years will contrast with the last four. Biden has signalled taking a different approach to Trump’s ‘America First’ policy. Trump’s approach had challenged organisations such as NATO where certain member countries weren’t committed to spending 2% of their GDP on defence, and he pulled America out of the Paris Climate Accord, saying that it would damage the US economy and cost American jobs. Trump also took on China, which had been trading unfairly for years, and he helped forge peace in the Middle East between Israel and the UAE, along with being the first president since Carter to not bring the US in a new conflict. 

Biden’s foreign policy will aim to try and repair relations with allies. He will move America back into the forefront of the political world by re-joining the Paris Climate accord, the World Health Organisation, and will play a major role in NATO. The US will most likely play a major role in these over the next four years, helping to determine what direction they take. 

What type of trade deal the UK will eventually strike with the US is unpredictable due to the question of the border between Northern Ireland and the EU and Biden’s comments on the need to protect the Good Friday Agreement. 

Finally, it should be noted that the current election season in the US is not yet over. How a Biden-Harris administration will be able to govern will be strongly shaped by the outcome of two Senate run-off races in the state of Georgia in January. And as one election season comes to an end, the next one won’t be far off. The mid-terms in less than two years’ time will also determine how much key legislation the Biden-Harris administration is able to pass.

Reflections on the US Election

Looking forward to the next four years

By Courtney Campbell, a second year BA Politics student

This article is part of our series ‘Reflections on the US Election’

It is hard to believe that we have lived through almost four whole years of Donald Trump’s presidency. Between building walls, the Russia investigation and becoming the third president to be impeached, this madness that began back in 2016 with Trump’s unexpected win against Hillary Clinton does not appear to have subsided just yet, even weeks after the presidential election itself. With Trump’s Twitter storms and claims of alleged electoral fraud, this year’s election looks set to be historical on a similar level to Bush v. Gore in 2000. However, I am happy with Biden’s win and feel confident that he will deliver during his upcoming term in office. 

As an enthusiast of politics in the United States, I have been following the elections since the end of 2019, during the Democratic nomination process. Initially, I was a supporter of Elizabeth Warren; I would have especially loved for a female to be on the presidential ticket. With her slogan of “I’ve got a plan for that” and prospective reforms in healthcare and education, I really felt that she had a shot at the nomination.

However, this of course was not to be. Although Joe Biden was not at first my preferred candidate for this election, it cannot be denied that he is very well qualified, being first elected to the Senate at the age of just 29 in 1972. He has an impressive record both in the Senate and beyond as Barack Obama’s Vice President – and after four years of madness, I was pretty much happy whoever the Democratic nominee was going to be. “Vote blue, no matter who” appears to have been the attitude of many Democrats this year, with even some Republicans turning against their party to endorse Biden. 

After staying up late to watch presidential and vice-presidential debates, on the 3rd November I was prepared for what I knew was going to be a long night of watching red states and blue states be declared, whilst eagerly awaiting toss-ups such as Florida and Pennsylvania to be called. After witnessing Trump win in swing states including Michigan and Ohio, previously called for Obama in 2012, I knew that this election could be set to be a close call. 

Of course, I was correct – after watching CNN almost constantly from Tuesday right through until Saturday, patiently waiting for Joe Biden to be declared as the next President of the United States, the result we had been waiting for was through. I am sure that a sigh of relief was heard across much of the US and beyond; in these uncertain times, I believe that Biden will handle the tough situations that the world finds itself in.

With Kamala Harris as the Vice President-elect, I am also delighted that a woman, not least a woman of colour, is finally on the way to breaking the glass ceiling that has been present in American politics for so many years. As a female politics student, this gives me some hope knowing how far we have come since even fifty years ago, with more people coming to recognise the importance of female and minority representation in politics.  

Although the US still faces a level of uncertainty, with Trump’s legal action, various protests and accusations of rigged postal ballots, I am happy that some calm is going to be restored to the White House – with Biden’s experience and respect for American values, I believe that he will make his best efforts to build upon the advancements made by Barack Obama during his two terms. He has a difficult road ahead of him – becoming a President amidst a public health emergency and economic crisis is not easy, but I look forward to what lies ahead for American politics during the next four years. 

History Politics Reflections on the US Election

A ‘nice’ perspective on the US Election

By Madison T. Clark, MA in Conflict Transformation and Social Justice 

This article is part of our series ‘Reflections on the US Election’

I was born and raised in a state where being ‘nice’ is upheld as the golden standard. All too often, however, this ‘nice’ approach boils down to public smiles coupled with behind-the-scenes racism, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia. Microaggressions rule the day in my home state. Attempts to have important, difficult conversations tend to result in silence from oppressors and/or wild gesticulations at their personal church attendance records and what that surely signifies about their character. All of this was true when I was born, and all of this continues to be true today. 

None of the structural issues in the United States begin or end with Donald Trump’s single term in office. Did he behave in ways that explicitly and implicitly empowered racists, white nationalists, misogynists, Islamophobes, and other such groups? Yes. Did he appoint morally reprehensible and/or wholly unqualified people, resulting in increased violence against millions of already-marginalized communities? Yes. Concurrently, the truth of the matter is that the United States has never worked through any reconciliation process. Agreeing to a shared history is an early step in nearly all conflict resolution and transformation efforts. Across the board, Americans can’t even agree on basic historical facts about the oppression and violence that our entire country is built upon and continues to perpetuate. 

For better or worse, I’m a product of the U.S. public education system. Rather than learn about the Indigenous genocides that led to the presence of our original colonizers, we learned cutesy rhymes revolving around the names of Columbus’ ships. Rather than learn the true devastations of slavery or the ways in which it and white supremacy continue to impact our everyday lives, we learned how terrible the South was, how wonderful the North was, and how the conditions of slavery weren’t particularly ideal. In the American public education system, we learn the ‘nice’ version of our country’s history, rather than the truth of it. 

To this day, such ‘niceness’ is predominantly perpetuated and upheld by white people across the country; these are the same people who elect to apply their colonizer mindsets to all people. This, paired with white fragility, is what created the ‘angry and loud Black woman’ trope, which continues to be used in order to invalidate and ignore what Black women have to say; it is why ‘speak English’ is an incredibly common refrain from U.S. nationalists, even as they simultaneously pride themselves on tired ‘melting pot’ imagery; it is why ‘sexy Indian costumes’ are popular each Halloween, yet the subject of missing and murdered Indigenous women is rarely brought up in public discourse. 

The ‘niceness’ that a childhood in Missouri tried to teach me is the same ‘niceness’ that so much of our country revolves around. So it’s no wonder the pollsters have struggled to produce any sort of accurate numbers in the last two elections. It was not necessarily ‘nice’ to admit to a stranger that you’d be voting for Trump, but it was simultaneously seen as ‘the American thing to do.’ The irony of this dichotomy is not lost on me. 

When the results from Pennsylvania came through, officially pushing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris past that 270 mark (don’t get me started on the racist and classist disaster that is the Electoral College), I let out a sigh that I didn’t know I’d been holding for the past four years. While I absolutely wish Biden and Harris were the progressives that far-right media has painted them to be, I know that is not the case. But I believe in our organizers, in our local politicians, in our everyday community builders, in our conflict mediators, in every person who prides themselves not on being seen as ‘nice’ but on building a more just and equitable future for all people. I believe that we can and must hold Biden, Harris, and their entire administration accountable, demand meaningful systemic change, and shift our nation closer to one that actually provides liberty and justice for all for the first time in its history. 

Reading Week

Re-reading an old favourite during Reading Week

By Ross Allinson, MA Student in Violence, Terrorism and Security

October and November are significant months in the German calendar. This year October 3rd marked the 30thanniversary of German Reunification (Deutsche Einheit); this November 9th, 31 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. This time of the year always gets me thinking about the lives of East Germans. As a 15-year-old who had been living in Germany for a year and half I finally got to go to the Hauptstadt of our Federal Republic in 2013. I was excited to see the Bundestag, Chancellor Merkel’s Office and Alexanderplatz. In my head the place I wanted to see most was the former Ministry of State Security’s (Stasi) Headquarters on Normannenstrasse, East Berlin.

This building was not only the headquarters of the East German intelligence agency; it was the place where Erich Mielke (The Minster) and his 91,000 strong work force, systematically shattered the lives of the enemies of socialism, including their own citizens. They called themselves the shield and sword of the party. The party being the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands). This party led the German Democratic Republic for 40 years.

This Reading Week I decided to re-read an old favourite of mine: Stasiland – Stories from behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder.

Stasiland was first published in 2003. It has been called “A masterpiece” by The Sunday Times.

It is a collection of tragic stories that were told to Funder during her time working in a reunified Berlin. Funder is an Australian author and investigates the lives of East Germans affected by the regime, and more specifically the Stasi. The book transports the reader to the centre of the oddities and cold systemic brutality of the regime in East Germany. 

Funder gives voice to the stories of East Germans who dared to stand against the regime – some who didn’t even realise they were standing against it. Instead of going into the detail of the Stasi’s plans for the nation and their surveillance methods, Funder tells the human story, which is often lost in the discourse surrounding East Germany. 

From the book we quickly discover that every East German has a story of some kind and the book gives us a glimpse into the new lives of the East Germans, who no longer have the republic that both repressed and hugged them at the same time. It exposes that German reunification was far from a perfect political goal; too many people were left vulnerable and left behind when the socialist republic began to draw its last breaths on 9th November 1989.

The book is a must-read for anyone interested in the human causalities of the socialist system and of the wounds that are only made deeper by the new reality in the ‘New’ Federal Republic of Germany. In 1986 ‘Deutschland ist grosser als die Bundesrepublik’ (Germany is bigger than the Federal Republic) was graffitied onto the Berlin Wall at Potsdamer Platz. After reading Stasiland you will see that this rings true even today.

If you want to know more about the German Democratic Republic, comment below and I will point you in the direction of some amazing podcasts, and resources.

Reading Week

Portrait of a Gentleman: On Reading in Reading Week

The delight of stepping into a warm bath after a long, busy day. A sense of intense relaxation. Do all migrants feel like that when they open a book written in their own language? Words and phrases so familiar, echoes of childhood: ‘kloddertjes’, ‘klontjes’, ‘een spookachtig moment’.

I hardly ever read Dutch literature these days, but find Portret van een heer (Portrait of a Gentleman), hidden behind another book on a top shelf in my office at home. Forgotten, dusty, waiting to be read. I grab it and study its design. The back cover presents a black-and-white picture of the author Tommy Wieringa. He looks over his left shoulder into the distance, a waterscape behind him. When I stretch the book far open, his painted likeness on the front cover stares at his photographed self.  

But wait a minute, I recognise the style of the portrait. I’m sure, it must be by the Austrian artist Egon Schiele. I recently explored his life history when writing a chapter on a museum in Český Krumlov, the Egon Schiele Art Centrum, (Svašek 2019). I remember reading that Schiele died in 1918 of the Spanish Flu. As the Coronavirus pandemic was still ahead of us, I did not pay much attention to the cause of his death. But one thing is clear: the person depicted in the painting is not Tommy Wieringa, who is Dutch and was born in 1967.

Curious, I open the book and soon discover that the uncanny resemblance of writer and painter is the main focus of the first story. In the story, Wieringa recalls how he first learnt about the portrait when a friend, who had seen it displayed in Museum Belvedere in Vienna, sent him a postcard of the work, describing his encounter with an Austrian ‘Wieringa’ as ‘beangstigend’ (frightening). The author himself was also shocked, seeing his mirror image. ‘Zelfs het puntje op zijn schedel was identiek!’ (even the pointed shape of his skull was identical).

In the rest of the story, the Dutch author writes about his journey to Austria and the Czech Republic, in search for the man in the portrait. The model turns out to be Victor Ritter von Bauer, a once wealthy landowner who was born in 1876 and inherited many acres of land and a lucrative sugar refinery from his ancestors. He was an energetic aristocrat, one of the first Austrians to fly a plane and a keen traveller who wrote about his travels to the Pacific in Eine Reise auf der Insel Sawaii. After the break-up of the Habsburg Empire in 1918, he lost most of his properties due to land reforms and Masaryk’s nationalisation policy. He died in 1939 and was buried in the chapel near Kunín Palace, an impressive eighteenth century baroque building still in his ownership at the time of his death.

In Portret van een heer, Wieringa visits the Palace, today a museum. Tellingly, he is welcomed by a soft-spoken caretaker who, in awe of Wieringa’s familiar physique, welcomes him with the solemn words: ‘the lord of the castle has returned’.

Unable to travel to the Czech Republic, I find Kunín Palace after I’ve landed the tiny dangling Google figure on the digital map. I do this a lot, these days of lockdown, grabbing the little person by her collar and dropping her to either start an adventure, or investigate some local details for my research. So, I’m in – a few virtual steps, and there it is. Indeed impressive.

I also visit the Palace’s website, and read about its history, it was built in Habsburg times. This reminds me of that pile of research materials in the corner of my office: numerous books and copies of nineteen-century newspapers that I made in historical archives in Prague last year. One of the newspapers is Národní Listy, a Czech nationalist daily newspaper that propagated Czech cultural revival. One is from 1 July 1912, and reports the unveiling of a monument in Prague, a huge statue of the historian and political thinker František Palacký. Palacký’s vision of Czech nationhood inspired generations of nineteenth and twentieth century artists and intellectuals. He is often called ‘the father of the nation’.

I wonder what Victor Ritter von Bauer would have thought about Palacký’s revolutionary ideas. In Portret van een Heer, I read that toward the end of his life, von Bauer gave lectures in Vienna, London and Paris about history and politics, and published Zentraleuropa: Ein lebendiger Organismus in 1936. In the book, he reflects on the cultural histories of Central European nations, and the title refers to the region as ‘a lively organism’. I should try to get my hands on the book.

So here we go, unexpectedly the Dutch travel story has taken me back to work, just when Reading week ends.   

Life in Lockdown

Behind the Banana Bread Facade: Lockdown from two perspectives

Two girls, both called Hollie, two very different experiences.

By Hollie Gallacher Teggart (in bold) and Hollie Rose Hetherington (in italics)

Both are UG students in Anthropology and History

My final year of school consisted of never-ending fun and energy. I attended school five days a week and worked three, if I wasn’t working during the weekends then I was somewhere doing something and making memories. I got on well with all my teachers and classmates, I went to the library after school to revise or do homework and I volunteered once a week. I went to formals, to Rome on a school trip and school socials once a month.

Life was busy. I had decided to make the most of every moment before time ran out. That time was taken from me.

The lockdown announcement was unexpected, not because I wasn’t paying attention to the news but because it felt like a dream, or a parallel universe because surely this could not be happening!

It did happen, and while everyone tried to deal with the situation and cope to the best of their ability – I was still digesting the strange turn our lives had taken.

As I felt my life progressing and my dreams were just around the corner, nothing could have been going better for me. My weekends consisted of flying to London to work on film sets and my career path was almost set in stone. Prior to this I had also spent months planning a four month solo trip to the states where I had a job secured for me at a summer camp in New Hampshire plus two months of travel where I had intended on getting a placement in New York at NBC Studios but that only dispersed into a mere wish in March. That’s when it hit me and any hopes were dashed. The moment that Boris Johnson came onto all our screens and announced the country was in lockdown. I felt like I became trapped in an unescapable vortex in a deep and dark abyss. I wasn’t alone though. My A-Levels may have been cancelled, my film career dreams may have been halted and my American tour may have been dropped. But, a sense of community arose. Stronger than ever before. In a way, we socialised more. We rang our grandparents, introducing them to the world of zoom and sat out in deckchairs on our front lawns conversing with our neighbours. In a way, a union was formed. Enemies became friends as we helped each other through such strange and troubling times.

Like many, within a week I had lost my friends, my job, my education and my freedom. I value my friendships as much as I value my family; I would have seen my best friends at least 6 days a week, therefore being cut off from those dearest to me stung. I’m aware these feelings were not unique to only me, in fact millions were experiencing this and far worse.

I felt tremendously lucky. I quarantined comfortably in my family home, no one I know got sick and I finally had enough time to complete my thousand-piece puzzle. I felt tremendously lucky but I also felt guilty for complaining about how bored and lonely I was, for crying almost every day. I felt tremendously lucky despite having to watch the mental health of myself and my family slowly deteriorate with each three-week extension of lockdown: even though the virus did not directly harm us, the isolation and fear did leave a mark.

Initially, I must admit I was heart broken. I felt what was so close had now become so far and A-Levels I had spent almost two years working towards were now almost as good as nothing. However, it didn’t take me long before I realised that lockdown was a good thing for me. Don’t get me wrong, I would never wish a pandemic to happen and the lives that have been lost are devastating. My heart goes out to those affected and their families. Coronavirus is a very real thing and I played my part by staying indoors when my mother was shielding to keep her and my family safe. As much as I missed the social aspect of life, my mother’s health came first. It also gave me the opportunity to re-evaluate my career path. My filming in London had taken up a huge part of my life but my passion was scuba diving. I came to the conclusion that I should incorporate dive with film. To do this I went scuba diving for the majority of summer and gained my advanced qualification and took part in a underwater videography course. This was quite possibly the most amazing experience I have had and due to this I now have an eight week internship to get a career in scuba diving in Summer 2021.

I understand a lot of people struggled with their mental health during this time but on the whole the world created a great sense of community and people who maybe remained quiet in the past allowed their voices to be heard as we knew we weren’t alone.

So, while the rest of the world on social media seemed to be baking banana bread, I spent most of my time going for long walks around my small town and watching the world go by.

I did have the intention of making banana bread however when I handed my mum the shopping list and sent her to Asda, she returned empty-handed because all of the baking ingredients were sold out. A month later, once stocks had been replenished, my lovely mum decided to make chocolate chip cookies for the family to bring some cheer. Although I love her very much, I write with honestly when I say that they were absolutely disgusting. How ironic.

I became more grateful than I ever have, realising I would not have gotten this experience without lockdown. It has also made me appreciate the time I spent with my family as I was normally, if not always, away. The nights I wasn’t diving I spent star gazing around a camp fire with my mother, father, my brother and two dogs and I realised just how lucky I was.

Like all things, lockdown came to an end and although things are far from back to normal, we have learnt to adapt and once again I am making the most of all opportunities thrown my way. It is far from perfect but I believe we will make it through eventually. I am grateful for the extra time I got to spend with my family and my cat before moving away for university, and the nights spent doing quizzes on zoom with my friends are cherished memories nonetheless.