Interview on the U.S. Election with Prof. James D. Bindenagel

cisgbonn Allgemein

It is said that the US election, this year, is very „weird“ because of the two candidates. Trump is known for his boast, and Clinton, a famous politician is now shadowed by her problems. What do you comment about the candidates?

JDB:  The U.S. is difficult to fathom because it is not one national election, but fifty State elections with 135 million voters who choose 538 Electors in the Electoral College.  270 Electors’ votes are needed to win the presidency.

Hillary Clinton, the first women to be nominated for president, is a lawyer as well as former First Lady, Senator, Secretary of State and now the Democratic Party’s Presidential Candidate. She has high negatives that Donald Trump has challenged about her decisions during her political career. She has fought back in the face of the political assaults and has sought to present myriad policies on economic growth, health care, fighting ISIS terrorism, trade, status of women, and respect for human dignity.

Donald Trump, the son of a wealthy real estate business man and a real estate salesman as well as former beauty pageant owner, led an aggressive campaign and won the Republican Party Presidential nomination. Donald Trump’s media stardom brought him into millions of homes as the star in the TV show ‘The Apprentice’. His media savvy brought him billions of dollars in free TV time.  His use of social media should motivate his base to vote and bring new voters to tip his bid to win in the battleground states. However, his policy pronouncements are divisive and discriminatory.

Trump unexpectedly has become a representative of the Republic Party. Many high profile Republicans renounced their support for him. So where are their responsibilities?

JDB: If Donald Trump wins the election, Republican leaders will likely return to the party, and will seek to influence his conflicting policy positions.  They will need to mold policies dealing with his rejection of NATO’s Article 5 guarantee, his call to renegotiate trade treaties, his support for isolationism, his demands to ban Muslim immigration, his plan to erect a wall against Mexico, his rejection of the TPP and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and other issues. The most critical international issue will be his misunderstanding of the fundamentals of non-proliferation, and his encouragement of the Republic of Korea and Japan to acquire nuclear weapons.

If Trump loses, Donald Trump will first need to accept the results and not contest the outcome of the presidential election. Leaders in the party will need to decide if he should continue to the Grand Old Party/Republican leader.  The party will have to decide if it wants to preside over the demise of democracy or govern the U.S. and win future elections.

What can you predict for the opportunities of the two candidates?

JDB: This was always a presidential election for the Republicans to lose.  After a two-term Democrat and an 8-year campaign against President Barack Obama and with Hillary Clinton, a Democratic candidate hated by the Republicans.  Americans call strongly for change.  Can Donald Trump still win?  Yes.

Donald Trump has tapped anger over eroding middle class income, loss of identity, anti-establishment fervor. Along with anger against Wall Street for creating greater disparity of income, banks for recklessly financial gambling that caused economic recession, and President Obama’s perceived weak leadership to fight wars.  Trump to win votes has stoked the fires of fear of immigrants and Muslims, insulting the military, the handicapped, women and others.

Secretary Clinton is more interventionist than President Obama and many in the Democratic Party. She advocated military action to remove Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and voted for the war in Iraq, although she later said it was a mistake. Clinton is a ‘smart power’ advocate and believes in using diplomacy and development in the pursuit of American interests. Unfortunately, the campaign has had little substantive debate.  Hillary Clinton has a strong, traditional ground game to mobilize as many voters as possible, especially the Obama coalition of diverse voters.

Fundamentally, getting out the vote is the key to winning the election and the last days are intense “Get Out the Vote” efforts for both parties. This election reminds me of Sir Winston Churchill’s quote: “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.” This year the campaign has indeed tried everything else, now for the voters to do the right thing is all that is left.

Trump has caused concerns for other countries. Do you think that Trump could establish good external relations if he wins the race?

JDB: Donald Trump has shamelessly tapped domestic partisan divisions in rejecting President Obama, reaching deep discontent in the public borne of two inconclusive and expensive wars, focusing on a Great Recession with sluggish growth and stoking fears of lost identity by White Americans through immigration. He will face an angry Mexico with his Mexican Wall and attacks against Latinos. He has disparaged Muslims, women and others. He has created a storm of protest that has damaged America’s international leadership with his calling into doubt America’s alliances, through his questioning of NATO’s Article 5 guarantee, his call to renegotiate trade treaties, and his support for isolationism. The Trump phenomenon has roots in authoritarianism and he will have a difficult time reversing these positions.

 The two candidates, and especially Trump, have used “dirty tricks” when they focused on personal criticize. Is it an expression of the deterioration of US politics?

JDB: Americans are disappointed that election avoided debating issues that affect their lives as the candidates engaging in accusations.  The voters missed the opportunity to address the impact of Globalization, digitalization and technology change on the middle class in developed countries. The economists Branko Milanovic und Christoph Lakner have shown that the winners of globalization are found, not in the developed world, but in the developing world, notably in Asia.  Political elites have failed to master the effects of these tectonic shifts. Trump tapped them. Sadly, these shifts have resulted in identity politics, conflicts over gender, race, religion, and the environment. The election campaign missed the opportunity to shape future policy, while engaging in personal attacks. We in America are left with Tuesday’s question of who will win the votes of the disadvantaged, the disinherited, the demoralized, the lost from globalization, digitalization and technological change.

Cicero, writing “On Friendship” offered a way forward: “Nature has so formed us that a certain tie unites us all, but … this tie becomes stronger from proximity.”  Republicans and Democrats need to reach out to each other and overcome the partisan divide we have seen in this campaign.


James D. Bindenagel was appointed Henry-Kissinger Professor at the University of Bonn and is founding director of the Center for International Security and Governance (created at the same time as the professorship) in October 2014. Bindenagel is considered a leading expert on transatlantic relations with a special focus on the German-US relationship, with which he is familiar from many years of personal practical experience. During his thirty years in the US diplomatic service, Professor Bindenagel worked both for the US State Department in US consulates and embassies in West Germany, East Germany and the reunified Germany. He was US Ambassador to Germany from 1996 to 1997.