Wednesday, 20 July 2016

CPAC Conference, Brexit and Trump

Closing discussion with Lance Bennett and Hendrik Bang

For the past two days I've been at a conference at the University of York, marking the launch of their Sociology department's new research centre, the Centre for Political Youth Culture and Communication (CPAC). It was a fantastic conference, with a wide range of studies and approaches from various disciplines. The keynotes were given by stars of political communication--Lance Bennett, Donatella della Porta, and Hendrik Bang. I met some lovely people, including two PhD students from my own department whom I hadn't met before, and had a "small world" encounter with Sabine Lang, whose introductory European Studies course I took at UW about nine years ago now. That class made a big impression on me--confirming that I wanted to do European Studies, sending me to Bath on the Euromasters exchange, and, of course, living in Europe for the past 8 years.

There was a lot of talk about Brexit at the conference. It's very timely to be discussing youth and political participation, as 75% of 18-25 year olds voted to remain in the EU, while the over 65's voted overwhelmingly to leave (I saw the figure 90% in Hendrik Bang's talk). This division is so sad for the UK, for Europe, and really for the world in general. We still don't know exactly what's going to happen, or when--to be fair, it's only been 3 weeks tomorrow, it just feels like longer! It was clear that all of the experts there--from political science, sociology, political communication, etc.--were all very concerned about the future.

There was also a lot of talk about Trump, speaking of concern--this week's Republican National Convention is a train wreck. So awful, but we can't look away. You can clearly see how divided the party is, and how those in charge are trying their best to just soldier on, regardless of how they feel about Trump. His 60 Minutes interview with Mike Pence demonstrated that Trump really is the narcissistic, bigoted playground bully we thought he was. He barely let the man get a word in--Penn and Teller have a more equitable relationship. Melania Trump's (speech writers') plagiarism of Michelle Obama's 2008 DNC speech is a symptom of a larger problem--they clearly just don't know what they're doing. They need handlers, political strategists--where's their Karl Rove? But the truth is, they're not getting that kind of support for two reasons:
1) Bullies don't ask for, nor accept, help.
2) the RNC doesn't want him to win. They know he's dangerous for the party, the country, the world, and they're not going to help him.

Both Brexit and Trump have vitally important public diplomacy implications. The world watched the referendum and they're watching the US, too. Britain's reputation will suffer over this. As John Oliver said, after showing a clip of a racist UKIP-affiliated woman, not everything sounds smarter in a British accent. The pound is weaker, there's been a rise in hate crime and some universities have already seen a decrease in internationally collaborative projects due to fears of Brexit's impact on funding. European students are already pulling out of UK universities. These instant, detrimental impacts on UK academia show why everyone at the conference was so worried--even the Australians, Brazilians and Americans I spoke with, who are already non-EU, are worried, because we know it's a global issue.

America's global reputation is already suffering with Trump as a candidate--and the public diplomacy fallout of a Trump presidency would be far worse. It's also suffering because of America's gun culture. As a British woman said to me yesterday, why can't they do anything to sort it? "They" includes President Obama, the 535 members of Congress, the American people through grassroots organisations--anybody. Why can't anybody do anything--"anything" being universal background checks, preventing felons and domestic abusers and 'no fly list' people from getting guns, banning assault weapons--anything. When the news about The United States is always another shooting victim(s)--be it a black man, a police officer, a gay man or a first grader--and nobody does anything to keep it from happening again, that doesn't look good to the rest of the world. If you want to "Make America Great Again", passing some common sense gun control legislation would be a great place to start.

I'd like to close with something more positive, but to be fair, the conference closed with a talk from Hendrik Bang on political participation"After Brexit", and it wasn't all that optimistic. I suppose there is hope, though, in the fact that the youth DO want international cooperation, and DO believe in the EU's motto, Unity in Diversity. This generation, and the future leaders who are currently growing developing in it, will support a very different agenda to that of their grandparents.

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