LUPS Brings the US Election Debate to Lancaster

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With November 8th rapidly approaching, the world is looking on at America with bated breath. The Presidential election campaign has been one of the most scandal-driven campaigns in recent memory, and has been rife with declarations that we now live in the ‘post-truth era,’ something that, although on this side of the Atlantic, is exemplified by Michael Gove’s much quoted “people have had enough of experts.” Perhaps that rings true for some people, but the Politics Society at Lancaster still values the input of those who have dedicated years to their research, as they, in conjunction with the PPR department, invited two experts to a panel discussion on October 27th. Professor Robert Singh of Birkbeck, University of London, and Dr. Steven Hurst of Manchester Metropolitan University (and former Ph.D. student at Lancaster) spent an hour and a half discussing their views on the election with a completely full lecture theatre.

Dr. Thomas Mills, International Relations lecturer at Lancaster, chaired the event and began by asking Professor Singh his opinions on Donald Trump as a candidate and in relation to foreign policy. Singh highlighted the lack of “substantive foreign policy discussion in the Presidential debates and that Trump is making an “incoherent pitch” to the conservative nationalists and the conservative non-interventionists – building literal and metaphorical walls – which is challenging the Republican orthodoxy. He said that despite the lack of coherent policy, Trump appeals to people who feel left behind by previous governments. A particularly interesting comment was that he thinks that Trump is “Obama on steroids,” referring to the fact he positions himself as the un-Obama, who had run as the un-Bush in 2008, and for a rejection of the “bipartisan playbook” of foreign policy.

Hurst made the point that foreign policy is rarely a deciding factor in Presidential elections as generally the candidates have similar stances founded on the post-war liberal internationalist consensus, and therefore the differences between Clinton and Trump on foreign policy should make it a defining issue but it hasn’t really been. Clinton’s position appears to be more traditional post-war Democrat, or more “hawkish,” than Obama’s more laissez-faire post-Cold War approach, but still very internationalist as she is likely to aim to take more of a leading role in Europe, as well as an extension of the ‘Hillary Doctrine’ (from her time as Secretary of State, the belief that protecting women’s rights is a matter of national security). He also raised the fact that ideology rather than party allegiance tends to have a more decisive role in the votes of Congresspeople, suggesting that Clinton foreign policy may have more support from Republicans than left-wing Democrats.

Despite their different focuses, both Singh and Hurst seemed confident of a Clinton victory.

Several questions followed, many of which focused on foreign policy relations with specific countries such as China and Russia. Singh and Hurst agreed that a Clinton presidency would see no significant change to the US’s relationship with China, except perhaps a larger emphasis on climate change, but Trump has indicated that he would raise tariffs to 45% – though Singh is not convinced he meant it or understands the implications of it. In terms of Russia, Hurst believed that Clinton would try to contain Russia’s expansionism, and Singh added that there would probably be some selective co-operation for diplomatic purposes. However, he thought Trump would be “at home” with Putin and was unconvinced that Trump could even locate the Baltics on a map.

Discussions such as these are an important way of engaging with global affairs, and the exceptionally large turnout is proof that students have the appetite for it. Professor Singh and Dr. Hurst gave very insightful commentary that added a much-needed breath of rationality into what is currently a tense and fearful campaign. The panel was engaging, informative and lively, and a brilliant way to prove that political debates can be detailed and intelligent whilst also being entertaining.

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