The United States and its president are often called The Leader Of The Free World. American politics affect us all. As a magazine, The Reykjavík Grapevine does not take political stands, but we publish shows some leanings, that mostly have to do with who wants to write for us and what they submit. We very seldom comment on other nations politics, on principle, as our defined area of interest is Iceland and Icelanders. Today we published an opinion piece (republished on page 18) that angered some of our American readers. Reading some of the furious comments and messages we received, we first wanted to print a harsh rebuttal, but after catching our breath, we realised that an understanding was missing, that the viewpoint from the outside was maybe missing, that our right-leaning US readers deserved a primer on why most of us foreigners are quite scared of what lies ahead.
Tear Down This Wall
Ronald Reagan, the Republican Party’s largest icon is thought by his supporters to have been the most effective change-maker in modern history, on US soil and internationally. His legacy is especially memorable to us icelanders, as the nuclear disarmament deal that ushered in the more open european society and signaled the end of the cold war was in part established in the meeting between Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Höfði in Iceland, 30 years ago last month.
Reagan’s most memorable quote is “tear down this wall!”, a line from a speech he made in West Berlin, then a walled-in fort in the middle of East Germany, in 1987.
The legacy of Reagan internationally was this freedom, this openness. In the 1990s, politics became a centrist blur, where left- and right parties all worked for openness, increased business and trade, which ushered in the prosperity that came after. This was of course not without its pitfalls, and various political groups have pointed out that these changes have had some adverse effects, be it criticisms from the left about inhumane treatment of workers in asia, or from the right about the loss of manufacturing jobs. These and other reasons have created a backlash. The economic reality is that the bottom half of industry has moved to where labour is the cheapest, in a very short amount of time, ushering in painful and scary changes for many.
These changes have been compounded by other policies of Reagan’s party. The opposition to state intervention in jobs, especially the matter of “pork spending”, has meant that the inhabitants of blighted areas have been left in an especially hopeless situation, that where before they could ask their politicians to intervene in their situation, they have been taught that there is no solution, only blame. The institutions of stability have slowly been picked apart in a campaign to lower taxes, and no-one wants to take responsibility, or learn from the decisions made and their repercussions.
Who can blame these people of being hopeless and angry, of choosing someone who’s familiar and shares their rage and frustration? And politicians, working first and foremost for their own job security, play along, mapping out a way forward based on rage and mistrust, rather than a clear path based on workable ideas towards a goal beneficial to the masses, rich and poor. The case could be made that at this point, we would not buy into any reasonable ideas, good or bad, because all of us, of all political leanings, are furious and scared. We want destruction of the current system, but when push comes to shove, we couldn’t really reason why this would be a good solution, or what would be a solid good way forward. Trump’s response is building walls. Physical border walls, trade walls, and removing defense agreements, which will of course be replaced by militaristic walls, and calling for nuclear re-armament. Ending the generally agreed upon good parts of the legacy of Reagan.
These effects are not found politically outside the US. As americans’ job situations only affect us as far as trade goes, we empathise, but this does not hurt us.
A visit from Mr. Godwin
However, the peace and stability of the world does. On the other end of the trade agreements is the rest of the world. On the other side of Nato is the stability of the rest of the world. When the choice was between a seasoned diplomat and a temperamental businessman whose business record shows he’s not afraid of failure and its fallout, the choice to most of us is clear. If we have something we want to hold on to, we’d like peace and stability in the western world. We’d like to maintain the institutions of peace and stability. We remember being occupied in World War Two, or our grandparents do, and we’re grateful that it was the mostly free and benevolent presence of the US, rather than Nazi Germany.
This is not a Hitler allegory. Trump is not hitler. He doesn’t seem like an ideologue. Not really. But he doesn’t seem to care about the institutions of western stability. Frankly, he seems like he’s opposed to them. He seems like he’s willing to risk our stability for the possibility of “better deals”. So maybe he’s a bit of an ideologue. He’s probably not gonna usher in changes that affect things like active racism. But he is clearing the pathway for a leader that might. Anti-semitism as a broad movement started in the 18th century, and didn’t become a valid political idea until 40 years later.
Americans are also unique in their scepticism of Global Warming. Outside US media, scientists and their goals are not second-guessed so much, and since the effects are already felt, the greenland ice-cap is already melting, this is surely happening, as it was predicted, so the fact that America is the main obstruction in fighting global warming, and that the US just elected a government that is for said obstruction, this gives an island state, where everyone lives on the coast-line, great pause.
So we’re scared. There’s not much cause for optimism right now. This is not our choice, it does not seem to serve our interest, but we do need to take the consequences. We’re still a polite nation though. We’re open and friendly to our visitors. But we cannot be asked to take our environment, our livelyhood and our security lightly, for the sake of politeness. Hospitality only reaches so far. So when you meet us, let’s not talk about Trump for a while.