|View from Mànes Bridge in Prague|
This isn't the post that I had intended to write this morning, mainly because I didn't want to potentially open up a can of worms by writing about the contentious presidential elections in the United States. But after posting the above photo on Instagram with a comment that I was on my way to the American Center in Prague to listen to a panel of Czech experts* discuss the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a couple of people asked me to report back. This post is in response to their requests.
As I replay various vignettes of the evening in my mind, most remarkable is the Czechs' impressive knowledge about the workings of both the Republican and Democrat parties, the candidates and the latest twists and turns of the U.S. presidential election. Like the rest of the world, the Czechs are closely following the elections because their lives will be impacted to some degree by whichever candidate is elected on Tuesday, November 8.
Unlike the U.S. State Department employee who introduced the panel and stated that he couldn't express his opinion about the presidential candidates because he had signed an oath to support whomever the American people elect, the panel had definite opinions about Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Ted Cruz was mentioned by the panel, but only as an afterthought. No one commented on John Kasich.
While listening to the Czech panel discuss the candidates, I found myself wishing that my fellow countrymen could talk about the elections with the same level of civility. Even when they didn't agree, the five member panel didn't interrupt each other or insult another person's intelligence. Instead, they reflected on the points made by the other panelists and responded with well-reasoned and substantive arguments.
The youngest member of the panel, who was probably born shortly before the end of the Communist era in the Czech Republic, shared his childhood belief that the United States was the greatest country in the world. To further explain the extent of his enthusiasm, he added that he had even believed that white bread from America was the best in the world ... a belief, he jokingly said, that had endured until he traveled to the United States and actually tasted some! He followed up this statement by saying that he continues to believe that America is great but that it has lost its confidence. Another member of the panel, who had lived in the United States for an extended period of time, agreed but added that America's resilience will enable it to maintain its position as the leader of the democratic world.
Unfortunately, I forgot to bring a notebook but here are a couple of remarks that I jotted on the back of my map of Prague:
Trump is a symptom, a social phenomena, of what's happening in the United States. Blue collar jobs are disappearing and economic stress creates social stress.
Sanders is promising things (free education, universal health care, etc.) which are normal for Europeans (but not for Americans).
Trump in the White House would be a headache for Europe.
Even though the panel acknowledged Trump's strong popularity, it predicted that the majority of American people will elect Hillary Clinton to be the next president of the United States. Their prediction, however, doesn't mean that all of the members of the panel were pro-Hillary. One of them professed a preference for Bernie Sanders but added that he doesn't feel that the majority of Americans are ready for a socialist president. Expressing sentiments similar to those of American pundits, the panel also said that they've learned that anything can happen during the 2016 elections and that their predictions may be completely wrong.
The American Center and The Institute for Politics and Society (IPS) will host another panel discussion on the U.S. presidential elections in September.
*Chairman of the Board of IPS Jan Macháček moderated the discussion. Other panelists included: Czech political scientist Jiří Pehe, Český Rozhlas journalist Jan Fingerland, Newsweek reporter Daniel Anýž, and Masaryk University Department of English and American Studies Chair Jeffrey Vanderziel.