When Trump first became America’s president in 2016, the liberal world turned towards collective resistance. Millions across the globe posted anti-Trump messages on social media pages, leading to internationally trending hashtags including #NeverTrump. Liberal thought-leaders across the world took to columns and conferences, denouncing America’s new leader. A similar phenomenon occurred a few months before after Brexit, which was discussed and reported on frequently in North America. These were rare moments of international cooperation among not just government institutions and world leaders, but also activists and progressive citizens.
Now, almost two years after his initial victory, Trump has attempted to enforce inhumane immigration procedures, repeal Obamacare and undermine abortion access through the appointment of anti-choice judges Gorsuch and Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. Turkey remains under the grips of tyrannical President Tayyip Erdoğan. President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte is continuing his unethical war on crime. Britain is preparing to formally exit the European Union while Boris Johnson – Trumpian himself in many ways – is slowly beginning to attempt a complete takeover of the conservative party with the potential goal of replacing Theresa May as prime minister.
Of course, liberalism has enjoyed some progress in the past year, despite various high-profile setbacks. This summer gay marriage was legalized in both India and Bermuda (in Bermuda it was legalized for the second time, this time permanently overturning a previously passed ban). Abortion was finally legalized in Ireland. Saudi Arabia began allowing women to drive, and issued its first 10 licenses to female drivers in June 2018.
All of these conflicting events taken together indicate that the world is caught between the resurgence of two movements: the rise of nationalism and the rise of liberalism. The rise of nationalism, however, has led to the election of various individuals into powerful positions in government across the globe – Trump in the role of president of the the United States, Erdoğan in the role of president of Turkey and Boris Johnson as a powerful conservative party member in Britain, just to name a few. Thus, international cooperation among the leaders of this movement, although not guaranteed, is far more certain. It is international cooperation among the leaders of the resurgence of liberalism, which is primarily taking place at a grassroots level, that remains uncertain.
There is an ingrained belief in political science that international cooperation should be conducted exclusively at the federal government level. The global community has decided at some point that discussion between people of different nationalities should occur almost exclusively between politicians and established government institutions. Although there is now an increasing level of international cooperation across corporations, and some cultural exchange due to travel, there is still very little organizational communication between citizens. There seems to be an unspoken rule that only governments can coordinate and communicate across oceans, continents and national borders.
At one point, I thought that the moment of cooperation among activists and progressive thinkers around the world that occurred after Trump’s victory, as well as after the Brexit vote, demonstrated that this lack of citizen-level exchange was going to change. However, it is now been made clear that this sudden burst of international liberal enthusiasm was not emblematic of any greater shift. Instead, these small moments of discussion across borders seem, in retrospect, to have been merely gut reactions to a confusing – and to some, terrifying – moment. However, the fact that no larger liberal movement has materialized as of yet does not mean that previous fleeting moments of unity across liberal coalitions cannot be turned into a more powerful, permanent trend.
We, students of Stanford University, a truly global university, can be part of a project to expand international cooperation. Students – particularly those who are engaged and interested in government and international causes – should begin assembling a stronger coalition of passionate, progressive people that do not just live across campus or across America, but across the world.
Why we should care is simple. Speaking for myself, I am a white American raised in an upper-class suburb of New York City. In a few years I will likely hold a degree from Stanford University, one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Although I am both female and bisexual, the setbacks I experience in my life as a result of these identities will likely be dwarfed by my privileges. There are billions of people who share our same setbacks but do not have my same privileges; there are billions of individuals who grow up in lower income brackets or face racial or religious discrimination. They are why I care. I care because I am human. I care because there are people who desperately need access to free and affordable birth control. I care because there are people who still fear for their lives when they come out as gay to their family members and communities. I care because there are people who, without significant overhauls to the criminal justice system, may never see their brother or father or wife again.
I owe these people, these people who suffer in silence without access to a true system for justice, a tremendous debt. These people are not just citizens of America – they are citizens of the world. On a university campus, we are the most connected we will ever be to people from different corners of the country and the world, through both our fellow students and professors. Now is the best time to begin reaching out to people across communities and home zip codes. Emphasizing engaging in American politics is important, but so is donating to political movements across language and cultural barriers, protesting the election of conservative politicians to public offices across the European continent and working to advance the idea of a liberal brand of politics in all corners of the globe.
A similar sentiment is true of nearly every student at Stanford University. Many of us face significant hurdles and setbacks. But in a few years we will hold a highly sought-after and powerful degree, and that degree should come with a significant amount of responsibility to be an impactful, responsible citizen, not just of the United States, but of the world as whole.
Contact Claire Dinshaw at cdinshaw ‘at’ stanford.edu.