Abroad in America, Deciphering the 2016 Presidential Race


The last election I covered didn’t work out so well for me. It was May 2013, and I was in Pakistan. As I was returning from a polling station in the southern city of Lahore, military intelligence officials flagged down my car. Hours later I was on a plane out of the country, having been deported.

Elections are a fraught business in many parts of the world. In many of those countries, the American way of choosing a president seems ideal, however imperfect. The electoral machine resembles a classic, Detroit-model limousine: large, showy and expensive, yet robust and broadly predictable.

This year’s race, at the outset, looked set to follow in that vein as a contest between the scions of two storied political dynasties, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush. Then the upstart billionaire and reality TV star Donald J. Trump thrust himself into the fray, shredding the script, dismissing Mr. Bush and upending most notions of what is possible, or acceptable, in an American political contest.

Photo

Declan Walsh

Credit
Ángel Franco/The New York Times

I have come from my regular base in Cairo to the United States to help with The New York Times’s coverage of the 2016 campaign. You might wonder what I can add, given that I’m Irish and my American colleagues are already producing a stream of illuminating and incisive stories. I hope to supplement that coverage with reporting that responds to the queries of our international readers, and approaches the election — in all its drama, significance and absurdity — in much the same way as we would events abroad.

The series will be called Abroad in America. This feverish political season has transfixed the world outside America, too. The election’s first act — the primary contests, when the two main parties select their ultimate candidates — attracts an unusual degree of international scrutiny. Violence at rallies, incendiary speeches, race baiting, attacks on journalists and judges, proposals to bar Muslims or Mexicans — the primaries signaled a sudden sea change that left non-Americans watching with fascination, puzzlement and a profound sense of trepidation. For some countries, the changes resonate strongly at home.

Mr. Trump’s success chimes with nationalist surges across Europe and the “Brexit” vote. Disillusionment with traditional elites, hostility toward immigrants and anger among the losers from globalization — all resonate elsewhere. Yet it is odd and disturbing to hear terms like fascism and demagogy, most frequently associated with the European fringe or rickety third-world governments, being used in the context of an American campaign.

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