Ambassador Hans Klemm at the University of Craiova (Photo: Iulia Vasile / U.S. Embassy)
Thank you very, very much for giving me this opportunity to spend some time with you this morning. My name is Hans Klemm, I am the Ambassador of the United States of America to Romania. This is my first opportunity to visit the University of Craiova. I have had an opportunity some six weeks ago to meet some of the students here and as the Rector mentioned, I have had several chances to visit Craiova in regard to the Ford Motor company, which is the largest U.S. investor not only in Craiova, but Romania. I can confirm what the Rector said – Ford has a very, very positive history operating in Craiova, enjoys a very good relationship with the University, offers internships and scholarships programs to students here and has plans to not only remain in Craiova but also to expand operations in the future and hopefully a concrete announcement regarding this plant will be coming very shortly.
These are the Days of Science at the University. What I would like to do this morning — I hope this is what you are prepared for – is to talk a little bit about elections, politics. There is some overlap of course, in the field of political science, but my intention this morning – and again, I hope this is agreeable – is to talk about the election for president, which is to occur the next Tuesday, in the United States, and then also perhaps touch a little bit upon the national parliamentary elections that Romania will face in about six weeks, in early December.
Let me first start by appealing to you as citizens of Romania, that on December 11 you vote. This is very, very important. Romania enjoys the fruits of being part of a democracy, as does the United States, but a democracy only flourishes that really depends on active participation of its citizens in governance, and the most direct means of you to contribute to good governance in Romania, in the creation of a competent government with integrity is for you to vote. So please exercise that privilege; please exercise that right; please vote on December 11.
In the United States we are coming to the end of a very long period of campaigning for the office of the President of the United States. My intention is to speak for perhaps 15 to 20 minutes, to outline some of the major themes of the U.S. presidential election over the past year and a half and then perhaps to also draw comparisons with major themes that I see here in the electoral landscape of Romania, but then also open it up to you and I very much look forward to hearing your questions and your comments. So please think of them as we sit here today this morning, I very much look forward to hearing from you directly.
The campaign for the presidency in the United States is hard to imagine it but it actually started close to two years ago. In April 2015, so a year and a half ago for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy for President of the United States. A couple months later, in July of 2015, again, 2015, Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the presidency of the United States. And in that time since then, since 2015, these two candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump first campaigned against other – in the case of Mrs. Clinton Democratic candidates, and in the case of Mr. Trump Republican candidates for presidency. And after a long primary season, as we call it, in July, Donald Trump was nominated to be the Republican candidate for President and of course, Mrs. Clinton was nominated a couple of weeks later, in early August, to be the Democratic candidate for President. In the past 15-18 months as the campaign unfolded, there were I think some prominent themes.
First, foreign policy. Now normally, in U.S. presidential campaigns and I think this was true this time as well, foreign policy does not play a prominent role. Usually is some aspect of domestic policy, some challenge that America is facing at home, that is the center of the campaign. That is true this year, but nevertheless foreign policy did make the headlines on occasion. One of the candidates questioned for example the role of the United States in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, in NATO and he questioned specifically whether other members of the NATO Alliance were paying their fair share in terms of the Alliance’s activities and defense and deterrence against aggression. This was a point that the Obama Administration actually opposed – the Obama Administration is a strong supporter of NATO – but nevertheless, it was a question asked of the American voter. Similarly, one of the candidates asked whether our alliance with Japan and Korea were balanced both in terms of the contributions that Japan and Korea respectively were making to our Bilateral Treaty alliance with those countries, and whether an alternative should be explored. Again, the Obama Administration opposed this point but nevertheless, one of the candidates raised it as a question.
Syria, the civil war in Syria, the gruesome, bloody consequences of the civil war in Syria, how to end the war also was debated and the candidates took somewhat different positions. I think it is fair to say that Hillary Clinton argued for a more interventionist policy in Syria, where Donald Trump thought that partnership with Russia for example could bring a quicker end to the conflict there and that focus really should be on the Islamic State and not so much on Syria.
Then terrorism and the fight against terrorism was also a theme in the presidential debate, especially at moments just after acts of terrorism occurred in the United States, unfortunately that happened both last winter and earlier this spring. So, foreign policy.
Another issue that had some prominence in the campaign was around gender, the role of women in society and the economy. This of course should have been no surprise to anyone, given that Hillary Clinton, a woman, was running for President. That was the first candidate of a major party, an American party, to be nominated as the party’s candidate for President. Her success — or according to Mr. Trump, her lack of success as Secretary of State – was part of this argument later in the campaign. The respect of the two candidates for women and how they should be treated in society, as well as in the economy, also became a topic of focus in the campaign. So: foreign policy, gender, race.
Race was also a topic, sometimes hidden a bit from direct discussion, but often was a subject of debate. In the United States, the discussions around race have been a part of our democracy for its very beginning and this is true largely, or at least partially, because the United States Constitution, when it was first agreed in 1787, enshrined slavery as an important element in parts of the American economy. The United States has been dealing with that legacy, with the legacy of slavery ever since, over the past two and a half centuries. We have a very, very bloody Civil War 150 years ago over the question of slavery and the treatment and respect, the integration of African-Americans in American society continues to this day. The question of race in the 2016 campaign often centered around the relationship between African-Americans and police, the Police Department in American city and drew questions about whether the police were unfairly treating African-Americans or according to at least one of the candidates, around the question of whether law enforcement authorities were given adequate respect and protection in their dealings with the African-American community. In the issue of African-Americans, the demographics of the United States are rapidly changing as a result of immigration over the past really 100 years. The Hispanic American population is growing rapidly as is the Asian-American population — immigrants from Vietnam, from Korea particularly. And in just a couple decades, what was once a significantly majority white America, Caucasian America will no longer be so. It is estimated by 2040 or so, so just really 25 years from now, white Americans will be a minority in the United States. So, all of this is very much a part of the conversation that took place during the course of the debate.
Corruption was very much a topic of the campaign, particularly in the past several weeks. This is not so much corruption of the standard variety if you will; it was not so much that candidates were accused of directly stealing from the public treasurer of the United States, but rather that there was a system of institutions that protected and allowed other candidates to advance in the United States, especially patronage networks. Whether this is true or not I think is very much arguable, but nevertheless one of the candidates has accused the other candidate of corrupt activity and has predicted that after the election that candidate could be the subject of criminal investigation.
So, foreign, policy, gender, race, corruption.
One of the major topics in the campaign for the United States President was the economy in the United States. The 2008-2009 financial crisis that hit Romania very hard and Romania is still overcoming the effects of that crisis of 5-6 years ago, also, of course, hit the United States very hard; in fact most economists believe that it originated in the United States. There have been other changes in the American economy over the past 10-15 years. Economic growth in general has slowed in the United States. Gross domestic output per person for example in the period up to 2000 was expanding at an average of 2.2 percent per year. Since 2000, so over the past 16 years, that average growth of output per person has slipped to less than 1%, so that is more than a 50% decline in average growth rates, and that has hit incomes of Americans, particularly in the middle class, very hard. The middle class in the United States apparently has seen its incomes stagnate, if not decrease over the past 10-15 years and there has been greater income inequality in the United States over the past 20-30 years. Part of that has to do with education. It is increasingly important in order to succeed in terms of one’s career and one’s ability to earn a good salary to have a college degree, to at least be an undergraduate, and even more beneficial to have a masters or post-graduate degree. The still relatively large sector of the American population that do not have a college degree have found their ability to succeed economically very much affected and have experienced diminishing economic opportunities and this is having a consequence for American politics as well. The response from the candidates: the Republican candidate has promised to cut taxes and reinvigorate the economy; the Democratic candidate has pledged to increase investment in education and protect the environment.
Interestingly, both candidates, both Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton have said they will dramatically increase investment in American infrastructure, in our highways, in our railway, in our airports, in order to improve economic outcomes in the United States.
So: foreign policy, gender, race, corruption, the economy, immigration. I think it is easy to argue that immigration was either the number one or number two primary focus of the campaign from the very beginning. It is somehow ironic that immigration was such a focal point for the campaign because in the very recent period, the number of immigrants coming to the United States has stabilized and from some important countries it has actually declined. For example, immigration from Mexico, has actually declined to the point where there are actually more Mexican-born people in the United States leaving and returning to Mexico than the other way around. Nevertheless, Mr. Trump in particular was very successful in raising concerns over immigration, particularly from Mexico and I believe most analysts would agree it was a topic he was able to exploit very successfully in order to build support among the American electorate. There is a concern now regarding immigration from Mexico, but also immigration from Muslim countries and a question around whether immigrants from Islamic countries can be successfully integrated into the United States. Secretary Clinton strongly argued that Muslims can be integrated in the United States successfully and President Obama – it’s important to note – strongly argued that the United States have a very successful record of integrating not only Mexicans, not only immigrants from other countries, also those who arrived in America from Muslim-oriented countries and indeed, Secretary Kerry, my direct boss, recently said that those who immigrated from Muslim countries in the United States now enjoy greater freedom in the United States, than in any other country from which they might have come.
But again, this question around immigration I think is strongly linked to the change in the demographic mixture in the United States that I mentioned earlier — the increasing presence of non-majority Americans and the declining share that White Caucasian Americans have in the demographics of the United States.
And finally, the last theme if you will, in the United States has been what I would call and others would call an aspect of anti-establishment, of a critique both by Republican candidates as well as by Democratic candidates that the current establishment, the political establishment, the economic establishment in the United States does not benefit the majority of Americans, that it only benefits a small elite and that elite, that establishment is structuring outcomes in America whether it be societal outcomes, political outcomes or economic outcomes, only for itself, and not for the benefit of all Americans. The dissent of particularly those White Americans that do not have a college degree, who have found their economic prospects to be worsening in the United States relative to others, the sense of being abandoned by establishment elites and find themselves ever more besieged in the American economy. Again it is not just Donald Trump who said that the current establishment is corrupt and needs to be overhauled but also Bernie Sanders, a Democratic candidate, also very strongly campaigned on this message that too much of American wealth is going to only the top 1% of Americans, that more needs to be done to invest in education and the environment and the economy to support opportunities for all Americans and not just the most wealthy Americans.
So in my view, this is a personal view, these were the main focal points of the campaign. Again: foreign policy, gender and the role of women in the economy and society; race relations, always a feature of American politics; corruption or at least allegations of corruption; economy – America does have a very, very economic landscape, of course you have Silicon Valley, a global center of immigration and entrepreneurship, but you also have many other areas in America where economy really has stagnated, failing infrastructure; immigration, again very often a major focal point of American politics and certainly was again this year; and then the sense, almost a rebellion against the establishment by a number of leading candidates on both the left and the right. So on Tuesday all of these decisions will be resolved, at least America will make a decision over who the next President will be. Regardless of the Americans’ choice, the coming years will be very challenging for the President Elect and whoever is inaugurated in January to be the next President. Of course, it’s not only the President who is being elected, but Congress, the entire House of Representatives is up for re-election on Tuesday, November 8, and one third of the United States Senate is also up for election.