U.S. Elections 2016: "An American Spring" — The View From Abroad

When they’re not warning us that Trump would put the world in grave danger, foreign media are trying to explain him.

Hillary Clinton cutouts in San Diego on March 22
Hillary Clinton cutouts in San Diego on March 22

Whether calling him an "imposter" and purveyor of "caveman politics," an "anti-intellectual" or a "brave" leader who’s ready to face down the media establishment, newspapers around the world continue to delve into the drama of the GOP front-runner as the 2016 presidential campaign’s primary story line. The phenomenon that was once a punchline, from Latin America to Asia, has instead given rise to unrestrained scolding and castigation. And occasionally attempts to explain him.

"All kinds of historical explanations have been offered for the rise of Donald Trump, but I now see a simpler one," U.S.-based British law professor Niall Ferguson writes for the Hong Kong daily South China Morning Post. "Leave aside terms like populism and fascism: This is caveman politics â€" not just male, but aggressively, crassly masculine. Vladimir Putin is the Russian version. Narendra Modi is the Indian version. Xi Jinping is China’s macho man. Recep Tayyip Erdogan is Turkey’s. They talk tough. They strike tough poses." And, he writes, contrasting Trump with the nurturing German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he "would never, ever comfort a crying girl," as Merkel once did.

Ferguson concludes, however, that Trump’s tough guy act is likely to be his downfall, as women voters will reject him.

The Donald continues to dominate as Worldcrunch gathers its latest roundup of U.S. presidential campaign coverage from all corners of the world.

"From his lips gush bombast and abuse," Yassin El-Ayouty writes of Trump for Egypt’s Al-Ahram weekly. "An old adage says ‘loose lips sink ships,’ and Trump’s lips are sinking the Republican Party. This is the ‘grand old party’ (GOP) of the great liberator President Abraham Lincoln."

When he was a boy, El-Ayouty writes, he walked three miles from his Egyptian village of Kanayat in search of a library book about Lincoln. "I was captivated by that bearded and humble man who managed to free the slaves in America through the bloody victory of the North over the South and was then assassinated in 1865. Lincoln’s assassination is being repeated today, but this time the assassination is of his party. The assassination is being carried out by a buffoon named Trump whose fascism is worn on his sleeve by calling for the building of a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, ridiculing blacks, women and minorities, calling for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S., even if they are returning citizens, and using his book The Art of the Deal the way Hitler once used Mein Kampf."

Egyptian author Yassin El-Ayouty â€" Photo: TCNJ

Likewise, Xie Tao writes for China’s Economic Observer that a perfect storm has lifted Trump’s boat. "Paranoid and anti-intellectual, he couples internal and external problems with an identity crisis." Xie adds that the flashy businessman with a penchant for fast food has seized on the "deep anxiety" of America’s white underclass.

Swedish lawmakers back Hillary

Earlier this month, Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter asked all members of parliament which U.S. candidate they would support. Of the 100 respondents, 47% chose Hillary Clinton and 33% her opponent Bernie Sanders. Erstwhile GOP candidate Marco Rubio, who has since dropped out of the race after losing his home state of Florida, received the most support among Republicans, while Trump received just three nods, all from members of the right-wing Sweden Democrat party. One Swedish Democrat admirer of The Donald explained his support this way: "He is a successful entrepreneur, brave, upright and will not bend to the media. With him, the U.S. will be reborn."

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, instead, told Dagens Nyheter that he won’t pick between Clinton and Sanders, but truly hopes the general election winner is a Democrat. "I’m worried about the tone of the debate on the Republican side," he said. "It’s awful."

What Berlusconi begets

From the land of Silvio Berlusconi, longtime Corriere della Sera columnist Beppe Severgnini writes of the stealth emergence of Trump acolytes in Italy. "His ascendancy hasn’t just provoked surprise, worry, horror (depending on one’s political views and degree of sensitivity)," Severgnini writes. "He has also created, out of nowhere, legions of admirers. The ‘Trumpista’: A fascinating new character who deserves to be studied."

Severgnini divides Italian Trumpistas into two categories: politicians, such as Daniela Santanché, Matteo Salvini and Antonio Razzi, who have openly expressed their admiration for him; and amateurs, who have a contrarian streak and are drawn to Trump partly because so many people can’t stand him.

"In him, many voters see traces of the early Berlusconi (hair, egotism, incoherence) and the most recent Beppe Grillo (a taste for provocation)," Severgnini notes.

Dum-dum and Van Damme

Writing in Portugal’s Público, political columnist Miguel Esteves Cardoso laments that "stupidity" is working. "Donald Trump is a stupid guy followed by more stupid guys. That’s the truth," he writes. "And unfortunately, the United States has as many stupid people as us."

On that note, Belgian actor, martial artist and B-movie superstar Jean-Claude Van Damme has joined the long list of awkward Trump supporters.

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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