By Jane Buckley
On Thursday, November 17, nine days after the election of Donald Trump shook our school, our country, and the world by securing the title of president-elect of the United States, the Yale International Relations Association (YIRA) hosted a discussion on Trump’s foreign policy. Addressing those who were in attendance, Kelsi Caywood (TD ’18) eloquently introduced the event, reminding the audience that, while this was an opportunity to foster a discussion about international relations, it was not an opportunity to condone hateful rhetoric. Loosely quoting an email the Yale College Council had sent out earlier in the day, she told us that “regardless of which candidate you supported for the presidency, we can all agree that we must take a stand against this appalling and divisive language both here at Yale and in our hometowns.” An optimistic start to an evening of lively political discussion, YIRA set a positive tone to kick off their event.
After the introduction, YIRA split us up into two groups, each with a different moderator, based on the large number of people in attendance. I headed downstairs with Stephen Herzog, a Yale Ph.D. student studying international security. Mr. Herzog has an impressive background, including directing security programs for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.
Mr. Herzog gave a brief introduction, and what followed was an animated discussion, covering most of the major controversial topics of Trump’s foreign policy plans. While most of the students in the room seemed to be concerned about a Trump presidency—one girl, for example was proudly donning a Hillary Clinton sticker on her laptop—there were some interesting and thoughtful comments that went past surface-level denouncements of Trumps, and delved deeper into trying to understand his foreign policy from all angles. A common agreement in the room seemed to be that while Trump had made some distressing promises during the campaign, such as retracting the Iran nuclear deal, it was largely campaign rhetoric, promises that Trump likely will not go through with or will mitigate. Overall, however, there was a general tone of mistrust and pessimism surrounding peoples’ visions of a Trump-led country. Mr. Herzog guided a balanced discussion, pushing people to think through their answers fully and to give the other side of the argument a chance.
I followed up with Mr. Herzog after the meeting to get some of his viewpoints on the issues we discussed. As much as I admired his ability to run the discussion based solely on the students’ comments, I was also interested to hear what he had to say as I knew he must have opinions formed by his background and studies. Mr. Herzog seemed to agree with the majority of the students, that “given [Trump’s] campaign rhetoric, maintaining healthy skepticism…seems wise, but so does reserving judgment until some of his plans become clearer. Much of that will depend on the military and diplomatic experts he chooses to appoint.” Like the students in attendance, Mr. Herzog’s advice seems to be to just to wait and see.
During the YIRA event, Mr. Herzog posed to his group the question: “Should allies of the U.S. be concerned?” Responses were generally pessimistic. However, I returned the question to him, for which he has a much more balanced answer. While acknowledging that “abandoning long-term U.S. allies and encouraging nuclear proliferation would almost certainly have destabilizing effects in East Asia and the Middle East,” he pointed out that “Trump has now taken great strides to assure U.S. allies of the vitality of security alliances since winning the presidency,” a positive sign in our relations with allies.
Ultimately, the event was well-run, well-moderated and resulted in an interesting discussion leaving me with a lot to think about. YIRA impressed me with their organization and obviously positive reputation judging by the number of people who attended. YIRA and the moderators did a really good job of making sure both sides of each argument were examined before drawing conclusions, showing an overall sense of open-mindedness. I was surprised by the amount of people who were willing to look past the many policies of Trump’s that many condemn. As both YCC and YIRA reminded us, nothing can be accomplished through hate and disunity. We must come together to work towards what we see as important and worthy causes, and strive for love and compassion no matter what.
Jane Buckley (’20) is a prospective global affairs major in Jonathan Edwards College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.