Monday, December 05, 2016

The Role of the Domestic in Foreign Policy: Who is the Average American?

Baum's article, "The Relationships Between Mass Media, Public Opinion, and Foreign Policy: Toward a Theoretical Synthesis," does an excellent job describing the ways in which policy makers, the mainstream media, and the general American interact and influence one another in foreign policy formation. Deriving the formation of foreign policy from a large flow chart, Baum covers the opinions of various academics in the field of political science who draw the conclusion that the role of the media is more of a conveyor belt in the way that information is passed down to the public. More recently, however, there has been emerging rhetoric among scholars who find that the relationship among leaders, the media, and the public to be more interdependent than previously thought. With the development of technology, social media, and internet news, the media has explored more avenues of influence on the general public. It is Baum's argument (one I agree with) that the press affects nearly every aspect of the relationship between public opinion and foreign policy.

Academics propose theories upon theories behind the effect of public opinion on foreign policy, like how the public may support a conflict if other they see other countries supporting the same conflict, and that presidents are more likely to use force abroad if their ratings are falling. When observing these phenomena, I struggle to accept that public opinion has such power in government. Now, before anyone comes to my door with pitchforks and torches, I'm not for authoritarian or communist rule. I do not believe that the public should be idle in during the rule of a tyrant. However, when we let an ordinary person, whose job it is to assemble goods in a factory, to influence policy produced and defended by professionals in their field, the country is bound to take a few missteps here and there (e.g. Trump 2016). While my political leanings may be on display, in letting a political outsider come in to disrupt the process (flawed or not), mistakes are going to happen along the way. That isn't to say that politicians do not make mistakes (obviously), but when a political outsider takes the highest public office, you've got to concede that there are going to be a few more faux-pas in politics over the next few years. We already have a big one on our hands with these new China tweets.

The general public voted for a "Donald Trump." I say 'a' because I believe Trump to be a figurehead for a movement that has been in the making for years. People in the flyover states felt ignored by the political establishment, so they decided that it would be best for an anti-establishment candidate (whether Trump is really anti-establishment, I leave for you to decide). The average American voted for him. The uneducated, white male is definitively the demographic that put Trump in office. I, for one, am at least slightly concerned that the target audience of our new president is defined by the adjective 'uneducated.' Is that what the average American has become? I would like to believe that the average American is not of the moral compass that condones homophobic, xenophobic, racist behavior, but that remains to be seen now that we have our new president. All I know is that if the "average" American is someone who voted Donald Trump into office, I worry what that person will do with the ability to affect foreign policy in the way that Baum believes possible.

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