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Sep 25, 2017
by Salzburg Global Seminar
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SSASA symposium reflects on implications and global reactions to Trump administration

15th symposium focusing on life and justice in U.S. reaches a conclusion Participants and faculty members who attended the 15th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association

Academics, legal profession representatives, and others working to protect and improve life in the U.S. have considered the implications and global reactions to the new U.S. administration.

The conversations took place on the final day of the 15th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA), which took place at Schloss Leopoldskron. 

This year's program - Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration - included presentations and conversations on racial issues, immigration, populism, wealth, media, legal rights, civil rights, and criminal law. 

These issues, which will be covered further by Salzburg Global in the coming days, were considered alongside a broader topic of what "the American Dream" means in today's world, whether it still exists, and what this dream represents. 

The program was split into three themes: 70 years of trends and events; quality of life and opportunity; and fairness and justice.

In the last presentation of the session, three speakers provided comments on President Donald Trump’s administration before taking questions from the audience.

Participants heard from one speaker that U.S. prosperity was partially dependent on the Asia-Pacific region and political relations had improved under President Barack Obama, particularly in Myanmar and Vietnam.

The same speaker said President Trump’s win had come as a shock to many in Southeast Asia and countries in the region were now looking forward to see how the U.S. maintains its commitment to the region.

Anne Mørk, an assistant professor of American history at the University of Southern Denmark, said when one looks at the rhetorical presidency theory, it is no surprise President Trump won the election.

Trump has used social media to communicate with the public. When he makes statements on Twitter, he is speaking to his followers without a filter. Mørk described the role of the president in the 19th century as that of a manager - a role she believes President Trump appears to have little interest playing.

Mørk suggested President Trump’s “angry” and “macho” rhetoric almost became a form of entertainment similar to wrestling. She concluded by suggesting the rhetoric had become a policy in itself.

Alex Seago, dean of communications, arts and social sciences at Richmond, The American International University in London, said he pursued American studies because he was enamored by the country and culture. Seago, who’s also a professor of cultural studies, suggested President Trump was making a deliberate attempt to undermine America’s soft power. 

While “the American Dream” may still exist, Seago believes the U.S. has become less attractive to people. He later said the U.S. had a global image of a nation acting as a leading light for people to follow. This image showed the U.S as democratic and a country which gave people opportunities. However, the sense of “you can do anything if you work hard” is a lot less apparent now. 

In his concluding remarks, Ron Clifton, chair of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA), said two things had really struck him during this year’s program – one being how fairness and justice can depend on factors such as social status and race. The other thing which he felt was left to consider were the implications of the changes underway in the U.S., especially under the new administration.

He said, “I like the phrase that [a participant] just came up with which is, “At this moment it would seem to me that America is looking less good.” The question is what does that imply for the future and when and where will the turn occur? Of course, being an American, we are optimistic and hopeful, we have a burden to carry and that burden we carry is to make things better and to invite people to join in with us and progress.”

The Salzburg Global program Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration is part of Salzburg Global’s multi-year series Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). More information on the session can be found here. You can follow all of the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SSASA.