It has been a unique election year. For the first time in US history, it looks like the frontrunner for the Democratic Party will be a woman. For the first time in US history, it looks like the frontrunner for the Republican Party will be a celebrity real-estate mogul. Mud has been slung, slogans have been hashtagged, and we find ourselves in the midst of an election year that has fueled heated discussion of citizenship, gender, and race. In the United States we will no doubt be in need of some local peacebuilding in the final run up to the November elections and in the aftermath of these elections, regardless of who wins.
But will these elections make a difference in how the United States engages with local peacebuilding around the world? How would a President Trump or a President Hillary respond to the voices and needs of local peacebuilders? A look at some of their campaign promises may shed light on what we might expect.
Donald Trump wants to “make America great again”. He wants to close off the borders and focus on building the country from within. While he offers little in the way of specifics for a foreign policy agenda, he has previously mentioned that he does not want America to be the “policeman of the world”, and he has openly belittled the work of the United Nations. Such statements may not seem to bode well for his support of international peace efforts in general.
However, if Trump were to become president and was advised and informed on local peacebuilding, he might well see the value in it. After all, Mr. Trump is concerned primarily with the economy and finance, and local peacebuilding is cost-effective. Locally led peacebuilding is not transferring money to developing nations. It is assisting local peace groups organizationally and practically, when desired and requested, in order to help their work on the ground thrive. Moreover, by assisting local organizations to create and lead their own solutions to conflict, we are helping local people to form their own sustainable peace and development. In this respect, the United States would be building a foundation to allow local people to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and march on, relieving Mr. Trump of his “policeman” duties.
Hillary Clinton, in contrast to Donald Trump, has a long history working in the United States government, engaging with international peace and conflict issues. However, her hawkish stands in the past suggest she may be more prone to using US military in international interventions, instead of taking more non-violent measures and engaging with those in the local context. She heralds diplomacy as her secret weapon, seemingly more concerned with top-down solutions rather than bottom-up peacebuilding, and may not be as concerned with investment in those countries where the US has no strategic interests.
On the other hand, Hillary Clinton does have a significant connection to many important aspects of peacebuilding. A proponent for women’s issues, children’s rights, and social justice, Clinton may also be an informed advocate for locally led peacebuilding. In the first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, Clinton emphasized the need for the US to elevate development priorities alongside diplomatic ones, with USAID and the State Department taking the lead in developing foreign relations strategies. Should Clinton be informed of the intrinsic value of building peace for local people as a conduit to the extrinsic value of building global peace, her administration would likely place local change agents for peace at the center of decision-making, reforming USAID, as well as development and diplomacy approaches as a whole.
Whatever the outcome of the elections in November, the next US President will need educating about the value and benefits of local peacebuilding. Our advocacy to shift policies and practices of donors and decision-makers towards more support for local solutions will need to continue.
Locally led peacebuilding is a nonpartisan issue. Both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party can get behind the peacebuilding mission, if we can get them to notice it. With election season in full swing, we can use the elevated platform of US politics to bring to light the important issues local people are facing every day: war, conflict, inequalities, disconnects. Whichever political party the US administration leans towards these next four years, we can make sure that peacebuilding is part of their agenda.