“No Trump! No KKK! No racist U.S.A.!,” shouts the mob of students as they protest a speech by former White House adviser Steve Bannon. Blocked from storming into the lecture hall by a solid wall of police, the protesters’ chants soon become decidedly more pointed. “Who protects the racists? Police protect the racists!” they scream.
Surprisingly, this all-too-familiar scene did not unfold at Berkeley, the University of Michigan, or any other undergraduate American institution, but rather, a world away at Oxford University. When I first arrived at Oxford last September, I couldn’t understand why British students would take time out of their tightly-packed academic schedules to yell uselessly about the ‘fascist’ regime three-thousand miles across the Atlantic. But, to my surprise, I soon discovered British students have no shortage of opinions about American politics, particularly the Trump presidency. Equally surprising — and disappointing — was the vitriolic uniformity of these beliefs. Indeed, no matter where I encountered the name “Trump” I inevitably heard the same three statements, almost as if they were rehearsed. To practically every British student I encountered, Trump was equal parts childish, stupid, and bigoted.
The best example of this anti-Trump trio of opinions occurred during a formal dinner at Trinity College, where I was pleased to find myself sitting adjacent to a number of other American students. With the midterms fast approaching, the conversation quickly turned to politics. Our discussion was quite pleasant, and we tried to avoid partisanship as a gesture of courtesy to one another. Yet, this did not stop one of the British students sitting next to me from turning to us and explaining how the 2016 election had lowered her opinion of Americans. She said she could not understand how so many people could vote for an emotionally immature, unintelligent, and racist man. To her — and a great many of her peers — the name “Trump” seemingly conjured up images of Alec Baldwin in a toupee and Tom Hanks with a MAGA hat on SNL.
The bewildered outrage towards our new Trumpian reality extended beyond the mere airing of personal opinions. Many professors delighted in casting aspersions on Trump during their lectures — usually going hand-in-hand with angry remarks about Brexit — and several student political organizations advertised events focusing on how to stop the neo-Nazi regime in America. The anti-Trump obsession extended even to the pulpit of the Anglican church. In a nation where union of church and state is integral to its constitution, I was not surprised to find politics as a recurring sermon theme. But I was admittedly shocked when one chaplain centered her message around the idea that an antichrist occupies the Oval Office.
What is to be made of these stories? To a certain extent, the Trump-mania gripping Oxford students and academics is entirely explainable. People often object to what they do not understand, and a reality-TV star-turned-politician runs totally counter to British political traditions and cultural sensibilities. Trump is a distinctly American figure. His bravado, his crudeness, and his coarse rhetoric are enough to make any prime minister blush. Furthermore, even more so than in the United States, the British media and academia’s opinions of Trump are uniformly hostile, and it is clear from the students’ persistent refrain that Trump is equal parts evil and stupid demonstrates that many of them suffer from a lack of exposure to alternative points of view.
That doesn’t necessarily mean Trump’s unpopularity among those attending Oxford is a bellwether for the rest of the U.K., just as Trump’s unpopularity among those attending Harvard and Yale does not reflect the opinions of Americans generally. But before mocking their understanding of Trump as simplistic, caricatured, and out-of-touch with reality, it is worth noting that the aggressively anti-Trump views of Oxford students mirrors a general trend among American millennials and Gen Z. An AP-NORC poll from March of last year found that only 33 percent of those from the ages of 15 to 34 approved of President Trump’s job performance. Even more striking, 24 percent said Trump is representative of the Republican Party, but only 9 percent said Trump reflects “my personal values.” The alienation of young voters from Trump — and the Republican Party he represents — should be concerning to conservatives looking ahead to 2020.