The surprising victory of Donald Trump in the U.S. Presidential election and the start of the new administration has shaped the work of the Atlantic Academy this year.
Through a multitude of events, we have dedicated ourselves to the new U.S. government in its first weeks and months and have gone in search of clues identifying its political structure. There was and is a widespread skepticism (bordering on) rejection of the new U.S. President. A Pew Research Center study from June of this year shows this impression. In 2016, about 77 percent of those interviewed in European partner states had trust in the U.S. President. This trust dropped about 60 points in the following year to only 17 percent. At the same time however, the positive views of the USA fortunately did not sink to the same degree (2016: 64 Percent; 2017: 48 Percent).
We can personally confirm these two results as far as possible from our work this year. While the attitude towards the Trump administration, in terms of its personal and political decisions, mostly manifests itself in incomprehension and rejection, interest in U.S. domestic and foreign policy remains unbroken. Therefore the work of the Atlantic Academy is already proving to be more important now than ever, especially given an allegedly unpredictable administration as well as a stressed transatlantic relationship. In contrast to this turmoil, the Academy offers a steady and tightly increasing exchange between the people of Rhineland-Palatinate and Americans living in our state. This is particularly so in the scope of our affiliate projects like “Welcome to Rhineland-Palatinate! Our Neighbors from America.”
But beyond the nearly hourly news coming from the Trump administration, we have also given attention to other themes that relate closely to our programmatic teachings. These topics included, but were not limited to, the problems of domestic violence, the inner structure of the U.S., the roll of minorities and citizenship, the challenges of populist movements in the U.S. and Europe, and the anti-Americanism in Germany. We also discussed the possibilities of social entrepreneurship, the roll of LGBTIQ movements in the U.S., and the past and present-state of the U.S. healthcare system.
In these programs, we benefitted greatly from working with the network of German-American Institutes and the associated speaker programs of the U.S. Embassy, the U.S. Consulate General in Frankfurt, and the German American Institutes Initiative. Thanks to this cooperation, we had the opportunity in 2017 to bring a total of fifteen American speakers to our programs in Rhineland-Palatinate.
In terms of cultural programs, we organized art student exhibitions from the Department of Defense Dependent School in cooperation with the Overseas Art Education Association as well as an event at national parks in the U.S.
We also supported the Hunsrück-Hochwald National Park organization’s second Jubilee event.
A high point of the past project year had to do again with the Trump administration and dealt with the financial statement of the administration after its first 100 days. Nearly 200 guests accepted an invitation to the Mainz Hilton Hotel for a podium discussion moderated by HR-Journalist Isabel Reifenrath. Panelists included the journalist Dr. Christoph von Marschall, the U.S.-Representative of the Friedrich-Naumann Stiftung Claus Gramckow, and the Director of the Atlantic Academy Dr. David Sirakov.
Wide Event Offerings and Great Interest
In the 2017 project year, Atlantic Academy has undertaken 63 projects so far, five of them workshops, two symposiums, one exhibit, numerous seminars and podium discussions as well as our project “Welcome to Rhineland-Palatinate.” With these projects, we have reached 3,417 participants. This is the highest participant number in the history of the Atlantic Academy outside of presidential election years (see Figure 1).
Excluding school workshops, the Atlantic Academy would have led 58 projects this year. We continue to succeed by keeping individual project costs low. In figure 2, the pictured rise in project costs made a generous grant by the U.S. Embassy possible.
Our Cooperation Partners
Recognizing that excellent political education can only be presently achieved through broad cooperation and challenge-sharing, 2017 is not that different from previous years. The Atlantic Academy worked together with 46 partners in the conception, organization, and execution of projects throughout this program year. Among the most important partners are the U.S. Embassy, the U.S. Consulate General Frankfurt am Main, various institutions of the Kaiserslautern Technical University (TU), the Ingelheim Training Center, and the Kaiserslautern European Direct Information Center.
We gained new cooperation partners in the Kaiserslautern University Campus Culture, the Koblenz Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the University of Mainz Institute for Entrepreneurship, and the Founding Initiative Rhineland-Palatinate, among others.
In 2017, funding from the Federal Agency for Civic Education (German: BpB) as well as the state headquarters for political education in Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate was maintained. Because we successfully applied in the previous year for a large grant from the U.S. Embassy for projects and infrastructure aid, our proposal was approved for the U.S. fiscal year from October 2017 to September 2018.
The Staff of the Atlantic Academy - Sought-After Expertise
As knowledgeable speakers in matters of U.S. and transatlantic relations, the staff of the Atlantic Academy were again in demand this year.
The director of the AA gave lectures in many places, including Stromberg, Koblenz, Mainz, and Langenlonsheim. In Neustadt, the topic was “Unprecedented: Causes and Consequences of the U.S. Presidential and Congressional Elections on Transatlantic Relations.” The speech was delivered for the parliamentary evening hosted by the Palatinate branch of the German Journalists Association. Another highlight was Dr. Sirakov’s lecture at the European Academy Otzenhausen, titled “European Spring Academy 2017: The EU and its Relations to the US.” The lecture covered the past, present, and future of transatlantic relations. Additionally, he gave the keynote address "The Rise and Challenges of Authoritarian Populism in Europe and the U.S." at the July 4th celebration of the Obama Institute for Transnational American Studies. He also participated in podium discussions on the presidency of Donald J. Trump and the future of transatlantic relations. These discussions took place at many locations and occasions, including the Annual Meeting of the Clausewitz Society in Hamburg and at the annual meeting of the European People's Party (EPP) in Wicklow, Ireland.
Education Manager Sarah Wagner spoke at a South Carolina travel preparation seminar organized by the State Pedagogical Institute in Speyer on "Palmetto Politics" as well as at a seminar organized by the Continuing Education Center in Ingelheim on the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
New Challenges and Opportunities for the Atlantic Academy
Once again, a successful program year is behind us and the goals for the coming year are set.
So far, 46 projects are planned for the coming year, in which we will continue our coverage of cultural, social, and economic policy, as well as provide insights into the Trump administration and its decisions on domestic, foreign, and security policy. We will balance our attention between reports on Trump’s first year in office and predications about the midterm elections in November. We hope that Rhineland-Palatinate’s population will continue to display a high level of interest in the U.S., often but not necessarily because of the large U.S. presence in our state. Unfortunately, possible further strains in the transatlantic relationship pose a major challenge for institutions such as the Atlantic Academy.
In these challenging times, we remain convinced of the necessity of our mission: that we must keep all lines of transatlantic dialogue open and, through our work, preserve our connection with our partner, America.