So Trump Is Our New President Elect, Now What? (Guatemala)

Mark Walker ((Guatemala 1971-73) wrote me this afternoon, saying: I think the election of Trump will represent some new challenges to the PC Writers group and was thinking of writing a commentary on the post-election implications of a new President with no overseas experience promoting mistrust of immigrants and refugees and what we need to do in order to promote the objectives of the Peace Corps. We can understand the election results as the growing impact of populism here and around the world so what does this mean? The most recent “Foreign Affairs”, The Power of Populism has some answers to that question and then we need to focus on how to focus our collective talents to respond to this trend. My guess is that someone else could make this commentary but if not I’d like to put something together if you think it would be appropriate. Please let me know what you think. Here is what Mark sent me. Now, what do you think? Please leave your comments and let’s get a discussion going. Many thanks. John Coyne



Mark D. Walker

The election was a surprise to many of us and reflects the growth of populism in our country and around the world, so this is an opportune time to both understand what’s going on and what our response as globally minded RPCV writers should be. Populism represents an opposition movement and is growing in different parts of the world like Great Britain and in Hungary where it is now the dominant ideology, and we all know what happened with Brexit in Britain, so our country is not alone. It’s actually in decline in Latin America where left-wing populists in Argentina, Bolivia and Venezuela ran their country’s economies into the ground.

Mark Walker at the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes

Mark Walker at the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes

Populism takes many forms–both left (Venezuela) and right (Britain and the U.S.); all versions share a suspicion and hostility toward elites, mainstream politics and key institutions–and its leaders will claim they represent the forgotten “ordinary” people with the voice of genuine patriotism. I direct you to the most recent issue of “Foreign Affairs: The Power of Populism” for a series of articles on how this phenomenon is rolling out around the world.
In the U.S. according to one of the Foreign Affair’s authors Michael Kazin, populism takes several forms. Bernie Sanders used a tradition of populist rhetoric when he railed against “the billionaire class” for their betrayal of democracy. Trump on the other hand represents a narrower more ethnically restricted enemy alleging an alliance between “evil forces on high and the unworthy, dark-skinned poor below a type of “racial nationalism.” In this case, one of the key dividing issues includes the future of immigration and refugees (and dare I say the very future of the Peace Corps), so you can expect many changes in our country’s approach to these groups–and it won’t be pretty, so we need to buckle up.
Populists often invent facts in order to make their case and we’ve seen that with the Trump campaign each and every day–in the U.S., for example, net immigration from Mexico has been negative for several years. More fear and misinformation will be spewed out against these groups. And then there’s the birther “movement.” There’s no reason to believe that Trump has a well-defined worldview, nor do we know exactly how he’ll change our country’s relationships with nations around the world, so we need to be aware of the impact that a more unilateral, insular approach to foreign affairs might have.

No doubt our country’s image and “soft power” have been negatively impacted by the campaign process in general as reflected in the recent New York Times article, “Forget the Cost to the Candidates. This Campaign Cost America More.” A Fareed Zakaria interview of four past foreign affairs ministers from Britain, Singapore, France and Hungary on his program “GPS” confirmed this sad reality as all four concurred that our country’s image had been negatively impacted by all the bickering and misinformation, not to mention personality assassination.

So what’s next? First off each of us needs to define our causes to champion and come up with a plan to promote them. This is not a time for the faint of heart. We need to know the issues–and partner with others to maximize our voice and impact. Identify RPCV’s and the groups they’re involved with that are promoting the three basic Peace Corps objectives, including helping the U.S. population understand and appreciate other countries and their people.
We’ll need to know the issues, stick to the facts, engage with elected officials and influential leaders and connect to both traditional media, and most importantly, internet/online media—if nothing else, Trump should have taught us the power of Twitter.

Personally, I’ll be in touch with my friends at the National Peace Corps Association as well as my local Phoenix RPCV group to promote local awareness and advocacy activities. I’m also morphing my consultant-based web site “Fund Development Innovations” to an author’s platform entitled, “Million Mile Walker”, which will have multiple maps, a photo gallery, Facebook, a blog and a twitter account to promote the worldview and values dear to me.
I’m also completing my first book, Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond about my life-long journey of physical and spiritual self-discovery traveling and working through Latin America, Africa, Europe and Asia and looking for ways to improve the quality of life of those around me.

So let’s get on with the business of utilizing our global worldview and experience to promote a better understanding and appreciation of other cultures and the benefits of cross-cultural experiences……and strengthening the programs and organizations around us towards those ends.

Mark Walker (Guatemala 1971-73) implemented fertilizer experiments in Guatemala and Honduras, although his most important accomplishment was a wife and three children, all born in Guatemala. Following an MA degree in Latin American Studies from the University of Texas in Austin, Mark co-founded a Guatemalan development agency and then managed child sponsorship programs for Plan International in Guatemala, Colombia and Sierra Leone. Mark has written and spoken in English and Spanish at a number of global conferences, including the Hemispheric Congress for Fundraising in Mexico, and has held senior fundraising positions for several groups like CARE International, MAP International, Make A Wish International and was the CEO of Hagar. Most recently, he completed a fundraising study for the National Peace Corps Association as a VP at Carlton & Co. His involvement promoting “World Community Service” programs led to receiving the most prestigious “Service Above Self” award from the Rotary International Foundation, and all three of his children would participate in Rotary’s “Youth Exchange” program. He is completing his own memoir, “ Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond.” Mark and his wife, Ligia, live in Scottsdale, Arizona close to their three children and six grandchildren.


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  • All day my woman friends and I have been hugging and commiserating, either in person or in cyber space on Facebook and emails. Now I read your analysis and I am not in agreement.

    When you say this,
    “So let’s get on with the business of utilizing our global worldview and experience to promote a better understanding and appreciation of other cultures and the benefits of cross-cultural experiences……and strengthening the programs and organizations around us towards those ends.”

    It makes me think you are totally out of touch with the Americans who voted for Trump. What you wrote is an academic piece. Politics is not an academic exercise. It is about power and it is about knowing what people want and need. And, either meeting those needs or manipulating them to promote a particular agenda. What need do the people who voted for Trump or indeed any American, have to have a “better understanding and appreciation of other cultures and the benefits of cross-cultural experience?

    The first thing I learned in Community Development training was in a community, you do a survey to learn what are people’s “felt needs.” That is fundamental. Trump did that and so did Bernie Sanders. How? They listened. They had a “feedback loop.” Trump as as a TV personality was sensitive to ratings – they told him what his audience liked and didn’t like. Bernie Sanders as a Senator was tuned in to his constituency and insight into their problems, which they shared with a large number of other people.

    I think in our personal lives we can reflect our values. I think as citizens it is important to reach out to migrant communities.
    RPCV groups are already doing that. But, I think it is the worst time to try and politicize the Peace Corps or the NPCA in any kind of formal organize to “teach” our fellow Americans based on our own “cross-cultural experiences”. That is so patronizing.

    I really appreciate that you have written your opinion so well and shared it. I just think that the most important thing to do now is to be realistic and to reflect on what has happened. I also am very concerned about the future direction of the Peace Corps.

  • Hello,

    Great post. I came across it as I was conducting research on Peace Corps Service in Guatemala. I am actually a native of Phoenix who is applying for Positive Youth Development positions in Guatemala. I would like to get in contact with the author of this post, Mark and learn more about his service.



  • Thank you Joanne for a thought provoking reply. In my dismay starting yesterday, all I could say was, “Let’s wait and see”. Well that is not a proactive stance and certainly won’t get me to a place where I can be of service to help bring my community together. My focus in the last few years+, has been on the Third Goal of bringing the message back home as a member of the Committee for a Museum of the Peace Corps Experience. Although, I will continue to work towards that goal, I will certainly be more cognizant of what the American people are asking for and perhaps think about how our collective experiences as RPCVs can translate into community action at home. The dialogue must come from the heart and I will make sure my translation is not patronizing but inclusive. Yep, community development is always at the grassroots.

    • Nicola,

      I think the Museum of the Peace Corps Experience is a great project. The tremendous advantage of a Museum is that people can choose to come and see and learn, and ask questions and form their own opinions.

      Right now, the people who consider”globalization” a dangerous and destructive idea won the election and now hold the political power in this country. They won enough votes in enough states to capture the electoral college by convincing voters that their perspective was best for America. I do not think that these voters would be receptive to RPCV efforts to help them appreciate our cross-cultural experiences. Quite the contrary!

      However, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. There certainly are people out there who would welcome
      RPCV support around values that we share. I think that is a better place to be.

  • Mark,

    Let me describe a situation that is just now unfolding in Denver and is shaping my concerns. In Denver Public Schools, there are 90,000 students and over 80 languages spoken as first language. We have political refugees from central and south America, Africa, and Asia. We have many undocumented students and many students, born in America of undocumented parents. We have “Dreamers”, undocumented students who came to the United States as young children, who are now in college due to Obama’s Executive Order. Yesterday, there many student peaceful demonstrations, protesting the election and supporting people of all backgrounds.

    Today, the Denver Post ran two articles. The first was about the problems teachers are having dealing with the fears of their students. Many are afraid their parents will be deported. Many are afraid that they will be deported. Some elementary students, US citizens whose parents are US citizens, are confused and are afraid their parents are going to be deported or they are going to be deported. It is very difficult for teachers because many of these fears may well be legitimate.

    The other article was about the peaceful demonstrations. This morning I turned on talk radio. Right wing Republican talk radio dominates in Colorado. People listen to get the weather, traffic reports, and the latest Bronco news and also, as a bonus, get Republican propaganda. I listen to learn what the Republican strategy is and what the right wing talking points are. The topic, this morning, was the Denver Post articles. Callers, led by the host, were outraged at the Post for publishing the articles. The Post was blamed for being one sided and trying to create sympathy for these “criminals”. The callers said things like “They should go back to where they came from and if they don’t go, we will make them go.” “They should not be here in the first place.” “The parents broke the law, it is their problem, not ours.”

    The demonstrations were also criticized. “Those students should be in school, that’s what are taxes are paying for.” Also, the teachers and the teachers union were blamed for “putting the students up to this.” “The students were not capable of organizing such demonstrations.” As for the college students, they had been “indoctrinated’ by their progressive professors.
    Common Cause was also tossed into the mix, as were “liberals, in general”and all the media.

    Talk radio is not insignificant. Colorado do vote for Clinton, but by the smallest of margins. The down ticket was all Republican. This is the current climate in my state.

    • Thanks Joanne for this update. I have family up in Denver–my middle daughter works with IRC here in Phoenix and my guess is that she’ll be running into this same type of fear and uncertainty from the children of immigrants and refugees. These events are concerning and I fear will only get worse now that intolerance has been condoned and even stimulated. And I know about the “talk radio”–when I was in Colorado this summer I’d listen to Glenn Beck among others so I had an idea what many Coloradan’s are listening. My wife who is Guatemalan agreed to listen until she was about to throw up. Sounds like some serious work needs to be down promoting tolerance and appreciating multi-cultures in our school systems–especially during this period of uncertainty.

      • Thank you so much for your reply. You are knowledgeable about our situation here, except, our schools are not breeding intolerance. It was students who marched to protest the election but also to stand in solitary with migrant students and teachers and parents from all over. RPCVs have taught in Denver Schools for decades. An RPCV from Afghanistan began a premier Intercultural Program at one of our high schools.

        It is some adults who are intolerant. I suspect that we have about 300 to 500 hours of talk radio a week on our talk radio stations. Ironically, three of the most “popular” hosts are not from Colorado, but rather, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Kentucky! There are adults who are susceptible to this right wing propaganda and it is reflected in the down ticket vote in Colorado.

        Yesterday, I posted that talk radio hosts were blaming teachers, teacher unions, and students who had been indoctrinated by same with “multiculturalism”. Last night, I read that Trump has announced he will eliminate the federal Department of Education. I see the attack on talk radio against educators because of the wide spread nation wide protests and Trump’s announcement
        that he will eliminate the Department of Education as linked. They may not be. But certainly talk radio is gathering support for such a Trump decision. The tragedy is that the victims are children and young people.

        I will continue to listen to talk radio and urge others to do the same. This is one way to understand what the Trump administration may be planning or what his supporters are pushing for.

  • I would begin by questioning the author’s definition of “populism.” The concept is not so narrow as the author suggests, i.e. against “the elites, mainstream politics and key institutions.” Rather it means the expression of the desires and beliefs of the people as a whole. Bernie Sanders would probably describe it as representing the ideas, beliefs, hopes and fears of the common people or the “working class.”

    I found it hard to read beyond the line about an alliance between the “evil forces on high and the unworthy, dark skinned poor below, a type of racial nationalism” If that is what you believe, then there is no common ground for discussion. I carried on to the end, however, when I read the author’s line to “use our global worldview and experience to promote a better understanding and appreciation of other cultures,” which is, of course, the main goal of the Peace Corps.

    The discussion of America’s “negative image” is best left to the feckless, foreign pundits who haven’t a clue about how their own people view the USA and derive their “negative image” from their own elite “bubbles.”

    I would dwell on the international aspects of this author’s view of “populism.” I use the term ultra-nationalist to describe what is happening in Europe. I was in England before Brexit and used what I learned from listening to the people there to predict and bet on Brexit winning. No question, the flood of migrants through Europe was the “straw that broke the camel’s back” in voting for Brexit. However, the more compelling reason was as sense of losing one’s culture, “I don’t want to lose my Britishness.” When I saw one’s culture as the main reason to leave the EU, I was convinced the move would succeed. You can’t fight something so deep and ingrained in a person as his sense of identity and culture.

    Taking this specific to the general one would do well to view the wave of ultra-nationalism rolling over Europe as spawned from looking at the wave of migrants (I use the term migrant because the term “refugee” does not account for a movement of people from Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka to Iraq, Yemen, Syria, to Eritrea, Nigeria, Somalia, Mali, and Senegal) as having the potential to destroy one’s very nature or culture or identity. In other words, most Europeans want to maintain their distinct French, British, Italian, German or Spanish identity instead of becoming an amalgam of many identities. I might suggest this is the same reason we have widespread opposition to massive immigration in the USA.

    The best example of this sentiment in the extreme is Iceland. It is very hard, if not impossible, to emigrate to Iceland. This tiny nation uses draconian measures to limit foreigners in its small population in its total commitment to preserving its distinct language and culture.

    I for one am not concerned about my identity. I have lived in 17 countries and speak 5 languages. I can be at home anywhere and indeed maintain homes in the USA and Spain. And when in Rome I do as the Romans. I consider my identity to be drawn from my experiences in all of these many countries. In fact, most Americans believe I am foreign born, i.e. not a US native. So I have little fear or concern about losing my identity to a wave of foreign immigrants. In certain respects I am one.

    But I do understand the desire to maintain one’s distinct culture. And I believe you have to understand this to understand the wave of ultra-nationalism sweeping over Europe.

    • Leo, Good points all. And yes populism can take many forms. I was focusing on two types of populism evident in the U.S. during the elections but the edition of “Foreign Affairs” I was referring two has seven different articles about different aspects of populism including “Europe’s Populist Surge”. And of course Europe is in a difficult situation today with over 1 million refugees streaming into Germany alone. You might take a look at Joanne’s comment above in regards the impact of a growing intolerance and how it impacts children of the immigrant and refugee families in Denver. Obviously as a country we’ll need to vet those coming in but my concern is the negativity and hatred being directed at some of these groups already in our country.


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