Reporting live, from Dubrovnik, Croatia.
Disclaimer! I think that stating any opinion, observation, or otherwise anything at all related to politics, presidents, and elections is emotionally ‘dangerous’ territory. After all, in my country about 50 % of readers will agree with me, and approximately the same percentage of readers will disagree with me. I would like to say, please don’t think I’m interested in starting a debate or a long-winded conversation about the content below. My objective is to share my observations from outside the US. It’s a different feel during election week ‘out here’…..Thank you~
So the election for a new president in the US of A is just a few days away. Being out of the country definitely puts a different twist on this concept.
Here are a few random observations in no particular order (Well, they are in a definite order. They are in the order in which they were thought about!)
On the few occasions a TV has been turned on and channels flipped through, there is inevitably something on about the US election. And I am not referring to US news only, or news in English for ex-pats, I am talking about news in five or more other languages from a random assortment of other nations as part of their own national news. It is notable because it is presented in a manner that is somehow external, but it’s covering my news, news about my election.
For example, last night I was watching RussiaTelevision, or RussiaToday, or something, based in Moscow. The US election comprised the third, fourth, and fifth top stories for just a little over ten minutes. It was really interesting. I felt like I was somehow looking at a little red, white, and blue fishtank and the two little goldfish swimming around were the two main candidates. I was not surprised -but just a little sad- to hear the story lean towards ultimately referring to our election as a “circus”1
It seems that in almost every country someone has asked me about the election. Whether they are informed or curious, or really into world politics doesn’t seem to be an issue, to me they appear to be much more aware than the “average American” about what -for them- constitutes world politics.
For an obvious and somewhat self-deprecating example, I could not even name the leaders of the countries I’ve been to these past seven weeks without looking it up on Google or asking someone [which I would not do, because when I can look it up on Google, why embarrass myself?]. Comparatively, the locals with whom I have come into contact seem to just “know”.
Why is this?
One idea I have is that what happens in America does not merely cause a little ripple effect in the rest of the world. Events on the scale of a presidential election in the US actually have tidal effects on global concerns. The US is too metiche-too involved- in the business and workings of what happens in just about every other country on the planet. Therefore, what happens with our election will end up dictating what happens in the next few years for everyone.
I am likely not saying anything surprising, I know. But you are reading this, so thank you for your time.
It is interesting to me to realize these things “first-hand” as opposed to just being aware that this is a reality, just hearing about it second-hand, as it were.
One [very nice] difference-at least with the locals I have spoken to- is that here the issue is not as emotionally charged as it can be in the US. After all, none of these people can vote for our new president, and they have no friends to convince or persuade to do something different. Vote for my guy! Nay nay! Vote for my guy!
Here it is clear by the relaxed way questions arise that people are resigned to ‘waiting to see what happens’: after all, what else can they do?
But think about it: our election is actually being thought about in the cobblestone streets of Italy, of France, of the Netherlands, of Switzerland [although, as uninvolved as they are in international politics, maybe they were just being polite].
When was the last time any American you knew was curious about the elections or new assignments of leaders in _____ [insert favorite country here].
I can say that even though I have international friends and acquaintances in the US from various other countries, even though I lived in Costa Rica for two years, I still could not tell you even a sentence about any recent policies in any of those places. Many Americans do not pay attention to world politics, self-included, period. I don’t know the actual percentages of supposed Americans not up on world-politics of course, but hey, we can Google it if we are curious, right?
That’s the thing now, too… We can Google anything. Having an idea and a question fifteen years ago would have meant actually finding a person or a library to find the answer… now, we can practically instantaneously research answers to our queries.
[by the way, the leader of Croatia is Ivo Josepovic, and he has been since February 2010, and he gets a five year term with the possibility of being re-elected once]2.
So, where does this leave us in the election?
No where, that is not the point I am trying to make.
I feel a little embarrassed to come from a country so divided almost exactly at half, that we have really no idea as to the outcome of this election, a mere few days away! I remember being a kid during some of the elections in the 80’s, for example, when there was actually a spread of 65% to 35%!
Leaving ones own country is an awesome way see other perspectives.
We all have so much in common, yet the nature of who we-having been shaped by the social climate where we are from- plays such a huge part in who we are, how we think, and how we evolve, to name a few.
I think Americans tend to get smug in their outlooks and expect everyone who comes to the USA to “speak English”, to know what’s going on, that is, to assimilate post haste.
I also think some Americans confuse patriotism for pride in one’s own country. I think there is more gray area than people allow. Some of this is exacerbated by the “either-or mentality”… this team OR that team, this school OR that school, my place OR yours, red sauce OR white sauce, hamburger OR hot dog, democrat OR republican?
Where was I going with that? Ah yes, the gray area…
Last night on Russian TV I watched an interview [in NY?] with Ralph Nader. He made some good points about his previous participation in running for office in the past. One of his points was exactly this: that ever since we are little kids we are ‘tricked’ into thinking that we have to choose “either-or”, when it really does not have to be that way at all. There can be these different political parties, there can be more than one or two of anything, and we don’t have to stick with just one or the other, but we can look at more choices. He referenced a country that was ‘liberated’ of socialism, and in their first (?) election there was a box that said “none of the above”, and that if enough of those boxes were selected that the elections would be started again. In the USA, even if we add in this box, would enough people actually do it to render an election nullified? I don’t think so. Certainly not by this Tuesday.
Here is something that I am considering universal as I sit here at an internet cafe in Dubrovnik, Croatia.
People put their families and children first. People care what their kids do, they care that their families eat every day, and they will do what they can to make sure that happens as best as possible every day.
Beyond that, people care about relationships. There are a lot of cell phones being toted and used, there are a lot of people out and about this Saturday enjoying their weekend with their families, friends, and lovers. Kids smile, laugh, cry. Parents keep a watchful eye. Others smoke cigarettes and enjoy their espressos. Still others carry bags from shopping, or they ride their bicycles, or drive to the next thing they are doing. Why is it considered that people from different countries are so different when really, before all the differences, we are also incredibly similar.
Right now in the US there is a lot of political frenzy and animosity and finger pointing because everyone gets a say in who the next president will be. We are all together in our divisiveness! We stand united in our freedom to vote! [and the freedom to negate the validity of approximately half the populations’ opinions because they’re opposite ours!] To be honest, I do not miss that in the least. [If I’m really missing it, facebook provides plenty as a reminder].
This Tuesday, many eyes on a global level will be on the election in the US. Some have referenced it as similar to a circus. Others have expressed curiosity about it. Still others know that no matter what happens, the results of our election will ultimately have a strong presence on a world-wide scale in the next four years.
And so it is.
1See next footnote about “leaders”. Read the reference after the leader of Switzerland, where it sounds quite similar to the US, except they ‘admit’ that the leader is not completely the leader, nor does she make all the decisions… Similar, but different. Check it out, you will see what I mean.
2Which got me to thinking, I should know at least the names of the leaders of the other countries I’ve enjoyed, so here there are for you, too.
England = Prime Minister David Cameron since May 2010.
France = President Nicolas Sarkozy, who also appoints a Prime Minister who is currently Francois Fillon.
The Netherlands = Prime Minister Mark Rutte, since October 2010.
Belgium= Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo, since December 2011. Btw, here is something interesting, apparently the three political parties in Belgium are: Liberal, Socialist, and Christian Democratic. Pardonn? That’s a whole nother issue.. and, the politics of Belgium are more complex than this footnote allows. If you’re curious, you can google it! There are actually four main sections of Belgium. This I did learn when I was there.
Switzerland= President Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, since January 2012. Just one year?! Hold the phone! According to Wikipedia [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/President_of_the_Swiss_Confederation ], “The Swiss President is not… the Head of State of the country: the Swiss Federal Constitution knows niether a Head of State nor a Head of Government. Both of these functions are administered by the Federal Council collectively.” [sounds familiar, but anyway…]
Italy= Prime Minister Mario Monti, since November 2011.
Norway=Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, since October 2005.