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Thursday, November 8, 2012

On Watching the Presidential Election Abroad

After months of mudslinging, dubious quotes and bald-faced lies from both sides, the U.S. presidential election is finally, thankfully, over. These contests only seem to get nastier as the years go by. This was the first time an election occurred while I was abroad, and it was an eye-opening experience. I'm going to do my best to keep my personal political views out of this.

One lesson that living abroad teaches you is that your home country is not the end all, be all of the world (and this goes for anyone from anywhere). Sure, America is a cultural behemoth that has an outsize influence on global events, but most people are too wrapped up in simply getting by to worry about what is going on in some other country. Many politicians and talking heads back home promote a belief in 'American exceptionalism', the theory that the U.S. is inherently the best country in the world thanks to the principles it was founded on.

Both candidates pandered to this viewpoint at the end of the final debate, when Romney uttered the laughable line, "If elected I will work to ensure that America remains the hope of the world" (or something like that), as if people the world over sit around all day thinking, 'Gosh, I really hope America has a good day today.' Obama wasn't much better when he said he would continue striving to retain America's position as the best country on earth. While such nonsense scores points domestically, it sounds rather silly when heard overseas. There is no such thing as a 'best country' or a 'worst country'. Such entities are too complicated to be ranked. You never hear other world leaders delivering lines like those. America is a great country and I'm proud to be from there, but it's not the best. Or the worst.

Another interesting thing I learned is that, four years after a wave of enthusiasm helped Obama storm into office, the president is still hugely popular abroad. I realize popularity overseas isn't as important as popularity at home, but it still means something. I've had people in every Asian country I've visited tell me they love Obama, and many of my expat friends from other countries revere him. (I do find this a bit odd, because I don't really care about other world leaders that much, at least not to the point that I would personally support them in an election.) In their view he is a good person with good ideas who has been stonewalled by the opposition. This is a far cry from just a few years ago. A friend of mine was teaching in Turkey at the start of the Iraq war, and more than once he was punched in the face simply for being American. That doesn't happen anymore. There was a collective international sigh of relief when it was announced that Obama had been re-elected.

Following American politics from a distance also gives one a good vantage point from which to observe the absurd level of partisanship the country has attained. Today my Facebook newsfeed was flooded with warnings of impending doom and threats to move to country X, which has been the case for years, but it seems to be getting worse. All people seem to do is argue. Where has the middle gone? Why must everyone be split into two camps of extremists? I know moderates from both sides exist, but they have been drowned by people screaming on Fox News and MSNBC. It's pathetic.

Alright, I'm going to let my true colors bleed through for a moment here. Dad, you should probably stop reading. Though I strongly dislike both parties, I hope the result proves to be a rebuttal to the fantastical hardcore conservative belief that, through Obama simply being president, America is somehow no longer actually America. Supposedly the president has ripped the guts out of the country and destroyed everything it once stood for, leaving behind nothing but a population of liberal pot smokers who sodomize each other, ruining the standard family unit, while waiting for government handouts. (Can someone tell me where this idea that everyone is sitting around waiting for free stuff came from? I'm terribly confused.)

This dangerous, unrealistic and misleading line of thinking was best captured by Bill O'Reilly after the election. After watching O'Reilly gamely take part in a debate with Jon Stewart a few weeks ago I gained newfound respect for the Fox icon, but all of that respect was promptly lost thanks to this line: "Obama wins because it's not a traditional America anymore. The white establishment is the minority. People want things." What does 'traditional America' even mean? Countries and people need to progress to improve. This isn't the 1950's when the 'white establishment' dominated everything. If the GOP can't move away from the far right and accept that America is fundamentally changing (and agree that this isn't necessarily a bad thing), they are going to further alienate minorities, the young and moderates. Yes, the Democrats have serious problems as well, but they aren't as pernicious as those facing average conservatives. I'd love to someday go home to an undivided country that will actually work together, but that seems unlikely thanks to the obduracy of both parties. Here's to four more years of people screaming at each other...

P.S. - To end on a lighter note (well, depending on your sense of humor), the funniest internet meme from election night:
Please don't start a flame war in the comments.

7 comments:

  1. well said. tribals country here we come.

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  2. Amazingly (as an American) I didn't know who won the election until a few hours ago, although my circumstances were a bit extreme.

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    1. Wow how did you manage that?

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    2. Thought I replied but maybe it didn't go through. Basically I didn't talk to anyone or have access to tv or communications for some 12 days.

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  3. "(Can someone tell me where this idea that everyone is sitting around waiting for free stuff came from? I'm terribly confused.)" i think this idea came from one of the debates where Romney mentions the increase of people recieving food stamps under the Obama administration. and the all so famous 47%-ners.

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  4. Catching up after a near month in Oz (where I happily shared that "collective sigh of relief" at the results).

    Re: your query: "What does 'traditional America' even mean?

    First of all, spending even a nanosecond analyzing what comes out of the O'Reilly lad's mouth, is... a wasteful squander of your precious life fairy-dust at best.

    But to answer your question: The lad answers it for you - right there in the quote:

    "Obama wins because it's not a traditional America anymore. The white establishment is the minority..."

    Simply put, "traditional" America was back (thank goodness it's past tense) when the "white establishment" (a.k.a. a bunch of lily-white MEN) were in the majority.

    Thankfully, the leaders of America today have (ever so slowly/painfully) grown a tad more diversified.

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    1. This election was especially good for diversity, though sadly there are still plenty of people trying to hold that back.

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