It’s election time! And as much as you try and avoid getting caught up in it, you can’t escape the noise and pandemonium this year’s election campaigns are causing. Of course, as a non-US citizen, I am not allowed to cast my vote, but it’s highly entertaining to watch it all from the sidelines.
To me, it seems like a giant, nationwide circus, or rather, two rivalling circus families sending out their tightrope artists, contortionists, animal tamers, and above all clowns – although I’d hazard a guess that clowns in a real circus are actually aware of their own ridiculousness. For an averagely well-educated European, this whole spectacle is way, way, way over the top. Which is exactly what makes it so entertaining, if you can forget about the seriousness of this election and its consequences for the world.
It’s all so, well, American. Just take the presidential candidates’ nomination acceptance speeches. I have a hard time imagining Angela Merkel ardently proclaiming her love for her husband (what’s his name, again?) in front of millions of viewers, or Samantha Cameron making a passionate, tear-stained speech about David. And I have a hard time understanding the tight connection between politics and religion. I’m used to those things being kept separate. It’s beyond me how deeply ingrained it all is in the system, and it scares me. Why does every speech have to end with “God bless America”??? But this is America, and the rules here are definitely different.
Having spent some time in this country (although I wouldn’t say California is very representative of the rest of the nation), I feel that I have much more knowledge of and understanding for Americans and their beliefs, and the way the country works. There are tons of things I just want to shake my head at in despair, but I can see how and why certain attitudes evolve. And there is a plethora of things to admire. Passion, enthusiasm and dedication to a cause are definitely amongst them, and putting issues into snappy sound bites. And don’t those American politicians make fantastic actors?! (If they could only keep away the actual actors muscling in… Will anybody ever be able to forget Clint Eastwood’s stunt?). They’re so good at the whole public speaking thing, with their booming voices that catch just in the right place…. just take Bill Clinton’s fiery support speech. I mean, wow. I was quite blown away by it.
But of course all this passionate talk and noise (which is usually kept in very simple terms to really drum it into even the simplest mind) can distract from what they’re really saying, and at the end of the day it’s all politicians’ talk and they just want to win the election, right? Again, as an educated middle-European, it is simply beyond me how people can wholeheartedly support some of those scary people we’ve been bombarded with in the news. I do find them scary, and to see them being taken seriously and cheered on so vigorously gives me the chills (and boy, did it feel good the other day, when I was out on a bike ride, to rip a “Ron Paul for President” sticker off a lamppost by the side of the road. Oh, the little joys of my day to day life!).
Talking to people here about the elections is a tricky business (I think I have mentioned before how much the topic of politics is avoided in day to day conversation). My overall impression is that people are very disillusioned with what’s going on (hello, yes, it doesn’t just happen in Europe). I wonder if more people would vote if there was an option not to vote for a candidate, but to actually vote against a candidate, i.e. if you could make sure that the candidate you really don’t want to be president gets your anti-vote while you don’t actually have to say yes to the other one. I bet Americans would be up for that (heck, I would be up for that).

Ignorance is a big factor in this election. I really don’t want to generalize, and I do feel California with its multiculturalism and high density of educated inhabitants and good schools is light years away from somewhere like Oklahoma, or Florida, but there are a lot of people in this country who just never look beyond the horizon. It’s a huge country, and I guess it’s quite simple to forget that there are other places out there. I have met so many people over the last few years who are very aware of that ignorance, and who tell me that they are embarrassed about their own lack knowledge of other countries and cultures. But that’s just it, they are aware of it, and actually know a lot more than they think. And the level of education in Europe is often hugely, shockingly overestimated (no, just because you can speak more than one foreign language does not mean you’re clever). A lot of American humour is self-deprecating and plays on the image of the “dumb American”, so there is definitely a lot of awareness, at least in this area. Which is why I am still dumbfounded when I encounter a case of ignorance or lack of interest in international affairs.
The other day I was at the park with a few people, and somehow we got talking about Germany, and in particular World War II, post-war Germany and the country’s problem with “Vergangenheitsbewältigung” (coming to terms with the past). Wow, I thought, this is interesting, I am actually enjoying this, there were interesting viewpoints, the other person had obviously spent some time thinking about that period, and even recommended a book to me. I thought, hey, it’s not all bad, people aren’t as ignorant and disinterested as everybody assumes! And then I mentioned last summer’s massacre in Norway, with its links to neo-Nazis. Everybody just looked at me with completely blank expressions. They had no idea what I was talking about. I was so taken aback that I actually made up an excuse and left. I was almost shaking with disbelief. But this is just one of many examples of ignorance, and I guess it’s probably much worse in other parts of the country.

At the end of the day though, it’s all politics, and whether it’s in this country, or my home country, or anywhere, scandals, ignorance, empty words and fanaticism can be found just about anywhere in the world. But not everybody manages to create such an entertaining spectacle. I love living in this country. God bless America!!!

And here’s a little post-script: I’m obviously European in my views… and here’s an article in The Guardian to prove it!

I’m loving today: Ry Cooder’s Election Special, especially the “Mutt Romney Blues“.

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