I went to the furniture store yesterday because we need a tv stand. I had an ultrasound scheduled for forty-five minutes after I entered the store. I knew which stand I wanted to order and which colors we wanted so I assumed it would be fast. The order itself was fast by Swiss standards but the gentleman behind the counter really wanted to chat. He asked where I was from, how long we’d lived in Switzerland, why we moved, and if we liked it. I’ve gotten used to these questions and have standard answers. For example, I always say we moved from Texas because it is more well known than Virginia (Europeans can at least find it on a map) and makes for a good conversation starter. They generally say, “Oh yes, horses and cowboys.” But, a new question has started popping up and I’ve come to sort of dread it. “You’re an American. Tell me, what do you think about…” and I know what’s coming. It’s rare they ask about our response to the refugee crisis or why we are loud or why we have drive throughs for everything. Right now, this question is always about Donald Trump. What do you think about Donald Trump? This is what people think about when they think about America.
Now, without divulging my own politics, because that is not helpful, I will admit I enjoy following politics. I love to vote. I was once late to my own birthday party because I had to vote in a city council election. I find our election cycles interesting and this one has been more entertaining and puzzling than usual. I mean, who has ever even heard of a contested convention outside of an Introduction to Political Science class? The world is watching and like many of us, is absolutely bewildered.
American elections are unlike Swiss elections (or any elections). The Swiss vote often- four times a year. Generally they vote on referenda- some boring and some very exciting. Recently they voted on whether or not to deport non-citizens for committing minor crimes. I thought it probably wouldn’t pass but I was ready to pack my bags. I mean I get a speeding ticket every week here. I’d be at the top of the list for deportation, especially if you count all of my recycling sorting offenses. And losing my dog. Geez. By the way, the referendum did not pass- we are safe for now. They also vote for elected officials every four years and there’s always some kind of local election for city council or something. But, here’s the difference. The process is maybe a month long? There are some party representatives at the farmer’s market who pass out balloons to children and postcards to the adults. They are allowed to put out posters a few weeks in advance of voting. It’s very civilized and does not affect us much. Don’t even get me started on the difference in spending. I mean, how much could balloons and a few posters cost? I bet children’s birthday parties cost more.
This election in America has been going on forever- actually since this time last year. I had one friend point out it seemed to make sense to declare your candidacy in March were the election in November (of that year) but instead we’ve had people running for a year and we’re not even to the general election yet. I wish all you had to do was accept a balloon and a postcard. The rhetoric and advertising has pervaded American culture. I’m actually really grateful to not live in the US right now. I don’t know how you keep it from affecting your children.
Now, I understand that Switzerland has about as many people as New York City. Maybe less. It’s easier here to reach out to voters and spread the word about your candidacy or issue. But American elections are out of control. As my friend the furniture man said, “It’s much more entertaining than French politics or Swiss politics. I mean, our campaigns are so boring.” I’m not sure that electing the leader of the free world should be entertaining. It reminds me of American Idol and gladiators and other spectacles.
America does hold a special place in the world. Other countries look to us. Maybe we should go back to boring. Our elections have been interesting enough in the past. My buddy from the furniture store went on and on about how inspiring it was that we elected the first African-American president and might elect a female president. “France is still racist and sexist and we look to America and think, if they can do it, maybe we can do it too.” He even mentioned his daughters and how inspiring it is that a woman is running for President.
Say what you want about Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders or Ted Cruz. American elections are not reflecting well on us. So, please, next time, make my life easier and don’t nominate anyone too out there. I really don’t have time to explain the American electorate to every Swiss and French person I meet. I’d rather explain the great state of Texas or teach them how to find Virginia on a map.