When the Rest of the World Rejoices
And thank God, because right now we have a maniac President set to destroy our national image and reek havoc in the world (in my humble opinion), and we desperately need a check on his evil powers.
Just by happenstance I’ve been overseas for most of the major elections of the past 20 years. I am always intrigued to see how the rest of the world views our political processes.
In 1988 during the Bush vs. Dukakis campaign I was living in France, attending the American University in Paris. Back in college, when I was younger and believed that I could actually make a difference, I put a lot of energy into politics. In France I joined Democrats Abroad, a group dedicated to getting Democrats to put in their absentee ballots. I also participated in a school-wide mock vote. I still don’t understand how Dukakis could have lost so badly in America. After all, in Paris, among an international student body, Dukakis won 87% to 13%. For me, the highlight of the 1988 race was that several French TV stations came to report on the American University in Paris’ vote and I ended up in news segments on two TV stations saying, “Je vais voter pour Dukakis parce qu’il est mieux que Bush.” (I’m going to vote for Dukakis because he is better than Bush.) Not very articulate, I know – but it seemed to be just what the French press was looking for. An inarticulate American, just to prove their point!
The next election that stands out in my mind is, of course, Gore vs. Bush, Jr. in 2000. I woke up at 7 AM in Calcutta, India on Wednesday to watch the Tuesday evening returns in the US. When I left the hotel that morning, to facilitate a training workshop, Gore had just “won” Florida and Michigan according to CNN. I was ecstatic! My colleague, Irina, and I spent a fabulous morning in the outer reaches of Calcutta training a group of Girl Scout and Boy Scout leaders to talk about sex – and gosh were we happy. At lunch we asked one of the participants to translate for us. We wanted to ask some men who were working in the park (we were training in an open air gazebo in a park) to tell us what they heard on their radio about the US election.
We asked, “Who won?”
They said, “No one won.”
I said, “Huh?”
They said, “They don’t know who won.”
Irina said, “Someone had to have won.”
They said, “No one won.”
“How’s that possible?” I ask Irina and the workmen.
They said, “It happens here all the time. Corruption! Now America is just like India.”
Flash forward several weeks and I’m in Dakar, Senegal sitting with my friends Ibrahima and Babacar watching cross-eyed people in Florida examine pregnant chads.
Ibrahima says to me, “Hally, can you please explain again how it is that a person can win the popular vote but not become president?”
(I have to say that since 2000 I’ve probably been asked this same question 40 times by people in various parts of the world. It always challenges my understanding of the American Constitution and my French language skills, too. But I think that after 6 years I finally have a good explanation. I tell them the technical reason and then agree that, yeah, it is kind of fucked up.)
Babacar followed with the ever so popular, “How could America elect someone who seems so stupid?” (And Babacar could tell this even though he doesn’t speak a lick of English.) When asked this question I try to tell those enquiring about Bush’s lack of intellectual prowess that Bush fakes people out with the “common man” thing, and that the “common man” thing seems to appeal to really common people.
In late November of 2002 I was in Capetown, South Africa with my friend Jane. just after a mid-term election. We went on a tour of Robbin Island, the penal island where Nelson Mandela was held for 30 something years. Tour guides at Robbin Island are all ex-prisoners. Ours was a beautiful man named, Speech (because his father had made an important speech on the day he was born), who clearly still had a lot of pent up anger about having been a prisoner and victim of politics. He welcomed the group of about 40 people and then ushered us into a stark room with narrow wooden benches that used to be a prison dormitory. He then interrogated each person, asking where we were from. For every American he asked, “Are you a Democrat or a Republican?” Every single person in the room said, “Democrat”.
“How is that possible?” he asked. “Every day I ask the Americans who come here which political party they support, and only two or three times have I ever had someone say they were Republican. If America has a Republican president and a Republican parliment, why are there no Republicans around?”
My friends, you know the answer to that, don’t you? It is because there are almost no staunch Republicans in the developing world. Sure there are a handful of business people and a few political appointees during Republican administrations. But the among the people who wander the world, and certainly among those who choose to live in the developing world, there are just very few. Most Republicans don’t get out much. And if they did, I posit they might not stay Republican for long.
Now please join me back in the present moment, early November 2006 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Yesterday AM at the kid’s school drop off, the American’s caucused to celebrate the victory for a few moments before our day began. It was nice feeling good about politics again, even if the moment will likely only be brief before it gets back to politics as usual in Washington.
Then when I got to work, my Tanzanian colleague, Johnbosco, walked into my office and said: “We won! The Democrats won the House!”
My Dutch colleague, Karen, said, “Finally, there will be a check on that imbecile Bush. I’m so tired of living under his regime.”
Notice how they were talking as if they were American? As if the election was for their president.
Because you see, when Bush is president of the United States of America, and when the Republicans run the Congress like it is their own personal fiefdom, everyone in the world suffers. Don’t be fooled. What happens in American politics has a profound effect on every single person on this earth. The world has given us their proxy (and not by choice). It is a massive responsibility that we all must remember when we head to the ballot box.
Otherwise, out here in the rest of the world, I'll have to answer for it.
Just a note in case I have Republican friends I forgot about, or some of my more conservative extended family members read this blog. Sorry for being so tough on Republicans. But let’s turn over a new leaf. What do you say we work together on common issues like immigration and minimum wage? :)