I’ve been living in the US for over a year now and what better time to give a description of my impressions than shortly after the election? I have to admit I expected the campaigning to be much more intense than it actually was here in my neighborhood, but this was also part of a learning process – I don’t live in one of the swing states, so I don’t get to see much political ads or movements at all, at least not from the Republicans or the Democrats. (San Francisco and the Bay Area has a lot of other kinds of campaigns, though)
Why would an American presidential election be such a new experience to me? I grew up in Sweden which is also a multi-party system, and I’ve lived in China for almost a decade. Certainly China in absolute terms has a very different system, but over the years I’ve learned how it works and gotten used to it; simply put, it doesn’t surprise me and I’ve seen it develop over a fair amount of time. But I’m fairly new to the US and when you’re new to a country, differences often stand out more than similarities.
One mistake many people do when moving to a new country is to find out which political grouping is closest to their original viewpoint and then follow it more fanatically than the locals themselves. Given my political viewpoints and my background, I should probably be somewhere in between the Democrats and the Green Party (for a description of what many Europeans tend to think about the US, this article is highly recommended). But every country, for social and cultural reasons, have their own system, and so I think it’s my duty as a newcomer to try to understand the political party furthest away from me, the Republican party. I guess I should point out I’ve gone through the same process with China’s Communist Party.
Many American concerns are the same as in other countries – the economy often dominates elections and high unemployment, which is currently a scourge in the whole developed world, was a big thing in this election as well. One major difference between the US and most other countries, though, is its role in the world. US foreign policy is one of very active “involvement” in other countries’ affairs, whether you choose to interpret that word in a positive or negative way, but one thing that has surprised me is that the people who often talk about going to war abroad are the same who seem to care the least about the world in the first place. There’s a sort of blind spot to the world there that fascinates me – the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, from a hawkish viewpoint, was to liberate these two countries, but most of the debates are about the lives of American soldiers. Be that as it will, the American election has a big influence on the world, perhaps to a larger extent than many locals envision.
Personally, despite my political viewpoints, I haven’t been as upbeat about this election as the last one. When Obama won in 2008, the sense of hope was unmistakable. After the Bush years, it was now time for a progressive leader to come to the fore and set things right. In this election, though, Obama in a sense had to fight against himself – the promises he made and failed to fulfill, the economic change that didn’t come, the change in foreign policy that hardly happened. Unlike most other people of my political affiliation, Romney didn’t strike me as particularly bad. Despite things like the 47%, his viewpoints on foreign policy and a certain “woodenness,” he seemed to be a fairly acceptable candidate.
While I should say that I was relieved over the election results, I don’t foresee any enormous changes in the short run. In the long run, though, the demographics of this election are very interesting and show the US from its most dynamic and interesting side – several analysts have pointed out that the Republicans still predominantly cater to white people, a strategy they will need to change. The country as a whole is changing, and in this it’s doing a much better job than Europe where immigrants and the rest of society is often more separate. The American political system may have problems, its economy may be sluggish, but the dynamism and diversity of its people is still unrivaled in the world. This gives it a lot of resilience despite an often gridlocked political system.