It is often joked that the election of a US president should be the responsibility of voters world-wide, regardless of nationality. Any presidential decision in Washington, whether to send troops to contend with Ebola in West Africa, or to start a new war in Afghanistan or Iraq, tends to affect the planet as a whole. The same could be said about the US mid-term elections, which have been sweepingly won by Republicans.
A key message sent by the American electorate is one of utter frustration with the ability of the country’s legislative, notably both houses of Congress, to perform efficiently. Another is the manner with which many Americans perceive President Obama’s performance over the past six years.
Rightly or wrongly, much this is linked to the difficulties the White House has had to push through ObamaCare, the country’s first real attempt to make health care available to all segments of US society. While the Republicans have sought to create the impression that government-sanctioned health care, something which both Swiss and other Europeans all enjoy, is bad, the Obama administration did not help itself by starting off with a faulty website designed to bring over one quarter of the US population into the health care fold. Ultimately, America’s new healthcare programme, even under current constraints imposed by congressional critics on the right, may prove to be one of the most important social reforms since the New Deal under Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The problem is that many Americans are not aware of this. And in particular those who rely on Fox News TV as their principal if not only source of information. The fact that Fox – as even some of its own producers admit – has more to do with propaganda than with credible or impartial news is another matter. But the right-wing broadcast network comes across as a highly influential player for swaying public opinion and which way they should vote. Fox, for example, is often the only station available in public venues, such as cafeterias, located in US military bases, both at home and abroad.
Americans living and working overseas tend to be much more open, regardless whether they vote Democrat or Republican. They are aware of how the US is perceived. They also appreciate the problems that can arise with poorly thought-out policies, whether dealing with Russia, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or climate change. So despite the alleged impact American absentee votes can have, sometimes providing the pivotal ballots needed to swaying an election, do they really have an impact on the way Washington, including Congress, thinks about the world beyond its own borders?
Do American politicians really listen to what their citizens abroad have to say? Clearly, overseas Americans are still being forced to contend with the burden of double taxation. While providing lip-service in order to gain votes, most politicians secretly – and publically – feel that Americans privileged to be living overseas are doing so high on the hog, and should be taxed. Whether Democrat or Republican, they’re not going out on a limb for US voters abroad.
So what happens when American citizens in Europe, Africa or Asia, be they business people, academics or international civil servants, warn that perhaps there needs to be new thinking in the Middle East? Or that US should start to think more seriously about investing in Africa, particularly given that the Chinese are now sweeping the table clean with their own deals for the continent’s natural resources?
One critical issue, as noted in last month’s article in LeNews by William Dowell, is the NSA’s illegal snooping on the private data of foreign companies and individuals. While the US government has obsessively harangued if not bullied Swiss banks into rolling over with regard to bank accounts held by US citizens, the Swiss have made it perfectly clear that this will not happen with private data. Not only is this against the law in Switzerland to reveal such information, but the message being sent to Washington by most European countries is that US intelligence services cannot simply abuse both the US constitution and EU law by prying into other people’s affairs.
A further concern, particularly here in Switzerland, is that a new Republican-dominated Congress may also have an impact on the role of the United Nations, with Washington seeking to go its own way regardless what other countries think. At the same time, such concerns may also goad the UN and “International Geneva”, to push for a more pronounced, public role of the international community with Switzerland serving as a key information hub.
Americans abroad are a highly qualified and well-informed community. It might behove both Washington’s Republicans and Democrats to listen to them more closely, particularly with a new presidency coming up in 2016.
Edward Girardet, Managing Editor. firstname.lastname@example.org