Entertainment or Election: “People in the US Sometimes Seem to be Living on a Different Planet.”

By Thea Bladt Hansen

Collage by Emma Kappeyne van de Copello

— The 59th US Presidential Election takes place next week on November 3rd and the attention of both the European public and European media is sharply focused on the election, the result of which will affect not only the US but also the rest of the world. But how do American citizens in Amsterdam feel about experiencing the election and the coverage of it while being in a different continent?

Dr. Michael McAssey, tutor and lecturer at AUC, is an American citizen but has decided not to vote in the US elections: “I have become more and more appalled by the way in which America is run… I just don’t want anything to do with it anymore.” McAssey adds that he feels relieved to be in a different continent while the election is going on and that “the US [has a] long history of violating human rights from its inception to the present — people being murdered by the police or being shot or having a police officer kneel on their neck until they’re dead. These violations of human rights make me sick.”

The relief of not being in the US at the moment is shared by AUC student and US citizen Orianna Santucci. However, she finds it frustrating to not be able to have an impact on other voters: “I know that people here are mostly liberal, and even if they’re not, they wouldn’t vote for Trump because he’s a whole different breed. But it’s like I can’t really do anything … I wish I could have more of an influence.”

Europeans can follow the 2020 US Presidential Election closely through European media and political commentators who speculate about the consequences of possible outcomes of the election. The British market research company YouGov has conducted a poll among 7,000 adults from seven European countries in an attempt to determine a general European attitude towards the election and its candidates. What they found is surprising: although a solid majority of those questioned in all countries want Joe Biden to win the election, they lack an opinion about whether Biden would be a good president. 21% to 45% of those polled even answered that they “have no view of Biden.”

McAssey ascribes the European interest in the US election to a matter of entertainment. He says, “European politicians are much more professional, more educated, more intelligent, more civil, less trying to perform in front of a camera and more trying to do their jobs, so they’re better at government but not better at entertainment. As it should be.”  He argues that the candidates for US elections often rise to a celebrity status.  Even though Europeans have a genuine interest in US affairs, entertainment is a major factor when explaining the emphasis put on the US election, he says. Dutch-American citizen and AUC student Ila Shapiro also believes that the line between politics and comedy is blurred in this election. She says,  “I watched the primaries debate, and it was honestly like a satire. US debates are like X-factor. Like a dumb TV-show. And that’s their politics. How is anyone supposed to take that seriously?” 

Shapiro is a first time voter who has never lived in the US,  which means that her vote is counted in the state of Illinois, the last place her American father lived. She admits that voting in Illinois, a Stronghold of the Democratic Party, is not very strategic, as the swing states have a more crucial impact on the outcome of the election. McAssey describes this as an additional reason for his choice not to vote in the election, as he is from the Democratic-leaning state of California. He says, “Because of the electoral system in the US, which is idiotic, a person’s individual vote doesn’t really matter if they’re registered in a strongly blue [Democratic] or red [Republican] state.” 

For more than a century the US has had a pivotal role in international affairs, and Santucci explains how she often takes the strong European focus on the US for granted: “It’s funny how, as an American, you  think everything revolves around the US and take it for granted that the European media focus so much on the US.” Although Santucci finds that Americans tend to “live on a different planet,” she emphasises that US politics do affect the rest of the world and that a powerful country like the US is especially important when it comes to tackling international problems such as climate change. 

This year’s US election takes place on November 3rd and the US voters have to choose between reelecting the current Republican president Donald Trump or handing over the White House to the Democratic candidate Joe Biden. But Shapiro is not distinctively enthusiastic about either candidate: “I don’t want to vote for Trump. Biden is just another old white man – I voted for Elizabeth Warren in the primary. I am excited for Kamala Harris though.” Harris will be the next US vice president if Biden wins the election, and Shapiro hopes that the election of Harris could result in actual political change and a new perspective in US politics. Even though the elections are scheduled November 3rd, the unprecedented use of mail-in ballots as a voting mechanism means that it could take weeks until the results are confirmed. It looks like the month of November will provide plenty of morbid entertainment for the world to watch, with weighty consequences.

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