No, it isn’t only American politics that can be strange and difficult to understand for outsiders; well, insiders too. All countries’ elections have topics – and candidates – that are best understood by the citizens of the land. But since USA is the leader of the free world, the leading democracy, economic power, policeman, and more, we all have some right to have opinions about their elections. But we shouldn’t be so obsessed with it and we should watch CNN and other TV channels a bit less. Maybe we do it more as entertainment, as the Americans also do, keen on show and fun as a safety valve since we work so much. The advertisers back it all up, eager to sell to people things they hardly need. The donors to the presidential candidates’ campaigns are also eager to push and influence it all.
Sometimes, views, debates and candidates are not all that logical to anyone; at home people would understand why certain topics and people are included, simply because that is what one does; at other times, with more serious substance or, to get at an opponent. Furthermore, I think that there are more illogical topics included in political debates and elections when they are about persons rather than parties and politics. Thus, presidential elections and presidential-style elections of prime ministers, can easily become ‘very much about very little’. We become interested in the ‘Pope’s beard’, and make that an issue, instead of something important.
I come from a country where we don’t have presidential elections. That is simply so because in Norway we have a king who inherits the post and he sits on the throne till he ends his days (or abdicates); yes, the institution is an anachronism in a democracy. Recently, I saw in a serious debate that we should keep the royals because it saves the country money from holding expensive elections every four years. That argument cannot be used the ‘other way’; that presidents could sit as long as they please to save money. Well, maybe they could, if they are basically ceremonial, but not if they have power. It is a problem, too, that we get political dynasties, in America, Europe and elsewhere.
In America, the presidential elections held every four years, are prolonged and quite overstretched processes, lasting for a year or two in advance of the actual elections. The elections will be on November 8, 2016, in advance of the sitting president’s end of term in office, which is the January 20, 2017, about two and half months after the elections.
It is quite strange, isn’t it, that the states let the two political parties with influence – the conservative Republican Party and the more center-liberal Democratic Party – have elections to nominate their representatives over periods of more than half a year. There seems to be little worry that the results from the party elections that were held earlier will influence those that come later. Wouldn’t it be fairer if all those party elections were held on the same date?
In USA and in other countries, presidential and other top leadership elections have become more about the persons and less about the politics. We can argue that it is about the quality of the leaders, about their integrity, honesty, and trust. Since that is the case, it also explains why we want to know ‘everything’ about the persons, their private and public life.
This year, I find the presidential campaign in America more low-brow than usual, indeed, specifically on the Republican side. On the Democratic side, the three prominent candidates were Governor Martin O’Malley, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders; now only Clinton and Sanders remain, and both of them could certainly do the job of president. On the Republican side, the half dozen candidates who are still there could probably all do the job well, with one exception, the current leader of the ‘pack’, business and TV show tycoon Donald Trump, and maybe also not Dr Ben Carson, whose experience in politics is practically non-existent.
About Trump, I base my displeasure because of his bullying personality, and the little he has revealed of political knowledge and substance. If one wants to play it safe, I would suggest that Governor Jebb Bush would be a safe middle-of-the-road candidate. Besides, we should add that a president would not only be a person, but they would have a large number of advisers and policymakers around them.
Many have somehow compared Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump as populist candidates on each side of the political spectrum. I find that to be an insult to Sanders, who is a serious, academic candidate, hence he also makes some political mistakes, such as saying to the conservative American electorate that he is a democratic socialist. I don’t think he is, actually; I think he is rather a centrist social-democrat. That’s what most of the European leaders are, even from the more conservative parties there. I find Sanders to be the only candidate who comprehensively talks about issues of importance to people in the future, including how to control the ruthless capitalists. He wants to change America to be a land for all, not only for the rich at the top and the upper-middle class. He wants to re-create America as a land where social mobility and opportunity are possible for most, if not all. That is also why so many thinking and well-educated young Americans seem to like Sanders.
Hillary Clinton does much of the same as Sanders. But I believe Sanders is a deeper thinker, and has much clearer opinions about what to change, but whether he can do it, nobody knows. But we know what the main issues are: jobs and minimum pay; control of the financial institutions and banks (‘Wall Street’ in short); free universal health services (and let the rich have additional insurances if they want even better services); higher taxes so that higher education and other social service can become accessible to all; a new justice system; colour-blind social relations; sustainable use of resources and more. In sum, America needs a new covenant between the sate and all citizens of America, with the diversity of cultures, religions, and creative and other strengths. America is a hugely wealthy country but must find ways to curtail the tycoons and big talkers, and make it a land for all.
I believe Sanders talks more and better about all these issues than Clinton does. In the end, though, I would still suggest that Hillary Clinton is the (only) candidate that can win the election, not Sanders. Besides, she is a woman, and that overrides many other variables, doesn’t it, especially for women but also for men?
And if I have not been clear enough about it already, Donald Trump would be a reckless candidate (and maybe the CIA and the rest of the security apparatus wouldn’t even allow him to stand if there was a chance he could get elected). Jebb Bush would be a safe candidate, if he should end up as the Republican candidate.
When I speak like this, I speak like a centrist and cautious person would do; somebody who doesn’t take the risk to rock the boat. Perhaps that is how all elections must be in America and also in the other established democracies in the West? Maybe people go to the elections to endorse a leader who can be the CEO of the country, an administrator who must not stray away from the mainstream? He or she should not make too many changes too fast.
If that is the case, then it doesn’t even matter very much who the candidates are – and indeed what the names of the American candidates are. Really? Well, this time I would like some change, notably a woman in the White House – and she has said that the first one she would call for advice would be Bernie Sanders. That’s the best USA can have this time, and it isn’t all that bad! And the rest of the world? We would just have to put up with it in any case; the less heavy-handed America is, the better.

The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience in research, diplomacy and development aid.

atlehetland@yahoo.com