We foreigners often scoff at Americans. But like it or not, the world always pays rapt attention to the U.S. election, and this year is no exception.
Some days ago I received a begging e-mail from Barbra Streisand, and my first thought was that the septuagenarian diva must have fallen on hard times.
On opening it, however, I discovered she was actually passing the hat on behalf of the U.S. Democratic Party to fight a political battle that was “going to require early commitments from all of us, Harvey.”
It was a reminder, if any were needed, that we are once again approaching U.S. election time.
Strictly speaking, U.S. political parties are not allowed to solicit funds from foreigners. But I am still on the Democratic mailing lists that I signed up to in a belated scramble to catch up with Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, as it became clear that the then junior senator from Illinois might actually win the nomination.
Non-resident aliens are certainly not allowed to contribute to U.S. campaigns. So, in my case the Democrats will have to forego the $7 or more donation Ms. Streisand was demanding.
Oh well, that’s politics. Or, as she might say, that’s show business.
The world follows U.S. elections almost as intensely as the natives.
The two can sometimes get confused in the razzmatazz of election year, particularly one in which rapper Kanye West has thrown his hat in the ring. That raises the distant prospect of a Kardashian First Lady in the White House with more than twice the Twitter followers of Donald Trump.
The glamour, and sometimes the sleaze, of personality-driven American politics is one reason the rest of the world follows events in the United State almost as intensely as the natives.
Many on the other side of the planet, who might be hard-pressed to name who runs the country next door, will nevertheless be intimately familiar with the ups and downs of the U.S. political soap opera, from Bill Clinton’s Lewinsky scandal to Trump’s bone spurs to the 2000 election’s hanging chads.
The fascination is not confined to the rest of the Anglosphere.
In France, the women’s section in Le Figaro newspaper lavished 1,200 words on revelations in a “livre choc” by Trump’s estranged niece Mary — and that was before the tell-all memoir was even published.
The world both loves and disdains the U.S.
The international obsession with U.S. politics has naturally been magnified during the presidency of a man who made his name partly as an abrasive TV host.
Commenting on Donald Trump’s 2017 inauguration, inevitably the top headline of the day around the world, a London-based contributor to Vice UK wrote: “America – still the world’s imperial power, still the driver of a largely anodyne global culture dominated by big brands, pop behemoths, and Hollywood – continues to hold the world’s attention more than any other nation.”
Many non-Americans adopt a similarly disdainful old world tone towards American culture, even as they consume it, while somewhat resentfully acknowledging the United States’ unrivalled political influence.
The actions and attitudes of U.S. administrations really do matter to the rest of us. As the leading architect of the post-World War Two international order, the United States has played a dominant role in global institutions, while providing a security umbrella for allies from Europe to Asia.
Even among allies, such overweening U.S. power has not always been seen in a positive light. But such reservations are nothing compared to their fear of the United States further retreating from its international role in the second term of an America First president.
U.S. election will have impact well beyond its borders.
As happens every four years, Americans will be voting in an election in November that will impact lives well beyond their borders.
This year foreign concerns will focus on what the election outcome will mean for world trade, international security, for how the United States will deal with a rising China and the prospects for joint action on global warming.
A Pew Research survey at the start of the year, before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, indicated more than half the world still had a positive view of the United States, although only 29 per cent would say the same of President Trump.
The latter finding is fairly irrelevant since, although non-Americans may regard the battle for the White House as almost a domestic event, none of them will get to vote.
That is not going to change. But, given our interest and interests, the United States might at last consider allowing us foreigners to chip in to fund the candidate of our choice.
I may raise it with Joe Biden. The Democratic candidate just messaged, also touting for money, saying that he would love to give me a call.
THREE QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
- What are some specific examples of the United States’ retreat from its international leadership role during the Trump presidency?
- What are the roots of American exceptionalism, which predates its emergence as a world power?
- What are the pluses and minuses of the cultural, economic and technological changes that the United States has exported to the rest of the world?
Harvey Morris was a foreign correspondent for Reuters, The Independent and Financial Times. He covered revolutions, wars, politics and diplomacy in the Middle East, Europe, Africa and North and South America in more than 40 years as a journalist. He did on-the-ground reporting of the Iranian, Portuguese, Nicaraguan and Romanian revolutions, three Iraq wars, Argentina’s ‘dirty war’, the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and two Palestinian intifadas. He has written three books on the Middle East and is co-author, with John Bulloch, of the 1992 “No Friends But the Mountains: The Tragic History of the Kurds.” Morris writes an entertaining blog, “Idle Thoughts on London Walks“.