How It Feels to Watch the American Political Election as a Non-American


The US presidential election is perhaps unique amongst the world’s elections in that its effects are felt far, far beyond the borders of the country whose leadership it will elect. America’s cultural and political domination of the globe means that the result of today’s election will have a material impact upon the lives of millions and millions of people. And yet, none of them get to vote.

As an Australian, I am all too familiar with the feeling of impotence that comes with an American election. This is the second Presidential election that I’ll be watching from within the borders of the USA, but it’s the ones I’ve observed from without that stick most prominently in my memory: reading about the 1988 election in TIME magazine at the age of ten, and deciding that if I could vote, I’d vote for Dukakis; twenty years later, the entire office of the alt-weekly I ran in Melbourne stopping to watch Barack Obama’s acceptance speech, with tears flowing freely; the general bewilderment at the fiasco that was the 2000 election (what the hell is a “chad”, and why is it hanging?); the astonishment when America elected Bush Jr. again in 2004, meaning that George W. actually did win one election. And the growing understanding as I got older that these elections were important, not just for the population of the USA, but for me, and my friends, and everyone else on the planet.

Just think, for instance, how different the world would be had Florida’s voting machines actually worked properly in 2000. America would be markedly different, I’ve no doubt, but there’s an argument to be made that the ramifications of that election were felt far more outside America’s borders than within. Had September 11 happened on Al Gore’s watch, rather than George Bush Jr.’s, we’d almost certainly have seen a different response to the War on Terror, a war that had direct and life-changing (and, in many cases, life-ending) results in Iraq and Afghanistan, and whose effects are even now being felt in Syria, Iran and the rest of the Middle East.

Had Bill Clinton lost to Bob Dole in 1996 (no, seriously, stop giggling at the back there, it might have happened), we may never have seen the Digital Millennium Copyright Act signed into law, a bill that has had a direct impact upon the livelihoods of musicians, filmmakers, and others working in creative industries. Even more importantly, Clinton repealed parts of the Glass-Steagal Act in 1999, a decision that can arguably be traced directly to the Global Financial Crisis of 2007. I doubt that Dole would have done any differently to Clinton; indeed, he might have repealed the whole damn thing, and then god only knows what sort of a state we’d be in. But either way, it means that the decision of a US president had effects that echoed around the world’s financial institutions, eventually leading to a crisis that affected billions of people around the world.

And so on. You can hypothesize for days about how things might be today if Candidate X had won and Candidate Y had lost; either way, the point is that the difference would be felt well beyond America. The result of an Australian federal election affects Australia and a few countries within its sphere of influence; Papua New Guinea, East Timor, New Zealand, perhaps Indonesia. I expect that people in those countries probably at least pay attention to how Australia votes, although I doubt that they’re on tenterhooks as the results come in on Election Night.

But today, the entire world will be watching and holding its breath as America’s votes come in. The global consensus is, overwhelmingly, that Donald Trump would be a disaster as a President, which only goes to show that there are some things that everyone can agree on. We’re hugely disconcerted by Trump’s apparently complete lack of knowledge of, and lack of interest in learning anything about, foreign policy. We’ve noted the fact that the only foreign leader who appears to want Trump elected is Vladimir fucking Putin. We’ve noted that he will presumably endorse the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement which, by the way, no-one in Australia was allowed to see before our politicians signed it. And, as someone who’s currently in the USA on a visa, I personally have been alarmed by Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric and demonization of immigrants. As a white male, I most likely have little to worry about, but who’s to say Trump won’t come for us eventually?

And so, we’ve finally come to Election Day in 2016. Like many, many people around the globe, the decision America makes today will affect me. And it’s a decision that I have no say in, that I will never have a say in. As ever, I’m in the same boat as everyone from white-collar workers in the City of London to street sweepers in India; today is the day that we all come together in impotent, desperate hope: “America, please, do not fuck this up.” Happy voting, y’all, and never lose sight of the privilege you have in being able to do so.