president of the world
Four years ago I had to vote early - absentee - because I would be out of the country on election day. Moving through the airport in Frankfurt, the US campaign dominated the news feeds on the TV monitors. When we arrived in Africa, the US election was one of the hot topics there, too. It was eye-opening to be abroad at this time and to see how closely others follow our politics - especially when you consider how little we Americans reciprocate. As citizens of a mostly-stable superpower where famine and insurrection are rare, we avail ourselves of the luxury of being complacent. We often don't see the connection between our own security and other nation's politics, so paying attention to global news becomes optional for us. I mean, how many Americans know that there was a presidential election in Nigeria last year? How many Americans know (or even care to know), the name of the president of Rwanda, the PM of India, or the leader of France, one of our closest allies? But, you can be sure that they know us.
The Nigerians I spent the those three weeks with were interested in our personal opinions on the election. They were very happy that we had elected a black man as our leader four years previous, and hoped we would do the same again. I agreed with them that the election of a black man was a historic breakthrough, but kept quiet my own preference for the other party. I think my African hosts would not have had a problem with my politics - they enjoyed sharing ideas and opinions. But one of the American leaders of our traveling party had made the pronouncement that “any friend of Mitt Romney is not a friend of mine”, which I thought was a rather small-minded statement from a man with a PhD, and symptomatic of how polarized we are - that we can’t even be friends if we disagree. So in the interest of a peaceful trip, I kept my personal politics quiet.
Today, as I seek out news sources from elsewhere, I find that, again, the world is paying attention to our election. I guess that’s indicative of the leadership role we have among the nations - whether we want that role or not. Some of the stories are amusing: while we think of this campaign as especially acrimonious, my African friends just laugh and consider us to be amateurs at political theater.
Commenting on the US election, Nigerian Elnathan John tweeted these two fake news stories under the hashtag #Nov8AfricanEdition:
“African Presidents meeting to consider the option of boots on the ground in the event of violence from Trump supporters”
“Robert Mugabe suggests that a Clinton/Trump power sharing deal may bring peace back to d (sic) troubled North American country”
The idea of African nations providing troops to keep the peace on American soil is absurd, and a dictator suggesting the sharing of power is laughable. And, both of those tweets are brilliant satire of African governmental disfunction and the American propensity to project our sense of order onto everyone else - call it hubris, if you will. But one person’s hubris is another person’s leadership, and leadership is what the world expects from the United States of America. We are the Haves. We have guns and money. We have food. We have ambition. We have generally good intentions. We’re the defenders, the rescuers, the liberators and the rebuilders. We’re the discoverers and the creators. We’re the ones who do freedom best. We’re the ones with an empowered and equipped citizenry that gets shit done, and sometimes our standing obliges us to go get other nation’s shit done, too.
Who is going to lead us in this? Which of today’s candidates do I trust to be in that leadership position? Should I trust this leadership role to the candidate whose first reaction to crisis is to insult everyone? Should I trust this leadership role to the candidate who is so opaque that even when the truth is being told, one questions her motivation and intentions? I don’t really feel like I can trust either of them to serve any interest but their own.
A third candidate, my choice, is also not perfect - demonstrating more than once that he hasn’t done his homework on international affairs, but his cool head and his approach that looks for solutions rather than scapegoats appeals to me.
We, the USA, are not just a member of the world community, we are a leader. Leadership is a tough position to be in because it demands that we occasionally insert ourselves into other people’s issues. Some will welcome our involvement and others will resent it. As American voters, of course, we’re most interested in how our new president will govern us, but there’s a big world out there that’s also counting on us to make a good decision. I don’t want to over-romanticize our position, but the fact that we exist as a superpower nation of free, prosperous people is a model for the developing world and serves as a balance to the other less-benevolent powers. We’re electing a president of the United States, but when you travel and see how the world counts on us, you might not be far from the truth to say that we’re electing the president of the world.
There are huge strategic, operational and moral issues at stake here as we turn our government over to a new president. I’m not saying that we should vote for anyone’s interest but our own, but certainly a look at our standing in the global community should be part of our decision-making process. Choose wisely, my fellow Americans.