Sunday, November 11, 2012

Election Reflections

Not surprisingly, my absentee ballot never arrived. Undeterred, four weeks ago I stuffed a federal write-in ballot that I'd printed from the internet into a very Russian envelope, tried to scrawl my county election office's address on lines that were clearly not designed with American destinations in mind, wrote a big США/USA at the bottom, and dropped the whole fat packet into a mailbox with a silent prayer to the postal gods. I have absolutely no idea whether it ever arrived in my precinct, but knowing the Russian postal system, my election officials will probably receive a mysterious ballot covered in Cyrillic and pictures celebrating Novgorod's 1150th anniversary just in time for the 2016 election. Novgorod will be 1154 by then, and I'll be surprised if Obama is still on the ticket.

Before last Tuesday, I would have told you that I was glad to be out of the country for all the election-season chaos. If my home state had been Ohio, I'd probably be 15,057,639 times more grateful, or the number of dollars spent only by Romney and Obama on advertising in that state in the final campaign week alone. I did not miss the mudslinging on the front page of every newspaper, I did not miss the poorly veiled derision from people who are obviously voting for the other guy, and I certainly did not miss the inane punditry, vapid media, and varyingly blatant lies that make me either want to plug my ears and cry or run screaming from the world in frustration. In Russia, the best way to stay caught up with American news is to read American news, which is a solitary act of browsing a few websites over my morning breakfast before closing my laptop and not thinking about it again for the rest of the day. Campaign slogans are not on any billboards, and I haven't received any robocalls to my Russian cell phone. If you want to ignore the election here, it is certainly possible, and until Tuesday I managed admirably to do so.

Russia has an annoying habit of being half a day worth of time zones ahead of the United States. I woke up on election day and realized that a side-effect of ignoring the whole shebang is having to suffer the shock of suddenly realizing the election is going to happen whether or not I follow it. It's not that I'm apathetic or indifferent towards American politics -- quite to the contrary, I care passionately about what happens -- it's all the commercial trappings and media coverage to which I'm allergic. I'll skip the campaign, but there's nothing like that little flutter in the pit of your stomach on election day to remind you how exhilaratingly unknown is the future.

The flip-side of not having to endure endless political arguments and campaign coverage is that there isn't anyone to talk to about the election when you want to have that good argument. Nobody cares about American politics like Americans, and damned if by the end I didn't actually miss the whole rabid mud-slinging buzz-feeding electoral shit storm. Presidential elections are like either civic cocaine or the ultimate national sport -- a bizarre fetishistic ritual, national masturbatory frenzy, commercialized, streamlined, commentated, and spoon-fed in the perfect focus-group tested mixture of ideology and entertainment that's simultaneously addictive, repulsive, bestial, and one hundred percent American. How dare the U.S. of A. go on without me.

I realized I had fallen off my own wagon sometime Tuesday afternoon, when I had exhausted the election coverage of CNN, NBC, CBS, the BBC, and the New York Times, and the polls had barely even opened on the East Coast. Nothing tastes so American as that sweet media drip of constant info updates by correspondents with unprovocative hair. My media binge was dampened only by the inconvenient reality that the East Coast wouldn't count ballots until three in the morning my time, and at some point I was going to have to put down the computer and try to go to sleep, hopefully to wake up to clear results. Thank Ohio that Florida wasn't the tie-breaker this time.

It is amazingly difficult to explain American civics to Russians, all of whom were surprised both that it is possible to vote from abroad and that I would go to such efforts to do so. To me, it is unthinkable that I wouldn't try to vote from wherever I am in the world, but attempting to describe that sense of civic obligation has made me consider how deeply ingrained it is in my worldview -- and how American that is. Russians, especially from the younger generation, are notoriously politically ambivalent, and given recent elections here I can't really blame them. I see pervasive structural problems in the American political system as well, but elections have a way of revealing that my own cynicism about the political situation in the United States is not as deep as I sometimes fear. I worry about many political problems, but at least I can take it for granted that my ballot will be counted fairly and the election process is generally free of major fraud. And then I watch a country of over three hundred million people proceed orderly to polls in fifty different states and despite a hurricane in order to choose a new government, and I think maybe this democracy thing is okay after all. How American of me.

1 comment:

  1. there was definitely some minor fraud, though!

    Then again, my news sources are tumblr, twitter, Rachel Maddow, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert, sooo...

    ReplyDelete

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