This is the second presidential election I have been legal to vote in. The first, in 2008, was my study abroad semester in college and I voted absentee a few weeks before Election Day. (I’ve been lucky to have some amazing experiences in my life.)
So, okay. It’s the day before the 2008 election, and my American flatmate and I are on an elderly bus jolting up a mountain in Sicily. There’s a medieval-era, gated village at the summit and we’re damn well going to see it before we fly to Barcelona the next day. We’ve been trying to catch this bus for three days.
We find ourselves outside the gate with two others, a man and woman about our age. “Canadian?” the man asks, with a strong Australian accent. We explain we are American, actually.
“Interesting time to be an American.”
“Yeah! Tomorrow!” And the four of us laugh awkwardly, thinking of what the next night might bring.
It turned out that the Australians knew a ton about our election. As in, they had been following it religiously online, on television, even on the radio. They knew who Sarah Palin and Tina Fey were. They quoted interviews with Biden that I hadn’t heard of, and I thought I’d been following the election cycle pretty closely. Though they lived more than half the world away — a plane ride longer than a day! — they cared about who the U.S. elected for president. Because it impacted them; impacted their country. And there I was, mortified to realize I was only 80% sure that Australia had a Parliament. I couldn’t tell you any one of their leaders, let alone their prospective leaders.
As an American citizen, you’re raised with this idea that the United States is #1 and the world’s only remaining superpower and the Best Ever, period. Parallel to that is the idea that we should teach other countries how to live, that we’re a role model. Well, whatever others think of us, we are by default influential. The way we take care of our elderly, sick, women, people of color, disenfranchised or disadvantaged, and our citizens that don’t fit into the mainstream heteronormative mold or gender binary: that doesn’t just impact our citizens. It reflects us to the world. If our country is going to be a role model, let’s (re)elect someone who will act like it.