The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway is, perhaps, the ultimate expatriate novel. It is about American and British people enjoying Paris during the years between the world wars and it’s got café culture, an old world feel, travel to different countries, and late-night intellectual discussions with interesting people. It was an inspiration for my coming to Europe.
But there is one thing that I find sad about the book’s protagonist, a journalist named Jake Barnes, and Hemingway’s actual life: news travelled very slowly during the interwar years. How could anyone live without the internet, 24-hour news television stations, and unbroken access to sports scores? Waiting for a telegraph? Are you kidding me?
I am addicted to news. I couldn’t care less about Facebook, but I cannot live without The New York Times and Washington Post constantly updating on my laptop and news-organization Tweets directly to my mobile phone. I want to be the person to tell others what is happening, and I hate to be scooped, even by friends.
Access to fresh news is particularly important at this time of year. It is election season, and America is going through a legendary battle that has provided new shocks of information nearly every day. Yes, the campaign between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton has been salacious and scandalous — but it is about power at the level of nationhood that will affect the rest of the globe. So, I need the news immediately.
Given that the Czech Republic just had elections — be honest: did you know? — I thought I would explore the differences between the two systems in a non-political way.
The Czech Republic
The Czech Republic is a unitary parliamentary constitutional republic. Residents are mailed a packet of toilet-paper-thin sheets that list candidates for each party. Each candidate’s name is in bold, with age, profession, hometown, party membership, and nominating authority. The parties decide the order but voters can pick individuals. Usually, there are only a few decisions to be made.
In the Czech Republic, voting is on a Friday and Saturday. The first round was two weeks ago and asked citizens to make decisions about one third of the Senate seats, regional positions, and, locally, a referendum about the Brno train station. Only about 23 % voted on the referendum, not enough to make it valid (that would be 35 %). The second round was last weekend. A total of 16 parties had senators elected this time throughout the country; many of the candidates claimed to represent a composite of two, three, or even four parties.
Coalitions will now have to be made in the parliament. Now is when the real fun starts — and, theoretically, the actual governing.
The United States
The U.S. is a federal republic that is also governed by a constitution. The big elections are in November — on the Tuesday after the first Monday — and every four years, like 2016, there is a presidential election. This General Election ballot is printed on thick A4 size paper and includes decisions for many races besides president, including senators and representatives for the federal legislature, various state-level offices, and numerous regional, county, and local positions. I received my ballot in early October, along with a 144-page voter’s pamphlet with information about all of the candidates, referendums, and initiatives. I have the option to vote online or mail the ballot. Hopefully, the turnout will be significant, but Americans are just as apathetic as everyone else — or, in this case, they may refuse to vote as a personal protest.
This particular presidential election cycle has been legendary for many reasons. After months and months of political maneuvering through state-by-state primaries, the two main political parties officially chose their candidates in the summer. Normally, America has only two political parties, but Trump and Clinton have proven to be so unpopular that most polls show significant third-party and fourth-party options in some states. In Utah (read: Mormon areas), there is even a strong fifth-party option — a Mormon former CIA agent who entered the fray a few months ago.
Almost everything we know about politics has been upended during this presidential campaign. Clinton, a woman, was nominated by the Democratic Party. Trump, a political novice, was nominated by the Republican Party. The Libertarian Party’s longtime candidate finally got some attention, but he has stumbled badly and publicly. The Green Party came to life and its main candidate has been charged with spray-painting a bulldozer during a protest.
Themes that have never been broached in the past — or at least not to this extreme — have suddenly become daily talking points on every news outlet and common water-cooler discussion topics throughout the country: xenophobia; misogyny; racism; sexism; ageism; anti-Semitism; fat-shaming; unsubstantiated rumor mongering; machismo; international computer hacking and Wikipedia revelations; various scandals, both old and new; lawsuits, both old and new; anger at the press; physically abusive audience members at political rallies; vocal protests to interrupt political rallies; professional athletes kneeling instead of standing during the national anthem; millions of tweets about sexual assault; political correctness; the value of truth and the ability to lie without being held accountable; talk of vast conspiracies with international bankers out to control the world; allegations of a rigged elections and pre-emptive allegations of voting improprieties; a major political party imploding… the list goes on and on. Every day has a new topic of outrage.
University textbooks will be written about these machinations. Future campaigns will amend their strategies. The traditional media will play a different role, while new media will continue to gain prominence. Romance novels and pornographic films will be inspired. And, really, the image of the country will forever be different, from the inside and from the outside.
It has taken the whole process to a new low.
By which, of course, I mean to a new level of excitement. I can’t refresh my computer fast enough in order to get the latest headlines. It is a soap opera, I know, but it is such an important event that it will have far reaching affects for a long time
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The General Election in the U.S. will be on Tuesday, Nov. 8, and lest you think that it will have no ramifications for the rest of the world, think again. Whatever happens in the US has a ripple effect around the globe.
I have been watching every minute from home, from the tram, and during breaks throughout the workday. On election night, I will be glued to the television, two computers, and a mobile phone — hopefully without waking the babies, because you never know what kind of world we will leave for future generations, and they should get their sleep whenever they can.
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What about you — do you follow politics in your native country? Do you still vote there?
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