Looking at the American presidential election from abroad can be confusing and bewildering to a casual observer. We’ve recently had the pleasure to host two experts with an insider’s view on this election – David S. Miller of Democrats Abroad Denmark and Thomas Van Hare of Republicans Overseas in Sweden. They joined Malmö University’s own Magnus Ericson, Malin Isaksson and Gunnhildur Magnúsdóttir for a panel discussion on the election, and Pike and Hurricane had a chance to ask them for their views on the election and the role that their voter organizations are playing.
Pike and Hurricane: What led you to represent your party here in Scandinavia, both in terms of experience and personal inclination?
Thomas Van Hare: Well, I’ve always been involved in Republican politics, all the way back into the 1970s. I came from Michigan, which is in the center-north of the United States. When I was young, it was the most prosperous state in the country. And under Jimmy Carter in 1977 until 1980, the state went through an economic and political crisis and is today one of the poorest states in the country. So I became involved in politics because of Jimmy Carter. I decided – I was in college at the time – I was going to go to Washington and help to try to fix the mess that Jimmy Carter had made in my state of Michigan. When I came to Sweden a few years ago, I was not very active in Republican politics but with this election year I started to think that maybe I should re-connect with the Republican Party. I’ve decided that it is interesting to talk to Republicans in Sweden. There is not very many American Republicans in Sweden. Not very many people politically active as Americans in Sweden, actually. So it’s an interesting group of people and that is why I work with them.
David S. Miller: I moved to Denmark in 1981 and I’ve been involved with an NGO and then I studied Communications at Roskilde University, which was considered to be a very leftist university. Still is. And then in the 90s, I was working in software localization, and then I started my own company. I sold it to an American company and hadn’t been in that industry since about 2004. And then I started into getting into doing communications freelance, and particularly climate change issues. Briefly, prior to COP15 I was a communications manager at Maersk Oil for carbon and climate issues. They were totally against talking about climate change but that was part of my brief – to inform about risks and opportunities. Since then, I’ve been doing a lot of freelance stuff, but I just started here October 1st with a Danish NGO called Samsö Energy Academy on the island of Samsö, which is known globally for having a kind of community-based renewable energy. But politically, what happened was that around 2004 and I think that’s when Farenheit 911 came out. And it was having it’s premiere and it was around the time of the election and John Kerry was the candidate and in Copenhagen we sort of arranged to have a voter registration drive around the premiere of the movie and that’s where I met some people that had been with Democrats throughout the 90s but in Denmark it had kind of dissipated in the late 90s. And I realized that the Iraq war and George W. Bush was a disaster and I should help get Democrats elected. So I contacted Democrats Abroad and it took me several years, but I was able to get a chapter up and running again in Denmark and I was the chair. And we have over a thousand members in Denmark, which is pretty big considering that it is smaller than Sweden. I even helped start the Skåne chapter here, because that had also fallen apart, back around 2007. So anyway, that is sort of how I got involved with Democrats Abroad, but I have been kind of always political. As I said, I came to Sweden to study social welfare and I was involved in the anti-nuclear movement here. I come from a political family: my parents were on the local board of the ACLU in Bergen County. They supported the civil rights movement. I grew up right outside of New York City, and so I guess I’ve always had politics sort of around and been responsible in caring about other people if they are not doing well and stuff like that. So I guess that is sort of my philosophy in life and I guess Democrats Abroad was a way to turn out the vote. We could be more effective, but we are pretty effective.
PH: What role do overseas voters and overseas voter organizations like yours play in the elections? Do overseas voters matter in the larger scheme of things?
DSM: We know that we do matter, because back when Jim Webb was elected to the Senate, certainly Al Franken in his first Senate race: without our votes he would have lost. It was 300 and something votes. So we know that there are several elections where we did make the difference. With that said, we could be better organized, particularly if we targeted what are are deemed to be tight races. But our problem is that, again we have maybe 130,000 members worldwide, but there are 8.7 million American citizens estimated living worldwide. We are not that good at reaching out to them, and they don’t all vote Democratic. But, we did have the global primary. Democrats Abroad, there was 70% vote for Bernie Sanders, 30% for Hillary Clinton. I was a delegate in our convention in Berlin in May and helped elect Bernie’s brother Larry and the other delegates. But the big thing is turning out the vote and I think we can be more effective, not just on our website, but other ways. It’s just that it is a 100% volunteer organization. Our international chair and others that have to travel around the world, maybe 10 times a year, they have to pay out of their own pocket. It’s very expensive. So when I went to Berlin, I paid my own flight, conference fees. It’s difficult when it is an all-volunteer organization to get everybody together. And we are Democrats. Republicans, they’re authoritarian: they all have the same talking points, but we all have our own ideas on how to do things better, and therefore we are not very good at organizing, just like Democrats across the board.
TVH: In the past, they haven’t mattered as much as maybe they should. Just because an American is living overseas doesn’t make them any less of an American citizen or reduce their right and obligation and duty to vote. But a lot of times in the past, it was very difficult for overseas Americans to vote and get their vote counted. That was a very significant problem. So both the Democrats Abroad and Republicans Overseas organizations are involved with get-out-the-vote drives, voter registration and teaching the Americans who are here and have the right to vote how to go about what actually amounts to a pretty complicated and troublesome process. We ought to be able to vote a lot easier than we are able to. We can’t vote, for instance, by going down to the embassy on Election Day and voting and we wonder ‘why is that?’. We can’t vote online. If you are outside of the United States, there are not polling places for you. So you have to have absentee ballots sent long ahead, then they have to be mailed long ahead, so you have to make up your mind on who you are going to choose as your candidate before the election process is even over; even before the debate that we just had, you already have to pretty much decide. Or, like me, you have to think “Okay, I’m planning on going to America in the first week of November so I can vote.” And that’s incredible. Most people don’t plan their travel back home to America around the election cycle and why should they? So we are big advocates. There is a real role for Republican and Democratic organizations overseas to structure things and push for reform in this system so that our votes are counted and they matter. There is a lot of Americans who live abroad, a huge number and, generally speaking, they are not encouraged in the same way to vote, which is sad, so we do our best to turn that around.
PH: Do you feel that the issues that are important to the American electorate here in Scandinavia differ from those important to the people in the US? Are they well-represented in American political discourse?
TVH: One of them is called FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act): under US tax law, Americans can end up being double-taxed. I might well have to pay taxes in the United States and then also pay taxes in Sweden – taxed twice on the same money. So if the United States takes 35 percent of my income and Sweden takes 30 percent of my income, I could end up paying a 65 percent tax rate. That’s a hefty price to live in Sweden. Now how could I end up paying taxes in both places? Under Swedish law, if I am a Swedish citizen or a dual-citizen or a Swedish resident, I have to pay taxes in Sweden. Under American law, if I am an American citizen, no matter where I am in the world, I have to pay taxes in America. So we end up with this dual taxation system. Both countries have developed ways to work it out so that you might be able to avoid that, but really, a lot of people don’t know how to go about that or find that they cannot for some reason, and so double taxation is real. FATCA is a law that needs to be reviewed, even repealed, because it is going to end up with a lot of people being double taxed. This is an issue of particular importance to overseas American voters. It is a key issue for overseas Republicans and one of our main points. I’m always surprised that the Democrats don’t get on board with that, but they don’t. It is really weird; this should be a bipartisan issue with broad support, but it isn’t somehow. When asked, the Democrats will often talk about how the law is flawed, but then they don’t support any change to it when the chips are down. For overseas Republicans, this is a primary issue to focus on in every election cycle. We won’t stop until the law is changed. Double taxation is wrong, plain and simple.
Most other issues in America, however, are local. Americans who are abroad don’t have the same window in the local issues, however. We do not form a single coalition or voting bloc. Their votes are counted in whatever state they might be from, so if you are a Texan and registered to vote in Texas, and you live in Sweden, your vote is counted in Texas. If you are a Virginian and you live in Sweden, your vote is counted in Virginia. If you are from Michigan and you live in Sweden, your vote is counted in Michigan. So it is very difficult to fight on issues that are state issues for overseas Republicans or Democrats. Therefore, very often the overseas vote is almost ignored; certainly ignored at the state and local election level because a local candidate or campaign can’t go to Sweden and encourage people to vote in the Michigan election because they wouldn’t find that many people from just Michigan to get together to talk to at once. There is 50 states voting, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico as well, and so on. That means that there aren’t the same kinds of voting blocs that a candidate can talk to, particularly at local and state level races. As a result, overseas citizens become oriented only to national issues and generally are only able to make an informed vote in national-level elections only. So that is to our detriment. Many of us don’t even know or follow the state issues any more, which you would expect if you’ve lived in Sweden for five years or 10 years or 15 years. So it is very difficult as Americans overseas to have our votes counted in the same way or make it meaningful in the same way as when we’re living and voting in the USA.
DSM: Well, you do have these taxation issues. So, one of the most important things, and I think this should be addressed: first of all, you have something called citizenship-based taxation, which only the United States and Eritrea have. In other words, the money I earn in Denmark, or the money you would earn in Sweden, is liable to be taxed in the United States. Sweden doesn’t have it; it doesn’t tax its citizens working in the US. They pay US taxes. But the other problem with that is that they have an annoying law called FBAR, which means that you have to report your total bank accounts, aggregate, if it is more than $10,000. If you just have your own business and got an invoice paid, that was $12,000, you have to report everything back to the IRS. And then there is FATCA. The US government makes bilateral treaties and says that if you have an American citizen customer in your bank, you have to report their transactions to the IRS directly. This goes against all EU law. And this is causing a lot of problems, because in Switzerland, the banks often don’t want to deal with it, because there are big penalties if they don’t do it. And so they just won’t have Americans as customers. And you can’t have a job if you don’t have a bank account, because your company has to pay the money into a bank account. So, those are the biggest issues right now for Americans living overseas, which are typically Republican issues – we are talking about taxation – but this affects everybody. It was really designed for Americans living in the US, who have their money offshore, like in Switzerland, but they didn’t write it that, if you live in Switzerland and work in Switzerland it doesn’t count for you. That’s what they have to do with that law. That’s the last one. And that one is actually quite serious. Those are the issues that are affecting us here. But then, you could take climate change. I live in Denmark, where they have a lot of renewable energy. There’s wars and all these other things that affect everybody that the United States is part of. So things that you are affected here just like a Dane or a Swede would be affected, even though you are an American citizen. But the US does affect how things take place in the world.
PH:Have your own personal views changed over the course of your life here?
DSM: Well, I would say that, when we take the primary here with Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton it was obvious. Free universal healthcare, free college education, he always refers to Denmark and Sweden, right? So you are sort of like: why would she even not support that? Actually, Hillary Clinton did support universal healthcare in the 90s, when she was First Lady, and Bernie Sanders stood, literally, right behind her when she was talking about it. So that is a part of it. I think the quality of life is what you feel Americans should have. And there is really no reason Americans don’t have it. The United States has actually so much wealth and so many resources and so many talented people that you’d think that they would be able to do it. And there is an urban planning company called Gehl Architects in Denmark, they helped New York City put in the bike paths, for instance. You see a lot of Scandinavian influence right now in dining, restaurants in New York and other places. Architecture, things like that. Scandinavian design. The Scandinavian design isn’t just, if you look at the table that we are sitting at, which is wood, or the chairs over there. Wood has warmth, it has textures. You see the curve of the lines on the chair. And these are things that make you, as a person, you feel more comfortable with it, just looking at it or sitting on it, rather than being a square, cold kind of thing. There is something deeper about the Scandinavian design, for instance, that is more about quality of life and not just about “It looks cool.”
TVH: That is a fascinating question! I would say that my personal political views change all the time. I am always in a constant state of reassessing what it means to be a Republican and a conservative. Being a Republican is a pretty broad definition anyway. Europe tends to look at it as if it was some kind of laser-focused, narrow interest group that aligns with some certain far-right, or whatever they think. It’s not that way at all. The Republican party is a huge tent of a lot of different viewpoints. I come from Michigan and I can tell you that a Michigan Republican is completely different from a California Republican or a New England Republican from New Hampshire in our views and our understanding. But where you live and what experiences you have in life, they always affect what you think on issues. They always affect what you believe. But your core values, maybe they don’t change. But the issues do. And your positions on issues are reflective of your personal experience and background and what you are currently living in and what current experiences you have, of course.
PH: This election has repeatedly been presented as very different and unusual. Are there fundamental differences this cycle compared to previous years, or is it still the same story just with a more colorful cast of characters?
TVH: I’m far enough away from both the Clinton campaign and knowing what they do and the Trump campaign and knowing what they do that I find that I’m probably not the best person to answer that. I do think that the optics and the language of this election are markedly different than previous elections. Previously, there were things that you didn’t say, on both sides – Democrat and Republican. There were things that you just didn’t do or you weren’t proud of if you did. There were limits to the rhetoric. Now suddenly, it is perfectly okay for Hillary to delete 33,000 emails and then claim it is all just unfounded, political attacks on her because “Republicans are all sexist” or some other completely false claim. She forgot to mention that it is illegal to do what she did. Doing that, you’re going to be prosecuted and probably sent to jail. The best case would be that you would lose your security clearance and all future rights to handle classified information. You would probably your job too. And yet Hillary Clinton gets a pass on that and even brags about it too. She makes out like it isn’t a big deal, that it was “just a mistake”. Then she runs for President. If you want to talk about double standards, look right there. Unbelievable.
On the Republican side, Donald Trump has said things in blunt, harsh ways that I don’t think should be a part of our political discourse. Americans don’t talk that way, generally, at least not in modern American politics. Maybe that’s a New York thing, but still, this is national election. This is not a New York campaign where you’re fighting it out on the streets of the city for a councilman’s or councilwoman’s job. Both sides are doing that, they’ve brought the level of the debate down to the lowest point I’ve seen in decades. The press likes to highlight Trump’s attacks, to be sure, but Hillary has done more than her fair share in response.
This year, it is quite different. The optics are different. Underneath the candidates themselves, the party process – Democratic National Committee, the Republican National Committee, the party apparatus that supports these candidates, that does get-out-the-vote drives, puts signs in streets, does fundraising, that defines what the party platform is – it’s still the same. That didn’t change. But the candidates at the top, they present themselves very differently than past American candidates running for national office. This is a departure in some ways from the types of campaigns we’ve come to expect. George Bush ran as a “compassionate conservative”. Barack Obama ran on the promise of “hope and change” — we have less hope today and the changes we saw didn’t work out, but both campaigns were different than what we see right now. Trump’s hat might read, “Make America Great Again”, but his language is more like “Crooked Hillary” and “Go in jail, witch.” It wouldn’t matter if he was right on both counts, he shouldn’t say that on national TV. Most importantly, why can’t we just focus on the issues for once? That’s what really matters. On the other side, Hillary’s campaign slogan is “Stronger Together”, and then she starts dividing Americans into two categories: those who support her and the rest, which she literally called, “a basket of deplorables”. Frankly, that’s disgusting; the only thing deplorable is her language. I’d like to see a higher standard but I fear I am too hopeful on that count.
DSM: This is bizarre, and I am really pissed off at the Republicans and the Democrats actually. Republicans, as I mentioned, they basically let this slide. You can start with Nixon, certainly since Reagan, but certainly since a black president was elected, and the Tea Party and what happened in 2010. It’s just disgusting, what the Republican candidates think, their views about women. They are all about freedom, our personal freedom and “Don’t take our guns away.” but when it comes to women’s bodies, they are all about control. They are all about pro-life, as long as it’s a fetus, but as soon as it’s born, they’re going to take your food stamp money away, or send you off to war. It’s total hypocrisy. Instead of them thinking, and this is sort of what Thomas was saying, he’s the old-style, old-school Republican, why don’t they just say “Look, we want to be fiscally conservative, but we want to have a good society.” I mentioned George Lakoff in there, and there really are fundamental differences in what you think government should do. It’s disingenuous, all the stuff that Trump is saying, and others. These are people who have a lot of money and they are protecting billionaires basically. And they’re just using this populist thing, or this anti-immigrant thing, they’re just using it. It’s divide and conquer. You split people, you put people against each other, then they are not going to be talking about you. They are not going to be throwing you off the top, they’re going to be fighting each other. And this goes way way back.
PH: How has the increased focus on polling and data analysis changed how politics is both seen and done in the US? Some scholars (such as our Tuesday guests Dr. Ryan Bakker and Prof. Matthew DeSantis) have said that US elections are in large part demographically predetermined. Do you agree?
DSM: Well, polling has been around forever. I don’t see any difference between now and four years ago and eight years ago and twenty-some odd years ago. You have the internet and you have 538.com and whatever. Obviously they are more in the media, you have cable TV. That’s an interesting thing, that I should talk about a little bit. Various ethnic groups are becoming more powerful politically. They are actually voting, and there has been an effort, particularly among Democrats, to make sure that they vote: blacks and Hispanics and others. I just think that the way the demographics are going, if you are an older white male, you are becoming fewer and fewer, relatively speaking. That shouldn’t be a problem at all, because people are people. I have a really hard time understanding why you think you are better just because you are white than somebody who isn’t white. It doesn’t make sense to me, but that is how people feel, and they grew up with this stuff. I have abolitionist brochures from the 1830 and 40s and 50s, [in a course I teach] and I said “if you go on a right-wing website and just get your news from that, or if you just go to a left-wing website, Daily Kos and get your information from there, that’s what this pamphlet is.” And who read these pamphlets? People who were against slavery. You didn’t have the slaveowners down South reading these things. You basically stuck to the information that you were comfortable with and believed in, and we still do that today. Now we just go to websites. Everything is in silos, and it was back then.
TVH: We’ve been doing extensive polling for decades and decades – as long as I have been involved in politics. Polling is the number one thing you do to know where you’ve got to go, what interest groups there are, what people believe on issues, where you are going to get the most impact from the message that you believe in, and even for fundraising – who you are going to fundraise from. An old Democratic Party trick was that they would do an independent poll. They would call and ask what your position is on Roe v. Wade and abortion policy in America and Second Amendment rights and they would ask these kinds of questions. And then, depending on your answer, they would then send the answers to the fundraising arm. And the fundraising arm would call on Roe v. Wade because you answered right for the candidate’s position on that and they would say “The most important issue to Hillary Clinton is Roe v. Wade. We need your donation so that Hillary Clinton can protect Roe v. Wade.” That’s how they would do their fundraising.
So polling has been very very carefully developed and the statistical analysis involved goes all the way back decades. It’s only gotten better. There are people who say they don’t believe the polls. Generally speaking, you should believe the polls. They are generally pretty accurate, to the point where basically both parties bank on it. When you ask enough people, you will get a pretty clear picture on where things are. Problem is, when the polling shows 51-49 and the margin of error is three points. Well, what does that mean? It means you don’t have a clue what’s about to happen. And most of these past races have been like that. This race is not. Presently, Hillary Clinton, in key battleground states, is up by as much as 11 points. I don’t think these polls are wrong. I’ve learned over the years that polls are pretty accurate. So I don’t think that it’s any departure, anything new.
PH: Some scholars (such as our Tuesday guests Dr. Ryan Bakker and Prof. Matthew DeSantis) have said that US elections are in large part demographically predetermined. Do you agree?
TVH: Absolutely. Massachusetts is going to vote for the Democratic candidate, no matter what. Thankfully, there isn’t a majority that favor either side. Basically, there is seven or eight key swing states and those are your battlegrounds. That’s where you’ve got to focus your energy, your advertising, your ground game, as we like to call it, which is getting out the vote, going door-to-door, knocking on doors and saying “Have you voted today?” in areas that are going to favor you. You have to campaign in almost all the states anyway. It’s very uncommon for them make it to Alaska, it’s very uncommon for them make it to Hawaii. The rest of the states, in continental United States, you’re going to see presidential candidates making swings through. How much do they invest? Hillary Clinton is not going to spend most of her campaign in Wyoming. Not going to happen. But Donald Trump is not going to go spend all of his time in Massachusetts; he does not have a prayer of winning Massachusetts. So he will swing through once or twice, on the way to New Hampshire, and so on. The American system is a bit like that. We have an Electoral College system – very different from European politics. The popular vote, on a national level, does not matter. At the state level it matters. So if in the state of Michigan you win by one percent, you get all of the Michigan delegates, who are going to go to the Electoral College and vote for you. So you could conceivably have the states where Hillary Clinton, for instance, loses the popular vote, but wins the Electoral College and ends up as president. And this actually happened with Bush and Gore. George W. Bush did not win the popular vote, although it was very close, but he did win the Electoral College, so he became president of the United States. The system is designed that way. If it was a popular vote system, the candidates would never visit all 50 states. They would all be just in the urban areas, going after the big numbers of voters that are located there. Rural issues? Middle America issues? They wouldn’t even be represented. States’ rights? They wouldn’t be represented. All that would matter would be the big population urban centers. So the American system favors a broader, state-based electoral campaign. So when people say “George Bush did not win the popular vote but he won the presidency.” well, he won the Electoral College. He ran the campaign based on the Electoral College system. Had he ran the campaign based on the popular vote system, maybe he would have won. We don’t know, because he did not run the campaign that way. He did not go to New York and battle it out, because New York was probably not going to be on his side of the aisle. He spent his time in Florida. Florida mattered. As it turned out, it was the key area that mattered. In fact, it turned out to be in Palm Beach County where it mattered, and that’s what swung the election in his favor. The American system is exactly designed that way. That’s both good and bad. From a popular vote perspective, people would say it’s not good. The Democrats love to say “Oh, it’s terrible. Bush shouldn’t have won.” But, truth be known, the Electoral College system is there for a reason and it ends up with a broader campaign basis as a result. The other thing is that the Electoral College is designed to prevent a tyrant from getting elected by the mob. Even if he is a bad actor, the Electoral College is empowered not to make them president, even if the popular vote says they can be president. It is supposed to be a protective feature and it is a protective feature in the American system.
DSM: I think, in Sweden and Denmark, countries like that, probably Switzerland, you have a general idea of what society is supposed to do. It’s here so that if you get sick and you can go to school and we all pay into the system and we all get something out of the system. And the United States doesn’t have that vision, doesn’t have that “meme”. The United States is “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”, “rugged individual”, all those myths. We are so split up: there is city and there is country, then there is North and there is South and there is West and the Midwest. As Americans, we are against each other. Certainly Trump is an exponent of this. That is very dangerous; he is taking it to another level. Tea Party was bad enough, but he is taking it to this other level.
PH: The news coverage of the election has been ubiquitous, but it has also been criticized as unfair by both sides. How well do you feel the news media have covered this election?
DSM: For the most part it’s been god-awful. I also don’t think that the media is serving the American people. I think that they are reporting what the candidates want to say to them, but they are not saying “Hey, this policy you have here, or this lack of policy maybe, there are people suffering.” They are not reporting on how people are suffering, except if there are these shootings. Black men, boys getting shot. That gets into the news. Besides that, there is very little. And by the way, the fact that CNN – I just had dinner with a CNN journalist, coincidentally last week – we were talking about it. I said that the way that they cover the election where it’s like 24/7 is sort of like that Malaysian airliner that disappeared where they did it for months on end on CNN. They are just focused on one thing rather than say, “Okay, we’re going to do 15 minutes of this, but there is a war going on, there is Mosul going on, or there is some hurricane in Haiti, 800 people die.” They have so little about everything else. And it’s cheap TV too; it’s easy to produce.
TVH: I find it hard to define media anymore. Used to be that we’ve had ABC, NBC, CBS, the major newspapers in each of the towns: Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe. Today, news media is online, all the time: 24/7. It’s not just news outlets anymore. It’s bloggers, it’s Twitter, it’s YouTube videos, it’s issue-oriented stuff, mass emailings, it’s every kind of media you can imagine now inundates the American public. Is the media doing its job? Bloggers are doing their job. The mainstream media – the ABCs, NBCs, CBS – they’re doing their best. They do show more bias. The Democrats say that Fox News is this right-wing flipped-out organ and the Republicans say that ABC, CBS, NBC are just a bunch of left-wing supporters. Well, both of them are actually a bit right. No longer, in those cases, what you don’t see is an independent media person who is saying “I’m going to be an investigative journalist, Woodward and Bernstein and dig for the dirt.” Actually, what you’ve got is journalists who have left their independence back at the office and are out there with a bias and they want to reflect that in their reporting. Is that a huge problem in America? I don’t think so, because I think that today there are so many media entities, whether it is blogs, whether it is foreign media. We see CNN, we see BBC, we even read Russian news in America today, as crazy as that sounds. If there is a crisis in Brazil, I pull up Brazilian newspapers and run a translator on it and read the news in Brazil, because I want to know and you can’t get that information just from American media anymore, because now we have a global media. It’s an amazing time to be alive.
We’re inundated with options in the media, so that individual media bias balances out a lot. But on the mainstream media side – the CBS, NBC, ABC – they are more left-leaning. No doubt. And Fox? More right-leaning. No doubt. So we have to deal with that.
PH: Despite having only two major parties, the US is actually host to a fairly wide range of political views. Can you give us your take on the various movements/factions/currents influential within your party this election cycle?
TVH: In the Republican party, we had 17 candidates for the presidency. We had two Hispanics, a woman, we had more religiously oriented candidates, we had less religiously oriented candidates, we had Donald Trump. That’s a pretty big tent. They were sometimes at each other’s throats, and probably the most effective guy in terms of getting at somebody else’s throat was Donald Trump. We saw a lot of differences within the Republican Party. It’s a very diverse party. We saw less diversity on the Democratic side. They had two candidates: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. And what we know now, reading the hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee, was that the Democratic National Committee very carefully orchestrated that Hillary Clinton was going to be the candidate, no matter what. But both parties traditionally have pretty strong and diverse electoral groups. You have everything in the Republican Party from social liberals to strong right-wing guys that their number one issue is gun rights. I come from Michigan. Our number one issue is not gun rights. Our number one issue is the economy, jobs, because we suffered very badly under the Carter administration and the state has never recovered its economic position that it once had. But different Republicans come from different areas. Same with the Democratic Party. So you see a lot of diversity.
The American system, which is really a two-party system, tamps down extremism. As crazy as that is for Europeans to hear, it’s true, because if you are a fringe element in a parliamentary system in Europe, you might get a few percentage points of the vote, then next thing you know, you are in the parliament. You might even be able to, if the parliament is split, get a major ministry assigned to you despite your radical position and this can cause some real stresses, because the system might encourage diversity, but it also might encourage some extremism. Because the most extreme viewpoint? Well, there is a political party for that. And that is okay, but it is very different from America. Because in America, if you are a Second Amendment guns-only voter, this is your only issue that you are ever going to care about, there isn’t a party for you. You have to choose one of those two parties, and so it tends to bring them back towards the center. The other thing about the American political system that is very interesting is that about a third of the country is Republican, about a third of the country is Democrat and the third that is in the middle are independents and they can go either way in either election. So American politics are often viewed as being not very diverse because both parties kind of talk about the same kinds of issues, but actually what is happening is the diversity within the parties is kind of homogenized a bit and then, because you have to win the center, everybody battles over the center ground. People from every country in Europe, from South America, Asia, you name it, every continent on the planet is represented in American citizenry and yet all of them can come to agreement on issues. Part of that is because of this process and the system of government that we have that created that and naturally results in it.
DSM: Certainly Bernie Sanders had an extremely positive influence, not just within the party but I think the country to be able to talk about these issues, that’s what Michael Moore wanted to do, certainly in Sicko, and – what was the other movie – Which Country Should We Invade Next? and whatever. Michael Moore basically saying that we should be doing things more like Europe is doing. Bernie Sanders coming out now, now we have a vocabulary and it’s acceptable to be talking about that. And I think people realize “What the fuck? We’re the richest country, we’re supposed to be the best country, and we’re suffering.”
People are powerless, maybe because we have this two-party system and where it’s become so expensive to run that really, just regular people just have very little influence, whereas you have these smaller parties in Sweden, Denmark and other places where maybe you could join a party that becomes part of a coalition then you have some influence or something. I think people have given up. It is corrupt. The fact that Hillary Clinton is basically blocked with her connection through Bill Clinton originally, so all the people, the deep roots within the Democratic National Committee basically meant that no one else was going to be able to run. And then Bernie Sanders came around and decided to do that anyway. Barack Obama came around and said he was going to do it anyway. But basically, a lot of talent just has not had the opportunity to come up through the ranks and show themselves and not be a 69-year old or a 74-year old, but to be, maybe, a 40-year old. Or 35-year old even.
I think Hillary Clinton should win. I think she is probably the best candidate right now in terms of turning out the vote, because of her connection to the Democratic Party. I think Bernie Sanders has the better policy, but he would not be able to turn out the vote as well, because he is very weak within the party. Unfortunately. It shouldn’t be that way, and I just hope that somebody comes up through the ranks that gets the support and is a progressive person in 2024, but also, as I said, in Congress, Senate, that we continue to elect progressives over the next years.
PH: Regardless of what happens on November 8th, what plans does your organization and party have for the future? What can we expect to see in 2018? 2020? Who/what should we watch?
DSM: I assume you voted for Hillary Clinton, and I assume that you weren’t that enthusiastic about it, but you did it. So imagine another Hillary Clinton-like candidate running in eight years when you’ve grown up and you are eight years older, but then people eight years younger than you are voting for the first or second time or whatever, and could see how the rest of the world is because we have the internet and everything, and Bernie Sanders gave us a language around those issues now. Do you think they are going to be enthusiastic in 2024, or do you think they are going to say “Ah, screw this!”? It would be a lot better to be enthusiastic about a candidate. And actually, the Trump core supporters, they are enthusiastic about him. Bernie supporters were very enthusiastic about Bernie. I think that if the Democratic Party is – as I was telling somebody here – that in 2004, after the Iraq War and with George W. Bush and the Democrats nominated John Kerry – the most uncharismatic person on Earth; extremely intelligent, brainy, totally uncharismatic. And my brother said: “You know, you have the evil party and that was George Bush, with particularly Dick Cheney, all the stuff that was going on in Iraq and everything, and then you have the stupid party, which is the Democrats, who just couldn’t figure out how to run.” And if you think about it now, we are running somebody who is, more or less, passe. Hillary Clinton is from the 90s. Maybe the 2000s, but certainly not 2016. We have to be thinking about where the United States needs to be and run candidates that reflect that.
TVH: That is hard, because now we are looking into the crystal ball of the future and that is always dangerous. We don’t even know what the issues are going to be over the next four years. If somebody had told me eight years ago that we were going to see Syria as what it is today and the mass migration problem into Europe and globally, we have more immigration, more migrants, more refugees than any time since the end of World War II, I would have been looking at them like they were off of the moon. But it happened. But there are some thing that we can look forward and say that there are some problems and there are some issues that are going to be important to America and one of them is the national debt. Twenty trillion dollars is the greatest it’s ever been in the history of the United States. At the beginning of the Obama administration, it was a 10 trillion dollar debt and that was considered unsupportable. Both parties said “You can’t just keep on spending money.” and yet here we are, eight years later, and we’ve got a 20 trillion dollar debt. We went through a massive economic crisis in America. Lots of bailouts, a lot of money was required to do that, but we ended up with a 20 trillion dollar debt. And now we have two candidates running for the presidency and they are both talking about these programs that they are going to create, all of which cost money. And most economists today are saying “Hold on! With a 20 trillion dollar debt, that money may not be there to support those programs.” And so I am quite concerned that in four years, we are going to have a major economic crisis in America because of the debt load that we have. As a result of that and a few other things, I think that we are probably looking at a four-year, not an eight-year run, for the next president. Whoever is elected this time around probably won’t be reelected in four years. So I think that there is going to be a very open field vying for the position, including if Hillary Clinton is elected, her own party will be running against her in the next election cycle, because there will be a feeling that this candidate is probably not going to be reelected, so there will be a free-for-all on the Democratic side if she is elected. Same thing will happen if Donald Trump is elected. The mainstream Republicans that didn’t like him this time around, they will form coalitions and voting blocks and support groups for other candidates to run against him in four years. I’m convinced that whoever wins this election won’t make it past four years. They will not be reelected for a second term. So, what does it mean for the parties? I think we can’t tell that until after the election. Who wins? If the polling bears out, Hillary Clinton will probably be the next president of the United States. That’s if the polling bears out. That’s an open question: will it? I don’t know. I think both parties, in the wake of every election – it’s not the day after, it’s not even the week after, it’s months after – they do a post-election analysis. They try to see what are the trends. How did voters vote? What did they believe in? What motivated them to go? Where didn’t they vote? State-by-state, district-by-district within the states. And then you use that information to formulate the beginnings of your campaign four years out. And as crazy as it sounds, the campaign for the presidency in 2020 has already begun. The first candidates are already going to Iowa and doing speeches in preparation for 2020. So the American election cycle is more than four years long for these people. That’s incredible. I think it’s unique in the world. I am not sure what it means, but I do know that what happens on the first Tuesday in November will affect those people’s election campaigns and you are going to see that almost right away, within months after the Election Day. I don’t know what will take place though.
Note: The interviews were conducted separately and the answers have been edited for length and readability.
Photo Credit: Mariah Katz; David S. Miller (Left) & Thomas Van Hare (Right)