Our Election, Brexit, and Going Forward

"Vote Here/Vote Aqui" sign in Orlando, Florida - 2008. Image Credit:  Erik (HASH) Hershman  via  Flickr   CC

"Vote Here/Vote Aqui" sign in Orlando, Florida - 2008. Image Credit: Erik (HASH) Hershman via Flickr CC

     So it all comes down to this. After arguably the most bruising, unconventional, and wild political campaign in American history, we are finally at the moment when we choose our next president.

     To be honest, it has been tough to get my head around it all, with so many twists and turns, ups and downs, allegations and innuendo being thrown around, facts and falsehoods being spouted about, claims and counter-claims being made, and just generally, the anxiety over the whole affair.

     As it stands, the choices we face as a country are both unpopular and with unprecedented high negative ratings. For many of us, the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is one we would rather not have, for neither has been particularly inspiring and they both have heavy amounts of baggage – the contents of which have been exposed for us to see.

     Nevertheless, that’s those are choices we have and a choice must be made, for this election has come down to a referendum on the future – about what kind of country and society we wish to be, much like the UK’s referendum on the EU in June. Indeed, much commentary has been written and discussed about that referendum and what happened there in relation to our election. There are differences to be sure, but just as our election has pitted the wild card Trump against the more seasoned Clinton, the EU referendum pitted the unknowns of Britain leaving the EU against the what was known about staying in – in other words, the relative status quo vs a desired yet ill-defined change.

     What ought to be clear is that vast swathes of the people in both countries are not satisfied at all with where they are in their lives and with the state of our countries. There is the sense that the establishment has been failing them for years with policies appearing to benefit only those who are ingratiated with the system, such as the politicians, their families, wealthy campaign donors, corporate and other special interests, and just about anyone with inside connections to give them a leg up over everyone else.

     Along with the effects of 2007-2008 financial crisis, there have been the issues - repeated throughout the Western world - of globalization and how many people have been left behind as a result of it, changing economies and demographics which have clashed with the traditional structures and assurances of societies, and a general sense of uneasiness and the feeling that things are going downhill in many ways. Frustration with the status quo has allowed for the rise populism, which has fueled Trump in America and Brexit in Britain.

     That decision for Britain to leave the EU was a shock to everyone because it was figured that given the given the stark choice between the known and the unknown, Britons would stick with what they knew as a future in Europe as opposed to the unknowns outside of it. When the vote came, a slight majority of Britons decided that whatever unknowns there were outside the EU, they were worth it in the belief that the fortunes for themselves and the UK were better off outside.

     The mistake that some of the pro-EU campaigners made leading up to last June’s referendum was that they focused too much on the negatives of leaving, rather than the positives of staying, just as those advocating keeping the UK together during the 2014 Scottish independence referendum were criticized for accentuating the downsides of separation in order to get the people to vote “No”. This resulted in the “Yes” vote for separation being much higher than anticipated as the separatist campaign – appealing to positive platitudes if not solid facts – made inroads particularly among the working classes who felt they little to lose in choosing separation. Two years later, the Brexit campaigners did much of the same thing by portraying themselves as having new and bold solutions, as opposed to the stale answers offered up by the establishment. Similarly, a significant chunk of the American electorate appears prepared to risk uncertainty with Trump rather than go with what they know (and probably dislike more) about Clinton, who has been touting her experience and readiness for office in contrast to the unpredictability of Trump.

     Whatever happens, it is incumbent on our leaders on both sides of the Atlantic to commit themselves to getting things done for the great good. At everyone’s heart is the desire for a government that works effectively and efficiently, which works in the national interest while engaging with the world. Indeed, there is a lot that needs to be done domestically and internationally, and the people and political leaders must rise to the occasion as we do live in unprecedented times where people’s trust and confidence in government and other institutions are so low.

     This is the landscape facing the victor of the election tonight (or tomorrow) and on top of that, about half of the country not only voted against this person, but probably has a low opinion of them, to say the least. Whoever it is will have to work hard to unite the country as never before and provide answers to legitimate issues raised throughout the course of the campaign.

     As an optimist, I do not believe all will be lost regardless of who wins. Our country has gone through so much in over two centuries of existence, including an all-out civil war and presidential resignation, and we have shown the capacity to not only survive, but go on to be a better country than before. Our Constitution and hard-won democratic institutions are greater than any one person who temporarily occupies them for a few years at the pleasure of the people, and I believe the same to be true of the UK as well.

     That said, the choice we make does matter and I hope that people do consider the future carefully make a wise choice that we can be holistically comfortable with for generations to come.

Our Internal Affairs

     Throughout my involvement in the Scottish referendum campaign, there were several times when I was told to stay out of Scotland’s “internal affairs.” Some Nationalists and “Yes” supporters on Facebook and Twitter would say that the referendum vote had nothing to do with me and that – among others things – I should “f**k off” and pay more attention to what’s going on in the United States. Other people were more polite about it – saying that they appreciated my interest, but nonetheless still say that I ought to stay out of their referendum over their future.

     Then when President Obama made his intervention in support of our closest ally to keep itself together, there were many Nats who angrily frothed at the notion of the President of the United States making his views known publicly – at one point, alongside the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron. He too was told to stay out and shut up, and even then-First Minister and SNP leader Alex Salmond reportedly was upset about the presidential intervention.

     Following the referendum and up to the present, I have still found myself coming into contact with Cybernats telling me that what goes on in Scotland has nothing to do with me and that I should stop commenting and writing articles such this.

     So when I came across yesterday’s article in The Herald that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had endorsed Hillary Clinton to be our next president, my first thought was: well, look who’s commenting on the internal affairs of another country. However, this was not mere commenting on what’s going in America, but openly saying who she would like to see in the White House this time next year, and breaking the diplomatic convention that politicians in one country should not directly comment on foreign elections or endorse candidates in those elections.

     Yet while Sturgeon should have observed this convention (regardless of whether she was prompted by a member of the audience to which she was speaking), I tend to find nothing wrong in general with politicians, other public officials and figures, and private individuals in one country commenting on other major issues and concerns in a other country, especially one that is a close friend and ally.

     Such is the case with the Special Relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom that we cannot help but to watch what goes on each other’s country and perhaps have something to say about events which may prove to be quite consequential to the nature of our relationship. It is therefore not surprising that President Obama made an intervention two years ago to keep the UK together, and that he is choosing to speak out in favor of the UK’s membership in the European Union.

     On the other end, it has been David Cameron and other leading British politicians who have voiced their criticism of unspoken and controversial Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, and Members of Parliament even debated whether Trump ought to have been banned from entering the United Kingdom. Indeed, when Sturgeon was asked whether she would welcome Trump to Scotland if he became president, she did not directly answer the question, but did refer to his views as “abhorrent.” In doing this, she stayed in line with what most politicians were doing – condemning Trump and speaking about the campaign in general terms – but differing by actually making an endorsement of Hillary Clinton.

     Even so, she has a right to do this, and if she were a private citizen like most of us, there would be no criticism from me. For my part, it has been an interesting time to observe politics and current events unfold on both sides of the Pond, and being on Twitter and Facebook has helped me to see how many Brits and Americans see each other. From the casual social networkers to the media pundits to the political leaders, just about everyone has something to say about one another’s country and perhaps offer suggestions or thoughts on what it ought to do.

     At times, this gets taken for “lecturing” – as though a person from one country or the other is looking down/talking down to people in the other country from on high. But the reality is this: you can either listen or not; take it or leave it. We have to be grown up about hearing from people who either reside in or are from other countries, and again, especially when that country is a close friend and ally which shares broadly similar customs, values, language, and heritage, and with whom there are strong military, economic, and political ties.

     No one had to listen to me on Twitter and Facebook during the lead-up to the referendum; the people who have supported me and in some cases, have become my friends during and since that time, could have ignored me. The fact that they and so many others have not is an indication that they are at some level interested in what I have to say, just as I am interested in what they have to say.

     In the bigger scheme of things, I seriously doubt anybody changed their minds because of me, but I was at least contented with engaging with people who took me seriously and treated me with respect along the way.

     I got into the referendum and events since because of my respect, appreciation, and love for the United Kingdom and my desire to not see it dissolve and cast into the dispersing winds. I have been sincere in this desire as a private citizen because of my personal affection for the country, its people, its history and heritage, its culture, my concern for its future and where it’s going, and its relationship with my country. In the last four years, I have taken an active interest in what goes on in the UK, with a particular focus on Scotland due to the referendum and since, and now with both countries going through many of the same issues, I do what I can to keep up with the comings-and-going on both sides of the Pond.

     On the other side are many new British friends who take an active interest in what goes on in the United States, not least because of the roller coaster ride that is the presidential election. Many of them have a reciprocal admiration, respect, and love for America, and as they watch developments over here, they have expressed their own concerns about the direction of the country as we go through the primary process and go about choosing a successor to President Obama.

     And I welcome this because after all, we are close allies and friends; we do have a Special Relationship, so it is only natural that we pay attention to each other, for certain events occurring in one country tend to have an effect in the other. For that reason alone, it is right for us – short of public officials making transatlantic endorsements – to comment on what is going on in each other’s country. Speaking for myself as an American, it also makes sense because sometimes, it helps to hear different perspectives from our cousins across the Pond, and there are many who feel the same way in the UK with regard to the US.

     To be clear, our internal affairs are ones which only we can – quite rightly – decide for ourselves at our respective ballot boxes, but with the right tone and in good faith from the perspective of friendship and a genuine interest on the issues at hand, an outside perspective can be warmly received and appreciated. We do not have to agree with each other or come around to the other person’s point of view, but listening and perhaps having a conversation or debate can make us stronger in our beliefs, better informed about the world around us, and feel a sense of mutual respect among each other.

     This I believe is a good thing for everyone. 

     To quote Robert Burns: 

O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us

To see oursels as ithers see us!