I am writing this as a foreigner who has been fascinated by American culture, society and politics for most of my life. I had a rather rosy idea of America until I tried living there. Then I saw how America has pulled off the seemingly impossible feat of being the wealthiest and most technologically advance large country while at the same time in many way operating like a developing country.
Peering in from the outside and following the American political discussion what strikes me most is perhaps that Americans are so oblivious to their own problems and the solutions that exist all over the place if you just look outside your border.
Maybe this sounds mean and unreasonable, but I will try to articulate why I feel this way. Americans will rightfully go on ranting about how horrible their politicians are and how the hold Republicans and Democrats hold on politics is horrible or how bad it is that money controls so much of politics.
The Two Party System Flaw
Yet almost every American I encounter seem utterly oblivious to WHY the US has a two-party system. The explanations I see offered by Americans is things like “Oh people are too complacent and don’t bother voting on third parties” etc. Their “solutions” seems to be to fire up people to vote on a third party. Of course this fails spectacularly every time. Yet basically nobody seems to ask themselves why that is. Why does it always fail?
Answering that question is not harder than to simply go an look at countries with multiple parties and compare their voting rules, with American voting rules. Here is an explanation and comparison between the American and Norwegian system e.g. where I explain why Norway has 9–10 parties and the US only two. But there are many ways to achieve this, but the point is there is absolutely no practical way of achieving a rich multiparty system in America with its current voting system. Like many things in American politics the system is utterly antiquated. I think last time we had a system like America for voting was back in the 1800s. It was no surprise that back then we also only had two parties with pretty much exactly the same ideological differences as the American parties today: A liberal and a conservative party.
What I notice as a problem in the US is that people in the US tend to believe the American constitution is perfect, almost like scripture. It needs no change in their view. If America has a problem, they think is is about the attitude of Americans it seems. You are free to correct me on that. That is just my perception. I believe Americans must start talking more about changing how the details of the system work, rather than complaining about the moral failings of politicians, voters of whomever one might blame.
The Money in Politics Flaw
Similar thing applies to money in politics. Americans will go on a rant complaining about corrupt politicians and companies, as if the whole problem would go away if only politicians and companies started behaving more morally, more decent and more honest.
Again one could simply look at countries where money does not play a significant role in politics and see what those countries do? Is the difference only in terms of moral fibre? No of course not!
Money plays almost no role in Norwegian politics, but as much as I’d love to think we are a super honest and decent people, a big part of that is that most political advertisement is straight out BANNED. That is right, you cannot run massive attack ads on your political opponents on TV. In fact almost the only way for you to get your message out is to stand on the streets to meet voters, have town hall style meetings, knock on doors and perhaps most importantly to participate in TV debates. You can also write an opinion piece in a newspaper, but since you cannot pay papers to publish it, the paper will not allow it if it is just a shoddy propaganda piece.
Another policy in Norway e.g. is that it is assumed that democracy will only work well with a well functioning diverse media. That is why media get government funding, and by law government cannot decide whether somebody gets support based on their political preferences. Only objective criteria are allowed. I would say this works quite well. Many of the newspapers I read with offering the more novel perspective on important issues rely a lot of government support.
The newspaper that don’t rely on government support are in fact often those of worst quality IMHO. They tend to be oriented towards sensationalism and anything that grabs readers. In modern parlance we would call it click-bait headlines.
I don’t suggest any of this is necessarily a receipt for how to have functioning democracy, but rather to offer it up as an example of how elsewhere in the world people have decided that a system must be made to foster a functioning democracy. One does not simply shame and blame politicians and companies until they behave.
But that will not work in America!
Sadly most times I have tried to explain alternatives to Americans people easily focus too much on me mentioning say Norway, pointing out that we are too small, too homogenous or have too much oil etc. Which is kind of beside the point. I only mention Norway because that is where I am from and that is an alternative political system I know best.
The significance is not whatever Norway does, but the fact that there are a multitude of countries out there which do things different from America and which in many areas have solved problems which America struggle with.
Not every policy or idea may work in America, but just because a foreign country different from America should not automatically disqualify the idea. This attitude is not limited to Republicans. When Bernie Sanders offered Denmark as source of inspiration, it was utterly rejected by Hillary Clinton, a fellow Democrat. Her answer implied that America had nothing to learn from anybody else.
No country is equal to another one, so if that was the criteria on to which an idea can be copied one would never get far. However I would claim that countries exist in families. E.g. Western countries share many characteristics which means that copying an idea from Norway may make a lot more sense for America than copying an idea from say Indonesia despite the fact that Indonesia is more diverse and has a population more similar to the US.
For the US a natural first choice may be to look at other Anglo-Saxon countries such as Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Both New Zealand and Australia e.g. have quite good support for third parties in their voting system as far as I understand.
Is America a Victim of Its Own Success?
I have often pondered why Americans have so little interest in learning from other countries. One of my hypothesis is that America has simply been too successful. It has for so many decades been the world only super power. It has been leading in science and technology. It was ahead of everybody else in democracy for hundreds of years. This has perhaps made America accustomed to the idea that others must learn from America but that America has little to learn from others.
Perhaps America needs a major crisis such as the combination of Trump and Corona virus to realize that something is amiss in the US, and that the US does not have all the answers. Maybe one needs to learn from somebody else.
Just in this Corona crisis I think it makes sense for many of us in the West to look to Asia, to countries like South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore and see what we can learn from them.