I was excited that a side benefit of the magical $495 round trip ticket to Sweden I found coincided with the presidential election if only to finally get away from the non-stop chatter and negativity I was experiencing stateside. Like many other folks, I was pretty confident Hilary was going to take it, so I mailed my ballot in early and called it a day. Though in retrospect it would have been nice the share the collective pain of the Trump win with my fellow Californians, I gained an invaluable perspective on our election and system from one of the most progressive countries in the world: Sweden.
1. They followed our election as closely as we did
Being American, the first topic of conversation that was brought up was the election (so much for my plan to escape it!). At a party a mere 3 days before the election, I found myself in multiple discussions about Hilary’s e-mails, Trump’s leaked video, the wall, deporting Muslims, etc. This stuff has been at the top of their news cycles and running 24/7 on their TV channels just like in the US. At Uppsala University where I visited, the students had movie screens showing the election at multiple locations where they stayed up all night to watch the live results (Sweden is 6 hours ahead of EST). Our discussion of Trump supporters went deeper than the surface level talk I hear in California. Back home, talk of how Trump supporters are racist, misogynist, hateful, and ignorant dominates impassioned rhetoric. Rarely do you hear empathy for their economic state and mature discussion of the policies that led to it like I was hearing in Sweden. Trump’s supporters probably aren’t all racists like the media makes them out to be (they will only show you extreme examples). His supporters voted for him because no other candidate was speaking to their torn up towns with massive unemployment rates and promised to solve their problems. Profound understanding of the opposition and reaching out to them is a far better approach to solving our issues than labels, hate, and moving further in the opposite direction.
2. They were just as scared of a Trump win as we were
I talked to people begging me not to vote for Trump. I had people thanking me when I told them I voted for Hilary. Electing a man that brags about “grabbing women by the pussy” is completely disgusting to a country where the men are more likely to be considered feminists. A climate change denier in the White House could directly warm their planet as well and offset the most progressive environmental protection the world has ever seen (Sweden is the first country to plan to go 100% carbon free). Electing a president that promised to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it and deport Muslims is a direct insult to the country that accepts the highest proportion of asylum seekers per thousand inhabitants and believes refugees make their country stronger. A Trump win is not just a step back for the United States, it is a giant leap backwards for the planet as a whole.
At Uppsala University, a tradition has been going on since the 1970’s called the “Flogsta scream” (or Flogstavrålet) where every night students scream outside of their windows at the top of their lungs as catharsis from the pressure of school. The day Trump was elected, they had a very special one dedicated to specifically to him:
3. They count on us to be good leaders
There is no doubt that many countries look to us to lead, and will not take crucial steps forward until we act first. Sweden is already well ahead of the US in many respects, but countries like China have actually said that “if the US does not meet its end of the bargain, neither will China” in regards to the global deal to reduce emissions set in Paris last year. Tell this to a country where over 47 percent of all energy consumed comes from renewable sources (and is growing rapidly), and they will be pissed, especially when our current president called them a model for energy policy.
Sweden has been a global leader in terms of immigration and welcoming refugees as well, and all of that is under threat because…
4. The same thing is happening in Sweden
Sweden has eight political parties that control their Parliament and new parties have actual chances of being voted in, unlike our two party system where a third party has virtually no chance. A party called the Swedish Democrats have been gaining major traction since 2014 and are now the largest political party in Sweden. They run on a nationalist and anti-immigration policy and have been dividing the country in a way similar to the momentum of Trump. The SD party views all the new immigrants to their country as a cultural threat. Anti-immigrant violence has been on the rise at refugee centers and attacks at immigrant schools have occurred causing panic and fear amongst the country’s most vulnerable people. Though the party does not take responsibility for the violence, their message encourages and inspires them directly.
We have already seen beatings, hateful graffiti, and widespread fear in the ethnic communities of America in the few days since the Trump win. Sweden is worried that a Trump presidency will help the SD party gain support and cause further divide and violence. America set the tone, so what is stopping that now? At this point, the main benefit to tightening Sweden’s borders would be keeping Americans out!
5. The electoral college is completely baffling
Once it was announced that Hilary actually won more votes than Donald Trump, but was completely destroyed in the “real” election, the questions started pouring in. If we actually voted for her, then why isn’t she our president? Even many Americans believe we have a true democracy, so this question was difficult.
I felt the urge to do some defending of my country, so I spent hours researching and trying to come up with a reason we still use this archaic system. The only results I found boiled down to:
1. It’s really old
2. It’s really hard to change
3. It’s in the constitution
4. People only think about it every 4 years
5. Presidents have lost elections while still winning the popular vote only 5 times in history
I found absolutely nothing concrete to defend. We are laughing stocks of other countries right now because of this. In fact, my Brazilian friend told me on Facebook after the election that even in his country, one in which our media often calls extremely corrupt, Hilary still would have won. To sign a petition to ban the electoral college please click here.
As a traveler, it is often the case that those in the country in which you are visiting know little about the USA besides who your president is and Hollywood movies. This not true at all in Sweden, and is quickly becoming false throughout the rest of the world as well. In 2004-2008, I treaded lightly around Europe and received skeptic looks on faces when people found out I was American. American travelers at the time were very much defined by George Bush and the Iraq war. Then we were accepted with open arms because of Obama. Now, with the faster spread of information and non-stop news cycles around the world, it might be much different this time around because of the Trump win. Unless of course we are traveling to Russia, The Philippines, or North Korea.