Stranger in a strange land

Linus Torvalds's picture

So I'm not the kind of alien that Heinlein wrote about in the book that gives this post its name, but I'm the "resident" kind, still a green card holder.

Yeah, yeah, we should probably have done the citizenship thing a long time ago, since we've been here long enough (and two of the kids are US citizens by virtue of being born here), but anybody who has had dealings with the INS will likely want to avoid any more of them, and maybe things have gotten better with a new name and changes, but nothing has really made me feel like I really need that paperwork headache again.

So I'm a stranger in a strange land, and seldom more so than when voting season is upon us.

Most of the rest of the time I can kind of ignore it. We've been in the US for over a decade, and it's definitely "home", and we like living here. But being an alien means that you can't vote, and seeing all the news being about the presidential election (and all the streets here locally littered with signs about the local school bond) tends to remind you about that issue.

But being reminded about not being able to vote is actually the much smaller thing: much more than that, election season reminds you about what an odd place the US is.

Most of the rest of the time, you can forget that you live in the US of A, and you really tend to live much more locally. We've been in Portland, OR, for the last 4+ years, and before that in the Bay Area, and part of being here - as opposed to other parts of the US - is that it's certainly much more like Finland than many other parts of the US.

But then voting season comes and reminds you that all those Americans that are individually sane and normal tend to be collectively crazy and very odd. And that's when you really notice that you're not in Finland any more.

That's when you also notice that the whole US voting system is apparently expressly designed to be polarizing (winner-take-all electoral system etc). To somebody from Finland, that looks like a rather obvious and fundamental design flaw. In Finland, government is quite commonly a quilt-work of different parties, and the "rainbow coalition" of many many parties working together was the norm for a long time. And it seems to result in much more civilized political behaviour.

Of course, in the US there are also much wider social, educational, religious and economic differences between people, and issues range all over the map. Which then means that it's hard to bring up any nuances in politics, since either people won't care about them (not relevant for that group), or they simply won't understand them (what does "foreign policy" matter to somebody who has likely never been outside the US unless you count things like day-trips to Tijuana?).

So you couple a polarizing voting system with a campaign that has to make simplified black-and-white statements, and what do you get?

Ugly, is what you get.

Most of the time I really like living in the US. But voting season sometimes makes you wonder.