6 Ways US Elections Look Insane To Non-US Citizens
Even in an election cycle that's featured Donald Trump bragging about his penis, there are certain aspects of elections that Americans just take for granted. Lengthy primaries, bitter arguments, colossal amounts of money ... that's just how democracy works, right? But some of those everyday oddities are completely baffling to outsiders. So Cracked asked two of our foreign writers, Finlander Pauli Poisuo and Canadian Mark Hill, to discuss their perspective on the current season of American Idol: Special Quadrennial Leader Of The Free World Edition.
America Is Further To The Right Than It Realizes
Pauli: So in 2012 I took a few of those "Do you swing left or right?" tests, and the results were ... concerning.
Mark: Not to downplay your struggle, but I'd appreciate it if you kept your medical problems out of this.
Pauli: Political left and right. In 2012 social media had figured out its teething problems and went Super Saiyan on us, so I couldn't resist clicking my way through some of the 8,000 political ideology quizzes that kept popping up in the wake of everyone's election fever. In Finland I'm a moderate leaning a little to the conservative side, so I assumed I'd wind up somewhere in the center. Instead, this happened:
"You are here, hippie."
Mark: Did they then mail you a bowl of borscht?
Pauli: And a CD of 101 Somber Military Marches. Should I be reevaluating my entire political outlook?
Mark: Don't worry; you're not alone on what America considers the far left. You know who would also hover around center right in Europe? Bernie Sanders.
Pauli: Seriously? Every other word I read about the guy is "socialist." From where I'm standing, which is geographically adjacent to a certain vodka-loving country that used to be the world's leading socialist state, center right is ... very much not that.
Sanders wouldn't change America's flag to this, despite what you might have heard.
Mark: Except in America. They're slowly moving left in the wake of Obama, but they still lean more to the right than most people think. If a European-style socialist party ever gained traction there, Fox News hosts would start melting like they had opened the Ark of the Covenant.
Pauli: America hasn't even had a proper left wing in ages, just two parties that look almost identical to foreigners. That just seems so weird. I don't think they quite realize how conservative they look to us. From an American point of view, I'm apparently just a red shirt away from my computer turning into a bald eagle and screeching Lenin-based insults at me. And your country has a liberal male model for a prime minister. That's the mental toolkit we're equipped with when we try to understand Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.
Mark: Does the fact that there are successful parties across Europe that would make Trump look moderate change your perspective at all? I mean, at least America hasn't actually elected Donald Trump. Golden Dawn has seats in the Greek parliament, and they openly use Nazi symbolism.
They know the Nazis invaded them, right?
Pauli: Man, don't get me started on them. Golden Dawn, Front National, UKIP, True Finns ... they're a sign of the times. The European Union has struggled for a while, and whenever there's economic trouble, all these "patriots" and "friends of the common man" come crawling out of the woodwork and try to grab all the political power they can.
Mark: So they're a warning sign of what happens if you don't get your act together? Don't fall for it, America!
You don't have to know anything about Greek politics to be worried by this picture.
Your Elections Are Baffling Marathons
Mark: Pauli, would you like to guess how long the American election has been running?
Pauli: I honestly have no idea. It feels like it started long before I was born and will continue until the heat death of the universe. Let's see ... between primaries, debates, and candidates kicking off their campaigns, maybe around six months? Seven?
Mark: It's already been over a year. Ted Cruz was the first to announce his campaign, on March 23 ... 2015.
Here's Bernie Sanders on the day he announced his campaign.
Pauli: Oh God. And there's seven months to go. That's over a year and a half of campaigning, and the second it's over they start speculating about the next one. No wonder U.S. elections feel like an eternal cycle.
Mark: Now guess how long Canada's 2015 election took. Hint: It was the longest since 1872, which was won by our beloved statesman John Canadaman.
Pauli: Well, we Finns have a campaign trail of around four months. So ... maybe five months? That still seems like a really long time for a country that doesn't turn its elections into a reality show.
Mark: Eleven weeks. It began after every major American candidate announced their campaigns, and ended before the first primary. And a lot of people thought it took too long!
Pauli: There should be a law that an election can't last longer than an NFL season, which already seems like an eternity to most foreigners.
And the Super Bowl feels like a confetti-strewn hellscape.
Mark: I think the biggest problem is the primaries, which are the electoral equivalent of foreplay.
Pauli: Bad foreplay. Foreplay that forgets it's supposed to end. The primaries are eight hours of trailers before the movie. They're that one awful person everyone dates in college: a few weeks of action stretched out over countless months of yelling and embarrassing behavior.
Mark: Right, it feels like it's been drawn out for TV ratings, not to accomplish anything substantial. Primaries are like that season of The Walking Dead where all they did was sit around a farm. They couldn't move forward to the interesting parts, but they needed to do something.
Pauli: America has eight times the population of our countries put together, so there are a lot more voters to engage and issues to talk out. I get that they need time for that. But the current system is tiring even for someone like me, who's watching a free spectacle from afar with a beer in hand. I feel sorry for the Americans immersed in it. Almost two straight years of ads, pundits, and crazy relatives ranting about how the candidates they don't like are going to destroy the country. For the first time in my life I can understand why all those YouTube commenters who argue politics are so angry. They're exhausted.
Mark: American elections are like The Simpsons. They start slow, then they get great, but then they get tedious and, while you know it still exists, you just don't care anymore.
Pauli: Martin O'Malley is America's Bleeding Gums Murphy.
Oh God; is he about to hang himself?
Mark: And it's weird because politicians spend months viciously attacking each other in the primaries, and then in the general election the losers have to turn around and stump for the winner with a big smile on their face. It feels so fake.
Pauli: Unless you're Chris Christie, who looks like he's supporting Trump because Trump has his children locked in a basement. Still, I think I'd be OK with the length of the race if it wasn't for the fact that ...
Campaign Budgets And Spending Look Out Of Control
Pauli: Like, ridiculously out of control. Frankly, it seems like a huge waste of money.
Mark: I know, right? Bernie Sanders, the "underdog" candidate, has already raised $139 million. When Justin Trudeau, Canada's new walking BuzzFeed article of a prime minister, ran for his party's leadership there was a spending cap of $950,000. Mere population difference doesn't account for a gap that large, because holy shit, $139 million is way too much. Aren't there orphans to be fed or something? Does America employ all their orphans in elections, is that their secret?
Pauli: Just when you lost your parents and thought things couldn't get any worse, all of a sudden you're Hillary Clinton's new campaign manager. "Hi, kid! Here's a list of damage control you'll have to do by the end of the day!"
Mark: Meanwhile, Canadian parties were limited to spending $54 million each in our 2015 election, and most parties didn't even hit that limit. Hillary Clinton has already raised more than was spent in the entire Canadian election, and she hasn't even reached the actual election yet. So did Jeb Bush, and he dropped out two months ago.
Jeb! Jeb! Jeb!
Pauli: Well, that's the way their system is built. Most countries have strict laws limiting campaign length and the amount of ad space candidates can get. The U.S. has no limitations, so campaigns have gone the way of the blockbuster movie. They spend more and more money to make their candidate look good and get their name out there, even if the end product is excessively lengthy garbage.
Mark: So this election is the political equivalent of Batman V Superman?
Pauli: Yes. Let's hope Trump is just one of the nonsensical dream sequences.
It's Weird That You Elect Everything
Mark: So, Pauli, who do you think would be the best candidate for the position of chancery clerk?
Pauli: Uh ... Jon Snow? Don't spoil this; you know I'm behind on Game Of Thrones.
Mark: Oh, you guys don't elect a chancery clerk? Or a transportation commissioner, tax assessor, coroner, constable, county prosecutor, or circuit clerk?
Pauli: I don't even know what half of those are. Does a tax assessor just collect your taxes? How could two people even do that job differently?
Mark: No, that's the tax collector. Which is obviously different.
"Vote for me and sometimes I'll let you keep a little extra beer money!"
Pauli: Obviously. Do Americans actually care about the political affiliation of their coroner? "My daddy and his daddy and his daddy before him were all declared dead by patriotic Republicans. There ain't no way I'm letting a damn dirty Demmycrat get his paws on my corpse!"
Mark: Apparently it's just a popularity contest, which makes even less sense. You don't even need medical training; you just have to show up and sign death certificates. Do they have handwriting competitions instead of debates?
"I'm not saying my rival would molest your corpse, but he hasn't denied it!"
Pauli: That's a very quintessentially American thing to me, that they're so about giving power to the people that they let voters elect local positions of zero political relevance.
Mark: Meanwhile, we just elect members of Parliament and school board trustees. And no one knows or cares what a school board trustee does. I think you just vote for the most trustworthy candidate.
Pauli: For most positions it seems weird, but harmless. It's even kind of admirable, having to earn the public's trust for even a minor governmental role. Though I really don't like the idea of someone holding power in the legal system just because they kissed enough babies.
Mark: Yeah, it's hard enough to keep track of every key issue in the race for president. There's no way people are also tracking the issues in their local commissioner of agriculture election. That's just too much information for a voter to process.
Pauli: Maybe that's how they end up electing people like Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose controversies have their own damn Wikipedia page. He's been involved in almost $200 million in legal problems. And he's won four elections! Do people just assume: "Eh, he's the incumbent, must be doing a good job"? Or, "Oh God, we'd better vote for him or he'll try to kiss our baby again"? It's bizarre either way.
Is he Force-choking all his opponents?
Mark: Or they just vote because of his party affiliation. "Normally I'm not sure if I'd trust Ragnarok Childfucker to manage my state's treasury, but we're both Democrats, so ..."
Pauli: Or they're just voting for him because they actually like the guy everyone else labels "America's Worst Sheriff." Isn't that scary? That Americans can elect people who are objectively bad at their jobs because they like the things that make them bad?
Mark: Speaking of, did you know that American judges give out harsher sentences in election years? That's legitimately terrifying, that the same people who are trusted to be neutral can be influenced by external pressure. That's like letting someone be a cop because they promise to beat more protesters than the other candidate.
Pauli: Right, politicians can promise to tax the rich or take away services from the poor, and it's up to voters to decide if that's a good idea. Judges are supposed to be impartial interpreters of the law, yet there's this weird "If you vote for the wrong judge, they'll high-five the man who molests your child instead of jailing him" vibe in a lot of judicial campaign ads.
At least they didn't say "not hard."
Mark: Meanwhile, some American readers are thinking "Wait, you just trust the government to pick your judges for you? What the hell is wrong with you?"
Pauli: Don't look at us. You're the weird ones.
The Voting System Is Confusing And Unstandardized
Pauli: What about the actual voting? How do you guys do it?
Mark: Everyone in the country who shows up to vote gets handed a piece of paper, makes a mark in the circle next to the candidate they support, drops the paper in a box, and waits for the votes to be counted.
You can even vote with a smiley face!
Pauli: Seems pretty straightforward. We also have a nationwide fixed polling system. I can't imagine how anyone would do it any other way.
Mark: This'll probably come as a huge shock to you, but ...
Pauli: Goddammit, America.
Mark: That's what happens when your country's basically a bunch of semi-sovereign states stuck together -- nationwide standardization becomes ... difficult. They use a hodgepodge of paper ballots, optical scan ballots, punch cards, and electronic machines, and until recently they also had mechanical machines that look like something out of a steampunk convention.
Seriously, America, what the fuck is this?
Mark: Every jurisdiction just uses whatever they see fit, and a whole bunch of their machines are so old and creaky that they could malfunction at any minute.
Pauli: Voting "equipment"? That makes it sound like a sport. As much as I like the idea that the most powerful person in the world is elected with the equivalent of barely functional 1980s arcade cabinets, it's unnerving that 43 states operate with such out-of-date, ugh, equipment that they're running the risk of time traveling to Florida circa 2000. That seems less like a smart way to run a democratic election and more like a cartoonish Vince McMahon plot to rig a King of the Ring tournament. Look at this beast; I don't even know if that woman's about to vote or withdraw cash.
Mark: And then there's the insanity of primaries again. When the Canadian Liberals picked their new leader in 2013, every party member had a week to vote online or over the phone, which would be pretty much impossible for Americans. Each of the 50 state parties would insist on doing it their weird way, jockeying for power and influence.
Pauli: Let's not even try to comprehend caucuses; I'm still not convinced those aren't an elaborate prank. Power and influence I get, but surely the whole thing is just a massive hassle for everyone involved. Why not just choke up the money to upgrade the whole system, and unify it while they're at it? Or is it just one of those "our way or the highway" things, like how they still refuse to use metric?
Mark: Democrats and Republicans are so overpowered that they can freely gerrymander voting districts to sabotage the competition. Maybe they enjoy having the same option with their voting equipment? I don't know, man.
Pauli: Big guys oppressing smaller ones while carefully maintaining kayfabe? Hey, this is a pro-wrestling situation! Maybe we'll at least see someone give Trump a Stone Cold Stunner again.
We Watch Because We Care
Mark: I wonder if anyone didn't make it this far, and instead just skipped to the comments to call us unholy foreigners who hate their country.
Pauli: Well, they got two out of three. But hate America? Look at all the American pop culture references we've been making! We love America. You're like our cool friend who may not quite have his shit together right now, and who maybe we wouldn't want as a roommate. But we can always count on you for a fun night out, and we'll always be around to help each other move couches.
Also, we both have this poster in our bedrooms.
Mark: And elections are like watching that friend on the verge of making a big life decision. American elections are weird to us because they're equal parts entertainment and an important decision that we have no control over. Pierre Trudeau said being Canadian is like living next to an elephant -- even if it's friendly, you feel every twitch and grunt. You also hear the farts, but he didn't add that because he was prime minister and had to sound dignified.
Pauli: Deep down, I guess we're a little frustrated and jealous that we don't get a say in something so globally huge. Hence, general mockery and snide remarks.
Mark: I've definitely noticed a lot of Canadians smugly making fun of the American election as though we've never had political rough spots. There's literally a time in our history called the Great Darkness! (Except in French, because Canada has its own weird crap going on.) But America's current rough spot is big and loud and worrying.
Quebec once elected a man who perpetually looked like he was going to drink
a child's blood, so we can't judge.
Pauli: But they're far from the kind of crisis that backs up the claims that this is the most divided the country's ever been. They fought an actual civil war! And Iron Man and Captain America are about to fight the sequel! It makes for a compelling media narrative, but I don't buy that there's any truth under all the yelling and abrasiveness.
Mark: It's also weird to see American voters say, "We need to be more like Canada!" Or Finland, or Mongolia, or whatever country they spent a semester abroad in and thought was amazing.
Pauli: Right, it ignores all the problems our countries have, and assumes that you can take a system from one country and just install it in another with a different economic structure and social values. It's not like there's a "Make Americans have Canada's attitude towards guns" switch in the White House. Is there?
Mark: There is, but we're saving it for when we invade. Don't tell anyone.
Pauli: OK, we'll cut that. But yeah, our countries can get kind of messed up, too. It's just that, right now, America's in this weird phase, and it worries us as your friends.
The current state of Canada-U.S. relations.
Mark: Exactly. Canada thinks of America as our best friend. And it's like we're watching our best friend spiral into a serious drug addiction. We're not saying we've never dabbled and had a few bad trips, but you have a serious problem.
Pauli: As your friends, we can only offer you maple syrup and heavy metal to ease the pain. Please let us know if we can do anything else.
Learn how much politics have changed in 4 Political Myths Destroyed By The 2016 Election, and you'll remember to watch Vigo County, Indiana, in November after reading 6 Bizarre Factors That Predict Every Presidential Election.
Also follow us on Facebook, because it's your one-stop shop for all the election outrage you can handle.