Friday, September 16, 2016

The Most Important Job

(The following blog post, while discussing the nuances of politics in America, expresses no political preference toward parties or individuals)

One of the advantages of living in Mongolia right now is missing the American presidential election cycle. Sally and I have the option to vote from abroad, but we don’t have to pay attention to all of nastiness that happens during a political campaign. We don’t have to see every bit of drama, nor do we have to feel the personal assault that so often comes into a political conversation these days. There is no fear of offending family with different opinions, and no need to deal with the outright illogical and stupid arguments that appear during this time. As I have grown older and watched these elections play out, it feels like the level of senseless hate only increases. The reality is probably that it has always been there, and that these elections can bring out the best and worst aspects of our country.
Not long ago, I was speaking about American politics with an Australian. He mentioned how closely many Australians are watching the American election cycle. When I asked him why, he brought forth a point that often falls to the back of my mind regarding presidents. He said, “We watch your elections very closely, because your president is the manifested leader of the free world. What he or she decides regarding foreign policy and relationships is oftentimes the decision that the rest of us must go with for better or worse.” For weeks the phrase “leader of the free world” continued to bounce around my head.

During our term of service in Mongolia, it is vital that we do not express political or religious opinions to the people we serve, because we are loose representatives of the United States government serving in a foreign country. It is rather easy to avoid these topics with Mongolians, because it is not the America that they see or think of. I am much more likely to enter into a conversation regarding sports or pop stars than political candidates. Mongolia’s foreign policy is usually dealing with trade agreements regarding exports and imports, and efforts to improve its rapidly weakening currency. In the grand scheme of the world and everyone in it, Mongolia’s interactions are relatively small. 

Meanwhile, an Australian who lives almost as far from American as it is possible to live is concerned about our election cycle because of the world-wide impact our president has. I can’t help but think he should be concerned, not because of the quality of candidates alone, but because foreign policy is not often very high on the list of reasons for why an American voter makes his/her choice. As an American living abroad, this is terrifying!

Being on the outside looking in offers a complete change of perspective that many Americans never see. From where I am sitting, the world seems like an enormous place; traveling 7,000 miles from home did not make it any smaller. Our country is huge and powerful, there is no question about that, but we are only a small portion of this world we live in, about 4% of the population. So 96% of the world is not part of this place we call America, yet they are intimately influenced by this 4%. Sometimes the influences are small, like Ohio State sweaters I have seen here. Other times, the influence is gigantic, like a population that deals with collateral death on an intimate level from drones manipulated a world away. 

Whatever the case, there is no question that every time America stands up, yawns, and stretches its arms the rest of the world feels it. In this global world, it is important to become more aware of how our movements impact the rest of the world. The power and wealth that we yield is not infinite, especially when the other 96% are rapidly aspiring toward a better quality of life that includes the luxuries we take for granted. It becomes increasingly more important that we are aware of our movements as a country. We must be careful that in stretching our arms we don’t knock someone else out of their chair, because everyone else at the table is watching.

So, the question that must be asked when voting for a presidential candidate is, who do we want to lead the free world? Who can represent us to the rest of the world in a manner that is dignified and respectful? Sure as Americans, we understand that the President yields a limited power, that foreign policy doesn’t fall on this person’s shoulders alone, but we must still recognize this person’s role as perceived our representative and leader at the global table, a table that becomes more crowded and intimate as the global influences of technology and communication break down barriers. We stand in an age when the raw power of our country is not enough to control this table. It is vital that the nuances of good diplomacy are practiced in our worldwide interactions.

As I watch America from so far away, I am convinced that this role and responsibility as our representative to the rest of the world is the most important job of the American president, and I ask that before you make your vote, seriously consider who you want to represent our great country to the rest of the world.


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