THE HAGUE – Even with Dutch elections coming up relatively soon, all attention has been fixed on the American presidential candidates and the last smidgens of their campaigns. As the world watched them grasp every last media sensation and undecided voter they could get, it was important not to forget about the estimated 2.6 million Americans living abroad who were eligible to vote.
In the Netherlands there is no shortage of American expats, clung to their screens to follow the controversial 2016 electoral race from afar. We set out to speak to a few Americans to speak with them about their thoughts on this year’s elections.
‘The US is, in a certain sense my country, but it’s also not my country.’
James Kennedy, an American historian operating in this field in the Netherlands since 2003, and since last year also dean at University College Utrecht (UCU), tells us he actively follows the elections every day.
After having lived in the Netherlands for such a time, he admits that he is likely more concerned for the U.S.’ international reputation now than if he would have lived in the country itself. However, he has also gradually felt increasingly removed from the whole process, saying it is “in a certain sense my country, but it’s also not my country.”
Most Americans we have spoken to, however, still feel very much part of the American political system despite not currently living there. For some, it is part of their profession to pay close attention. Roberta Haar, a political scientist currently working for University College Maastricht is one of them.
‘I voted for the winner. I hope I did.’
“I discuss American politics with a lot of people,” she says, “with my students, my husband my colleagues, but I don’t talk politics with Americans that much.” Despite casting an absentee ballot – “for the winner; I hope I voted for the winner”- and talking about American politics on a daily basis, however, Ms Haar mainly discusses them with non-Americans. “Kind of odd, when you think about it.”
Still, the presidential elections remain personal to her. As is the case in many American families, American politics has been a main source of disagreement for Haar’s. “In fact, I have been sending information to my brother. He told me not to anymore, because he said he voted already, but I do not think South Dakota has early voting.” She pauses to check whether this is true. “I thought he was just saying ‘be quiet, I don’t want to hear all your augments to vote for Hillary.’”
Despite being undecided for a long time and even toying with the Green Party, Ms Haar says her parents will probably vote for Trump. ‘My parents were very big in Republican politics. Both my parents were delegates to Republican National Conventions in the past.’
However, we should not mistake them for zealous Trump supporters, Ms Haar explains. ‘So, my mother does not like Trump. She’s very disappointed that he got the nomination for the party, but she’s torn. Because now she is a Republican, and he is the nominee, and she does not like Hillary Clinton.”
‘My mum freaked at me, and threatened that she would not send my ballot along with the rest of the family’s.’
The others echo this sentiment; the elections have become personal. Elliot Greenwell, 23, has been living in the Netherlands for around seven to eight years. He describes his experience of the American elections as ‘a rollercoaster ride.’ This year, Mr Greenwell voted for Donald Trump.
“Yes, I voted for Trump. My family are registered in Washington D.C.” Like in Ms Haar’s family, this has been a point of contention. ‘My mum freaked at me, and threatened that she would not send my ballot along with the rest of the family’s, as I was the only one not voting Hillary.”
Mr Greenwell initially supported Bernie Sanders during the primaries, but, like many other Trump voters, he could not bring himself to vote Democratic this time around despite voting for President Obama in 2012.
The unpopularity of this opinion amongst his friends and family, however, has done little to dissuade him; ‘I have lost friends and been ostracized by a lot of people. However, much like with Brexit – for which I could not vote as I am not a British citizen – this only motivated me more to vote Republican this time around.’
When asked which issues he considered most important, he mentioned immigration, globalist economic policies and increasingly national identity. “I feel like there is a deliberate attempt to pit the various populations of America against each other.” These are the main reasons Mr Greenwell, despite still being a registered Democrat, now considers himself more of an independent – an independent voting for Donald Trump.
Elliot Greenwell explains how it is pretty clear to him, and chastises the media mill that surrounds the elections. “I think the Dutch, and Europeans in general have been misled by the mainstream left-wing media in order to truly believe that Trump is a Nazi, fascist, racist, sexist, misogynist bigot. People do not look into this in detail.”
The main point he would like to point out is how people need to do their own research. ‘I have learnt a freaking lot more from doing my own research, for instance, than I would have done if I just watched CNN all day long.’
‘Hillary Rodham Clinton, loudly and proudly.’
Interestingly enough, he is not the only young American living in the Netherlands who believes the ‘right’ choice this time is pretty clear. Isaac Sheldon Urner, who grew up in a small, very liberal town in the US before moving to the UK and now the Netherlands, does not hesitate to let us know for which candidate he cast his ballot.
“Hillary Rodham Clinton, loudly and proudly.”
We are curious to know what qualities she possesses that Trump does not. Isaac has his answer ready. “Sanity? I could fill several essays with this question. She is smart, she is qualified. She is, by all accounts, including political rivals, undoubtedly brilliant and knowledgeable.”
Mr Urner is not a big fan of Donald Trump. ‘He is, at best, a vapid, ego-obsessed, sexually-assaulting fool being taken for a ride by a pack of white nationalists and Neo Nazis. His ideas and ideals are terrible and disgusting respectively.’
Like Elliott Greenwell, Isaac criticises the media and controversy circus surrounding the elections. ‘The whole e-mail thing is largely overblown nonsense. Local grandmother does not understand computers, film at eleven.” He also believes the elections have been drawn out for too long. “It is distinctly unhealthy for democracy. There are a lot of things we could do to improve how we do elections, and the ability to run a long campaign and the time to vet is useful, but it has gone far beyond utility and into madness.”
‘I can’t imagine all the bullshit that people there face. Robo calls, door knocking, lying adverts, talk shows etc.’
Finally, we asked David Zetland, 47, a water economist and assistant professor at Leiden University College The Hague, about his opinion. Even though he experienced “as little as possible of the elections – I can’t imagine all the bullshit that people there face,” he was eager to share his concerns.
He sent an absentee ballot for the state of California and thus voted for Clinton and against Trump. (I voted for Hillary Clinton). Zetland is not optimistic.
“The country is divided. Trump is a proto-dictator. If he wins, the US will be far worse off than under Bush 2. If he loses, he may call for violence. That won’t work, but the Republican Party will try to block Hillary at all turns. Really, the only good result would be the Republicans losing both the White House and at least the House or Senate.”
Part of the problem is the American institutional set-up.
‘The Dutch do not realise that American institutions are both weak and over-centralised. Thus, failure in DC can have negative impacts on many levels across the country.” With “uninformed, fearful voters electing an egoistic, sexist, racist populist who promises to ‘rescue them from reality,’”, the country may suffer.
If he does win,” David concludes, “I will plan to trade US for Dutch citizenship.”
We thank all participants for their input. Due to the sheer volume of the replies we received, we have not been able to include all responses. We at IMI are excited to hear your opinion. Please let us know how you will be watching the elections tonight!