The Election goes Down Under

Late Wednesday afternoon at about 4pm AEDT on November 9, 2016 I found myself standing in the middle of the James Cook University Gym when I heard Donald Trump was deemed the new Presidential Elect of 2016. With my jaw dropped and eyes glued to the television, no one else in the room around me would require me to speak to hear the sound of my accent to know where I was from. But from then on, I was tempted to say “Canada.”

Now finalized, this election had altered my experience in Australia. Before traveling abroad in the fall of 2016, it felt as if everyone had repeatedly told me to stay away from taboo topics, especially American politics. Not because I normally discuss topics like politics in my day-to-day life, but because everyone in the world would have an opinion due to it’s global media coverage.

Clint Vernieu, a retired US Military Officer now residing in Australia, “prefer[s] to distance [himself] from the circus and absolute embarrassment that the United State’s politics has become.” This was a method I was trying to emulate myself.

While many American students around me chose to follow our home country’s politics closely and vocally, I instead chose to subscribe to the CNN app to receive notifications of headline stories as a way to follow news events throughout the world at my own pace, in private.

However, on Monday morning, November 7, 2016, this changed. I was abruptly aware that I had never received my absentee ballot in the mail, and the Election Day was suddenly “tomorrow” in the United States.

In the next two days, political discussions arose on our campus. Australians began to share their voices, despite the fact that they couldn’t vote themselves.

“I don’t really understand why everyone [was] so against Clinton,” 20 year old extroverted Australian student, Paige, expressed. Willing to admit that she is “maybe” less informed about the situation than others, Paige continued to say, “ The worst things I heard people say about her were related to Benghazi and that she was a liar, but isn’t every politician a liar anyway?”

The Benghazi tragedy, which took place on September 11, 2012 in Benghazi, Libya, that Paige was referring to, was a scandal which resulted in the lost of four American citizens. During the time of the attack, Hillary Clinton held office serving as Secretary of State. Disputes and allegations have been made over her knowledge of the situation and means of prevention. Despite these accusations, the rumors appeared to be a “concerted effort by Republicans to hurt her upcoming candidacy,” according to an article published by Mic Network.

Regardless of rumors, Clinton’s Australian supporters never appeared to lose faith. Five supporters even traveled across the globe to volunteer in Clinton’s campaign; these Australian citizens, strong supporters of “Making America Australian again” traveled to the United States for their a second time to help campaign for Hillary Clinton.

Making a pun out of Trump’s campaign, the Australian supporters’ goals were aimed at getting as many Americans involved in the electoral process as they could. They believed their efforts in crossing the ocean to meet American voters face-to-face would help display the importance in participation in the upcoming election and help voters gain a better understanding for the various communities that the election would affect. One of the supporters, Stephen Donnelly, said, “other than a slight accent barrier, people are either intrigued by their presence or simply “too busy to notice.”

Australian Clinton Supporters in the United States

Photo courtesy of Shachar Peled,  CNN:

Maria, a more politically informed friend, did not talk much about Clinton, but instead about Bernie Sanders. Maria is currently living in Australia as a dual citizen of Australia and the United States, and spent about five years in American public schooling systems, which allows her to offer a uniquely global perspective.

“If I were given the chance to vote for anyone, I would have voted for Bernie Sanders.” Her reasoning is that Bernie Sanders cares about people and that he genuinely believes his political ideas reflect such.

Wishing she could change Bernie Sanders to be the new Presidential Elect of 2016, Maria says, “I’ve tried to shift my thoughts away from Donald Trump and focus them more on how I can play a role in ensuring his political views cause the least amount of damage. I would urge everyone to do the same.”

For some voters, making the switch from Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton was not an unreasonable request; if against Trump to begin with, then stay against him. Other voters found this tactic to be one of dishonor to their loyalty to Bernie with comments suggesting no changes in allegiances will take place regardless of the general election results, referred to by The Atlantic as “The ‘Never Clinton’ Campaign.

Although there was some debate for the Democratic candidate, nearly all students in my university had strong emotions against Donald Trump. However, according to South China’s Morning Post, it depends whom and when you ask.

Daily Mail features a story completely opposite to my encounters, stating that “At the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, people were seen posing with life-sized cutouts of the candidates, with one lady even kissing Trump on the cheek.”

This does not, of course, cause much of a surprise taking into account that the Daily Mail newspaper is owned by the one and only, Rupert Murdoch. Two billionaires engaged in friendship (or maybe a mutual alliance), the duo is one considered to be a “relationship with benefits,” with a collaboration in business and politics as described by David Folkenflik in an NPR article.

A woman kisses a life-sized cardboard cutout of Trump at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney

Photographed by Freya Noble from Daily Mail Australia:

Not much farther south from Sydney, Melbourne exploded with similar reactions and happy spirits supporting Donald Trump, according to The Guardian.

To my surprise, I quickly learned that I would not be able to escape this election and avoid the political circus. It was everywhere. Falling in the middle of final exams while I was abroad, media about the election commanded every television in every building on campus.

Being in a different country, I fell into the trap that many foreigners experience while abroad. I had distanced myself from my home country for five months and in turn became a foreigner to the United States as I diffused into the Australian lifestyle.

Paige declared, “To me, and many people I know, Donald Trump as a presidential candidate was laughable.” In the same mindset as Paige, I too joked to my parents about this very serious matter. I repeatedly told my parents, “if a certain so and so becomes a president, I don’t believe I will be able to return home and be in a healthy mental state.” Quite simply, if the election results proved to have Trump the winner, then it was another sign from the universe I should not leave Australia. I ultimately started my own personal campaign, ‘Mom… Dad… I’m with Australia.’

I had never comprehended how interested the rest of the world was with America’s actions. While I had been living in Australia, I had a limited understanding of Australian politics and lacked any real understanding of my own country’s politics near the end of my time abroad.

Perhaps the Australians were mimicking their own frustrations when discussing the American election due to the latest Australian election, which was also stressful for many citizens. Australia too had its very own tight election, which resulted in Malcolm Turnbull, a Liberal member of the House of Representatives, as the re-elect Prime Minister.

However, starting from the process of voting, Australian elections vastly differ from any American elections. The Australian voting system allows for the use of the first-past-the-post system, where electors are only allowed to mark the candidates in their order of preference, so their vote will carry on to their next preferred candidate if their first choice is not elected.

In Australia, all eligible voters are required to vote. Voting always takes place on a July Saturday and the polls are open 8am-6pm. Additionally, citizens are allowed to vote early if they unable to make it to the center. In each voting center two ballot papers are given: a green one for local representatives in the House of Representatives and a white one for state representatives in the Senate. Furthermore, the voting system is universal throughout Australia and doesn’t vary from place to place like it does in the United States. In comparison to the U.S., it is said the voting process in Australia is much easier.

As an extra incentive, when one shows up to vote in Australia they are rewarded and served a grilled sausage. On the other hand, if one fails to vote, a fine is given. But, as my university friend Aimie said when she opened her fine of less than a $100, it was surprisingly cheap.

As Paige often said, the American election was more of a “wait and see,” thus leaving me to realize that I was not the only one unaware of the extreme effects the election would ultimately have on the Australian culture.

Maria, on the other hand, was more versed on predicting the direct impacts of the Trump administration headed for Australia. Her fears focused on the resettlement of refugees, with Donald Trump’s proposed policies expected to cause increased pressure on refugee-hosting countries, such as Australia.

Election day quickly turned from a passive “wait and see” to a collection of social media posts, an explosion of messages, and a stomach of butterflies haunting me throughout the day. The time at which the election results would be released crept up quickly, but the day seemed to last forever.

In order to avoid the ‘circus’ I isolated myself to the best of my abilities as I turned off my phone, stayed away from social media, and tried not to watch the polls. Nonetheless, the election was going to happen whether or not I watched the play by play of each minute that ticked by.

On that day, strangers knew where I was from. They knew that I was from the United States by the mere look on my face. It was an unfathomable thought that consumed all other thoughts, for days. It was not just me that this thought consumed, though. It wasn’t even exclusive to just the thoughts of other American students. The election now consumed the thoughts of citizens globally.

This I now knew.


Works Cited

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