‘I wish people would yell at Mark Rutte more’

| Rense Kuipers

Be it in fear, hope, excitement or indifference, the world holds its breath as we await the USA presidential election this Tuesday. Three American UT employees share their thoughts on the election, the political climate and the Dutch and American way of living. This third episode: Patrick Taylor Smith, assistant professor at the Philosophy department (BMS faculty).

Patrick Taylor Smith.

Trump or Biden?

‘I supported Elizabeth Warren during the Democratic presidential primaries. Joe Biden wasn’t in my personal top five, but I will happily vote for him. You can complain and whine all you want, but you can also make things better by voting. In several papers, I’ve argued that people are morally permitted to vote even if they are ignorant or irrational, but that doesn’t mean you can’t vote better or worse. We should not view voting through an individualist lens, where I only choose for that fit my view perfectly. It is an exercise of political power, not like ordering a brand-new car with all the specific options you want. I think the correct progressive principle for voting is fairly simple. You support the most progressive candidate in the primary, fighting to move the Democratic Party to the left. In the general election, you vote for the leftmost plausible candidate in the race.

'I think a Biden blowout is the most likely possibility, though it is by no means guaranteed'

Now, Joe Biden isn’t all that progressive, right? But I do think he has run a very prudent campaign. He is letting people know he is going to be the opposite of Trump, so he is not going to be vulgar, corrupt, racist or disengaged from the job. He is basically saying: you won’t have to think that much about politics because I am going to do a competent, good job being your president for the next four years. I think it’s a good strategic move for the campaign. They know they need to have someone who appeals to a wide variety of people. Sure, I would have like to have seen something more progressive. For example, he doesn’t support the Green New Deal or Medicare for all. But he does have his own ambitious climate plan and a sort of Obamacare plus plan that aims for universal coverage. Even though Biden can be considered more centre-left in his views, he wants to be in the middle of his party. And as a result of the leftward movement in the party, his presidential campaign, from a policy content standpoint, is perhaps the most progressive in the history of the United States.

What do I expect to happen in this election? I think a Biden blowout is the most likely possibility, though it is by no means guaranteed. If that’s the case, I don’t expect that much trouble with handing over the power. Yet even if we dodge a bullet of a disputed or stolen election, it’s bizarre we even have to consider the possibility that there will not be a peaceful transfer of power. Trump has let us know that he will do whatever it takes to stay in power, regardless of whether or by how much he loses the popular vote. It’s a frightening scenario, even though I don’t think it will come down to a standoff. Trump is fundamentally a coward, so I don’t think he’ll push all his chips to the middle of the table. However, he may try to negotiate his way out of this, trading legal immunity for his crimes for a peaceful transfer of power like some tinpot dictator.’

'The US has always been in a battle between its highest ideals and worst impulses'

Proud or ashamed?

‘Trump himself is an embarrassment. But I reckon we can bounce back, because I believe what Bill Clinton once said: ‘There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.’ Despite the embarrassment of the last four years, I’m proud of the people risking their lives to make it a better place. I’m proud of the thousands of people who went to airports to resist the travel ban in 2017. I’m proud of the Black Lives Matters protesters who go out into the streets while risking police brutality or being run over by cars – which has happened to more than a hundred times. They are the real patriots. They are doing the dangerous work while I’m living my pretty comfortable life here in the Netherlands.

Sure, in these times, it’s easy to be cynical or fatalistic. The US has always been in a battle between its highest ideals and worst impulses. It again comes down to the hard work of changing the systems and institutions. Using the collective knowledge and conversations to move in the right direction. The least I can do is vote, to do my part to make that work a little easier.’

'You don’t have a daily confrontation about your colonial history or your experience with slavery'

America first, Netherlands second?

I’ve been pleasantly surprised with a lot of things here in the Netherlands. I love the biking culture and infrastructure, especially here in Enschede. I like that most institutions seem to be well-run and corruption-free. And I appreciate the stable support for social goods, like education. Even in times of economic disruption like during this crisis, funding for higher education seems to be secure, which is not the case in the United States. When I studied for my PhD in the United States, the financial crisis of 2008 made my funding precarious, which created a lot of anxiety. The Netherlands is a very pleasant place to live, but I feel that all of you are very much aware of how nice it is. As a society, that awareness can create a certain degree of complacency. Just consider the terrible Dutch response to the corona crisis and how little political effect it has had in the country. I guess I wish people would yell at Mark Rutte a bit more.

In the US, I don’t know what the hell we are doing. But Americans are often self-conscious and critical about our historical and current failings; we – or some of us, anyway – understand America is a project that is always incomplete. Which makes sense because we are confronted by our history every day. You don’t have that daily confrontation here about your colonial history or your experience with slavery, for instance, because it took place on the other end of the world. More recently, we can see the largely negative influence the Dutch government has had on the EU and global responses to the pandemic, and I wish that these policies and interventions were subject to greater democratic contestation. I think the consensus-oriented nature of Dutch politics has a lot going for it, but sometimes more adversarial democratic politics is necessary. I just wish there was more engagement, some kind of democratic deliberation and national dialogue about how things can be improved. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great here, but people forget that it can be better.’

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