Know your enemy! In that spirit I joined my wife last night to attend a panel discussion at the Press Club of Brussels organized by Democrats Abroad Belgium that promised a lively cocktail party if uncertain and possibly repugnant political content.
I say “enemy” because I lost whatever hopes I had for the Democratic Party at some point in the first year of the Obama Administration when I came to see that my vote had been stolen under false pretenses and that the candidate, now president was a bait and switch tactical operation by his party, put in place to implement the very opposite of what he said to catch our votes, particularly in the realm of foreign policy, which is the side of US politics that interests me most. Moreover, at about the same time I came to understand that the local expat organization, Democrats Abroad Belgium, was in 2008 not merely headed by a young chap working at NATO who was being steered by handlers, but that those handlers, all “retired” US intelligence officers, had no room for dissident views in their little tent. And so I moved on, re-registered myself as an Independent, and did not look back. Until last night.
The overseas country associations of America’s two dominant political parties, the Democrats and Republicans, have traditionally existed in a passive state most of the time, coming alive before each general election every two years to execute their primary obligation of getting out the vote: encouraging expatriates to carry out their civic duty and vote, and/or helping them to do just that by getting absentee ballots from the electoral officials in the district of their last residence in the USA, a task that is often more tedious and prone to failure than it need be, depending on any given state. Other functions are optional.
The facts of expat participation in elections underscore the challenge that volunteers in voter registration from both parties face. Out of the six million Americans living abroad, only about 400,000 request and receive absentee ballots. Of these, only about two-thirds actually cast their votes. If this participation rate is raised significantly, it could affect the outcome in some swing states. However, given the very low participation rates, it might pay to rename Americans living abroad as “exiles” rather than “expats.” By this I mean the reasons they are living in Brussels or Paris or London and not in Austin, Texas or Peoria, Illinois may have as much to do with disillusionment with the home country and indifference as they do with fortuitous job assignments abroad. In that sense, the threat of Hollywood celebrities and others to leave the States if Trump won was not a new phenomenon at all, just a new iteration of 2% of Americans opting out that has been going on for a very long time.
To its credit, the local expat association created by the Democrats in Belgium does somewhat more than operate telephone banks every two years to help would-be voters. It runs discussion groups each and every year, and it hosts events like the one last night in the Press Club of Brussels, which served first quality wines that cost a pretty penny and was better organized and more informative about general political trends in the US than I had anticipated.
Indeed, the evening was remarkable precisely because, for the most part, the organizers showed themselves to be candid and reasonable in understanding their party’s loss to Donald Trump in 2016, as well as the uphill battle Democrats face if they are to avert another Trump victory in 2020. Trump supporters were characterized as people you know around you, maybe even a cousin or other family member, not as the “basket of deplorables” per Hillary Clinton during the campaign. This level of insight and openness goes well beyond what you could expect from people who still take The New York Times at face value as great journalism to be imbibed daily, which was also in the air.
To be sure, the ubiquitous belief that the Russians had hacked the 2016 elections and had abused social networks to influence the elections was repeated from the dais. But that was an almost mindless “hail Mary” which ran up against the conscious and far more revealing explanation of the loss to Trump as the result of a massive rejection of Hillary within the Democratic Party. Republicans held their noses and voted for Trump, we were told, whereas Democrats could not bring themselves to go to the polls to support Hillary.
There is an explanation for this candor and detachment here in Brussels from the Democratic mainstream mantra in the USA that we call “Russia-gate,” meaning Trump collusion with the Kremlin. That is the story still promoted by the likes of Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and the other party bosses. But the overseas Democrats, as it turns out, voted 3 to 1 in the primaries for Bernie Sanders and they just kept walking when he was knocked out by Hillary, notwithstanding their hero’s call to close ranks.
Why is this so? Here again, the explanations from the dais last night were very revealing: expats in Europe have seen in their daily lives that Social Democracy works, that it means free higher education, universal medical care and the other social benefits that the Continental USA refuses to abide.
For those of us who follow with pleasure Donald’s ongoing destruction of the alliances that undergird US global hegemony and wars without end, the sober pessimism of Democrats Abroad Belgium was very welcome and unexpected news.
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2018