When I decided to spend the last six weeks of the 2020 fall term doing Virtual School in Germany, I expected to miss both the physical aspects of San Francisco as well as conversations with my friends. However, upon arriving in Germany and interacting with friends and family, I realized just how monotonous the majority of my conversations in San Francisco had been.
Mornings in San Francisco normally started with the latest election updates, exasperation over the latest quote from Trump became a common breakout room icebreaker, dinner often ended in an argument over some contested new policy, and I rarely went to bed before checking the news. With every day that passed, politics became more inescapable. In comparison to the political anxiety which was very much present in San Francisco, I noticed that the multi-party system in Germany allowed for political discussions with more nuance and less fear.
It’s pertinent to ask why the political system in the United States made me feel the need to always know what was happening.
Presidential elections in the U.S carry the aura of being a life-changing event, often talked about two or even three years in advance. However, this election feels different than the others. I, as well as much of the Urban community, am feeling an overwhelming sense of dread for what this upcoming election will mean for America.
Noa Reskinoff ’22 and Stella Sears-Bicknell’22 voiced their thoughts about the upcoming election in an interview with the Legend. Reskinoff said she feels “anxious” with regard to the election, and Sears-Bicknell said she felt “deep concern and a good amount of fear.” Regardless of the outcome of the election, both agreed that this country will remain incredibly polarized and divided.
I believe that unity is no longer an option in the political climate that our country has created. It’s impossible for politicians from either party to work together if they so emphatically disagree with one another on nearly every policy thus, systemic change is necessary if our country is to ever be unified again.
Despite the strong feelings many people have for either side in this presidential election, many voters don’t feel represented by either party in America’s two-party system. Voting, for many people, is now based on who they least hate, rather than what they most want. Reskinoff said that “after the first presidential debate, [CNN] ha[d] these people who were undecided.” She recalls that one interviewee said, “Oh, after this debate, I’m going with Trump because I just don’t like Biden.”
In contrast, what I’ve observed from family and friends in Germany is that voting carries far less emotional weight than in America. I haven’t seen a single political slogan on a baseball cap, bumper sticker, or facemask. This is likely because there are currently six political parties represented in the German Federal Parliament. Most Germans feel they are being represented in government because all parties are present in Parliament. If a party has a lower percentage of votes it sends fewer people to Parliament; however, any party that has five percent or more of the vote is guaranteed representation.
Contrastingly, speaking to her experience viewing a recent debate between Biden and Trump, Sears-Bicknell said, “it felt alienating [and] isolating to be watching a debate and not agree with either person.”
The six-party system also gives voters a much greater variety of platforms to choose from, which leads to less polarization than the two-party system. Many parties overlap on certain policies while differing on others. Many Germans feel less opposed to the beliefs of someone in a different party; instead, they can appreciate the places in which their views align. This stands in contrast to the U.S., where people’s views of the two parties are more an all-or-nothing situation.
As Sears-Bicknell said, “I think there’s a terrible party and a better party.” So not only does having only two parties cause people to view parties in the binary, of good and bad, it also causes a lot of people to not feel represented by their government.