It's no surprise that Americans vote their interests. Most likely, citizens of all countries with a meaningful right to vote are parochial, i.e., most concerned about what's close to them. For many, national political matters are less important that what they get from local authorities-- whether their streets and parks are clean, the schools well run, and the police doing what they should be doing.

 
If national politics are beyond many people, then international politics are much further away.
 
Our problem with the Americans is that they select a government that touches us all.
 
Yet Americans vote for individuals who appeal to them on local and national matters. Many vote on personal whims. The key step is party primaries, which select presidential candidates after more than a year long media popularity contest with the emphasis on sound bites or tweets. Most politicians who reach the top have little more than a school leaver's understanding of other countries, yet they use their power to undertake what those closer to the action see as simplistic, wrong headed, and dangerous.
 
The list is a long one.
 
We can start with Woodrow Wilson's naive insistence on something like world government during a period when colonialism was still the norm, and his inability to bring Congress along. The League of Nations wasn't much good without the United States. The highly flawed UN is a giant by comparison.
 
Few would accuse Dwight Eisenhower of naivete on military or international matters, but his decisions about Suez, seemingly affected by another flub associated with the Soviets and Budapest (his Secretary of State promised help for Hungarian revolutionaries, then did nothing), led to the 1967 war.
 
John Kennedy saw a mission for America in the Vietnamese civil war. He began something that produced a military defeat and 55,000 American deaths. His supporters are sure he would have pulled out, but he seems to have been driven by a strong sense of anti-Communism, coming at least in part from his father and Catholicism. 
 
Whether we blame Kennedy or Johnson for the eventual escalation doesn't affect the major point of this note. One or another American President was operating beyond the country that they understood. We can doubt that many Americans mourned the South Vietnamese President whose assassination was American inspired. or the millions of North and South Vietnamese who died after Kennedy adopted their war as his own.
 
Jimmy Carter did well at Camp David for Egypt and Israel. However, his undermining of the Shah and waffling with respect to Khomeini brought us to Iranian.and Shiite extremism.
 
One of Ronald Reagan's contributions to our world was the recruitment of Muslims to fight the Russians in what is arguably a worthless and ungovernable Afghanistan, and the spurt given to an uptick in Islamic violence that competes with the Iranian revolution in shaping our problems.
 
Neither George W. Bush nor Barack Obama did any better in the Middle East. Deaths and the movement of refugees from Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere might not yet be in the league associated with what Kennedy began in Vietnam, but they are moving in that direction and show no sign of moderation.
 
Now we're at what may be the beginning of four years, or maybe eight of Donald Trump. Or a lot less if those plotting impeachment or charges of incompetence have their way.
 
We're looking at a President without governmental experience, whose behavior has sent mental health professionals to commenting about his sanity, and journalists without clear political labels to use the terms incompetent and stupid. Yet those itching for Trump's ouster are worried about his replacement.  Vice President Pence is likely to be a more dedicated, informed, and politically skillful right winger.

At the heart of all our problems with America is the nature of American government and politics. A strong presidency associated with popular party primaries is a recipe of disaster. In the whole of the 20th and 21st centuries, only Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and George H. W. Bush had substantial experience in foreign affairs. If a President chosen via popular primaries does something wise in international affairs, it's good luck, comparable to the monkey who sits long enough at the piano to plunk out a passage from Beethoven. 
 
There's also the problem of American parochiality. The size and attractions within the country, and the expense of getting to Europe or Asia have something to do with it. Americans are far less likely to visit other countries than people in other well to do places.
 
I hear from Americans who think that Europe is still in the Dark Ages, but Western European social statistics are better than American for a wide range of indicators. Americans who write to me claim more freedom, opportunities, and a stronger economy than available to Europeans.
 
Personal opportunities may come from being bigger. There's no longer a flow of migrants from Western Europe to the US. The overwhelming majority of American immigrants (legal and otherwise) are from the Third World, with Eastern Europe in second place. 
 
It's easier for Europeans to travel beyond their borders, and they do it with much greater frequency than Americans. Europeans are more likely than Americans to be multi-lingual. And parliamentary government is far more likely than the American model to bring to office national leaders who have been tested over the years with offices of increasing responsibility.
 
Foreigners don't vote for the US President, but as shown by examples from Wilson onward, they may die or suffer from what Presidents do or fail to do.
 
The impact of the US gives others a right to comment on what happens within the US. Moreover, the Internet, the availability of American media, and the concerns of international media to follow American events, provides those with a concern as much information as is available to Americans.
 
The bizarre behavior of Donald Trump adds to the concerns and the coverage of things American. We're waiting for the next fact creation, the next initiative shot down by federal judges or his party colleagues in Congress, and wondering what disaster will fall upon us.
 
Comments welcome, from Americans and others


-- 
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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