The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

American Politics from a Non-American Perspective

American political culture examined and discussed by a non-American
Tom Maghie
The intersection of Icelandic culture and American politics.

What do we talk about amongst ourselves? In Iceland, nearly every conversation starts with talking about the weather due to its severe and inclement nature most of the year. It is easy to strike up a conversation by complaining that Mother Nature seems to want us dead.

Parents, especially Icelandic ones, tell their kids to not talk about: politics, sex, religion, or why you do not like your uncle. As people get older they talk about these things more and more, and when I came to college in America it seemed that it is all people talk about.

The most interesting of these forbidden topics to me is politics. Back home, political discussions rarely become heated as most people generally agree on how the country should be run. There is no reason to argue over things that are agreed upon.

Political conversations about small and seemingly insignificant issues can become fiery debates littered with prosaic language and rhetorical shenanigans; this is to say nothing about debates regarding truly important issues. While much of the political discourse on social media and the internet is far more exaggerated than in real life, active political debates are a part of everyday life for many people. This is not an inherently bad thing, politics and political thinking are important parts of life, but the sheer volume of anger and resentment that politics brings to the surface is astounding. In America, people refer to the toxic realm of politics as polarization, American culture, a cosmic battle, and so much more. I have another theory.

I think that politics is an incredibly attractive hobby for people. Knowing what goes on in the world and ways to solve those problems is fun and intellectually stimulating. In a more practical sense, it also makes you a more informed person who can add to the larger conversation. This produces people, myself included, who experience politics through a somewhat detached view. While it does matter what the nominees for president are saying every day, it does not directly affect the fact that you have a paper due next week, or that you have a haircut tomorrow. Politics when viewed through this lens becomes a pastime, like watching your local football team. I think this is a major root cause of our modern American political climate being so very harsh. Being detached makes rooting for your “team” regardless of what happens very easy. This almost dogmatic approach to politics only causes resentment and further division.

However, it would be unfair to say that Americans are uniquely fiery in their political expression. These problems can be seen across the world. Northern Ireland experienced decades of terrorism and civil strife due to political and religious differences. My experience in Iceland is different. Icelandic political theater is less heated; one reason is because all the political parties are just slightly different variations of left-wing liberalism. In addition, and more importantly, politics are not a major part of most people’s lives. Regardless of who is in charge most things will generally stay the same. The actions of certain politicians can create controversy but not enough to shake the fundamental political realities of the country. People have other, more important things to think about that are not based on politics or current events.

I think that the solution for political strife in America, and the world at large is a very complex topic that will probably never be solved. But one way to make it less oppressive in culture is to try and exist outside of the realm of politics in your personal life. I am by no means advocating for political apathy, but rather for a healthy and significant distinction between political life and personal life. Important issues will still be important, but existing within a world purely made up of political thinking is a one-way ticket to unhappiness and vindictiveness.

Back home the unofficial national motto is ‘þetta reddast’. It is a catch-all idiom that roughly translates to “everything will end up ok”. If your car breaks down þetta reddast, it will all be ok and you will figure it out. The culture this creates is one where regardless of what happens, everything will work out. It is easy to be cynical when you do not see the sun for half the year; but fundamentally most people know it will be ok. Summer will come and the snow will melt. I think this kind of thinking would be valuable in the American political world.

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