With the United States presidential election a month away, hear from two American voters in Switzerland on their choice of leader and the role the US should play in the world.This content was published on October 3, 2020 - 11:00
James Foley is originally from New Orleans. After having lived in Germany and Belgium in the 1990s, he moved to Switzerland in 2013. He has lived in Geneva for the past seven years, works in the automotive industry and speaks French and German. He is an active member of Republicans Overseas, an advocacy group for the Republican Party.
(Hear from Jennifer Rodney, an American who is part of Zurich's Action Together advocacy network, here:)
swissinfo.ch: When people in Switzerland find out you’re American, what’s the first thing they say or ask?
James Foley: Most Swiss that I come in contact with don’t care. My Swiss friends here in Geneva are only interested in what’s going on in canton Geneva. That’s typically Swiss. No matter whether they’re from French-speaking or German-speaking Switzerland, they’re focused on the little world around them. Americans and Swiss have something in common: they both believe their country is at the center of the universe.
swissinfo.ch: Was your family political when you were growing up?
J.F.: My dad was Republican and that’s about it. My mother was “politically agnostic”. Inactive. My dad knew everybody who was running in Louisiana politics because he was an attorney for a long time. He knew the governor—everybody. But that wasn’t an influence for me in politics.
Do you belong to a US political party now?
J.F.: Yes, I’m a registered Republican in Louisiana, the last place I lived.
swissinfo.ch: Where were you on the night of the 2016 US presidential election?
J.F.: I was in Geneva. We had a joint event with Democrats Abroad. It was apolitical, and we had about 500 guests [...] and had all-night election coverage, with two big screens on the walls. I was awake the entire night.
swissinfo.ch: Who were you expecting to win, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?
J.F.: Oh, I was expecting Hillary to win, because that’s what the polls and the press had said the whole time. Trump was a protest candidate, I thought, just like Bernie Sanders. But after I saw Ohio went for Trump, I thought, “The election is over”. And it was. It got very, very quiet. We had a majority of Democrats at our event. In fact, the majority of Americans in Switzerland are Democrats.
swissinfo.ch: In a word, how would you describe your reaction to Trump’s election?
J.F.: Surprised. Quite frankly, surprised. I wasn’t a Trump voter. I was a protest candidate voter, but I didn’t vote for Trump—I voted for [libertarian candidate] Gary Johnson.
swissinfo.ch: When and why did you become politically active?
J.F.: I became politically active after moving back to Europe in 2001, even more so after moving to Switzerland in 2013 and meeting other Americans who have lived overseas most of their adult lives. After FATCA — the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act — was passed under the Obama administration, it became clear to me that US citizens overseas are ignored by our own government so we must “shake the tree” to get our representatives to pay attention to us.
Issues and information
swissinfo.ch: Are you happy with the changes that have taken place in the US in the past four years?
J.F.: I’ve seen what Trump has had the chance to do in the last three-and-a half to four years. I became convinced that that was the best way for the country to go. I’ve thought for a long time that America should reduce its contribution to and its expenses associated with the military all over the world. Especially NATO. The Cold War is over. We don’t need to have US troops stationed in 100-plus nations around the world.
swissinfo.ch: What issues are particularly important for you as a voter?
J.F.: Tax reform. Bring the troops home. Lower the debt. Law and order.
[Americans have] the worst tax system in the world, especially if you’re an expatriate. I have to file my taxes in three countries every year: Switzerland, where I live; Germany, where my company is located; and the United States because I’m a US citizen. The United States is one of only two countries in the world that have citizenship-based taxation. Everyone else has residency-based taxation, so where you live and work is where you pay your taxes.
FATCA is a huge problem for Americans abroad, and if you wonder why so many Americans have given up their citizenship in the last few years, that’s the main reason. This has been partially relieved under Trump, with passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.
Now, Republicans who live overseas are hopeful that President Trump will get rid of citizenship-based taxation for individuals. He can do this by executive order.
swissinfo.ch: Where do you get your news?
J.F.: I get a lot of news from a lot of sources. Mostly online.That can be different websites. That can also be social media. I do a lot of Twitter and Parler.
At Republicans Overseas we have a worldwide WhatsApp group where we’re constantly posting information about different things—ideas, events, things that have happened in various countries, news feeds, results of parties and elections. It gives me a pretty good view of what’s going on in the world.
I use Facebook less. If you’re conservative on Facebook or Twitter, you get filtered out. And mostly, my Facebook posts anger my left-wing friends. I don’t do it on purpose. I post something provocative, or something that makes me think. And I’ll put it on Facebook saying something like “Here’s another viewpoint.” And that’s it. But you should see the storms that this can cause. I have so many friends who have unfriended me on Facebook because of my Trump support. I wasn’t even a Trump supporter in the beginning.
Party politics and worldview
swissinfo.ch: What do you see as the main differences between US and Swiss politics?
J.F.: The problem with Swiss politics is that the cantons want one thing, the people want one thing, and then the Federal Council says: “Ah, no, we’re gonna do this.”
What happens in Switzerland is, everybody thinks they’re involved, and then the other side does what it wants, and then the people get mad and we have another referendum about it, and then nothing happens. I joined the local Swiss People’s Party because I wanted to learn about Swiss politics. And the more I learn about it, the more frustrating it is. There are many more parties involved here. In the US it’s either this or that.
swissinfo.ch: What do you see as the main differences between the two major US parties, Republicans and Democrats?
J.F.: The Democrats have no plan, only chaos. They want to defund police departments. They want to destroy the USA. Trump is a builder—he wants to build America stronger.
What kind of role do you see the US playing in the world?
J.F.: Getting less involved, letting countries do their own thing, letting nations be nations. I’m a nationalist; I’m not an internationalist. I don’t believe in world government. I believe in countries. I believe in currencies. I believe in borders. If you don’t have a border you don’t have a country.
Republicans Overseas is a worldwide US Republican Party advocacy organization based in Washington, DC, with people and chapters “everywhere on the planet”, says Foley. “We have a small group here in Switzerland, and we do everything voluntarily.”
According to its website, Republicans Overseas “keeps Americans living overseas politically well-informed and provides a mechanism to direct their policy concerns back to senior political leaders and presidential candidates.”End of insertion
US voters living abroad
There are between 2.9 and 6.5 million eligible US voters living abroad, and between 7% and 25% of them participated in the last presidential election (sources differ). US citizens who want to register to vote from abroad can check their state’s guidelines and request a ballot on votefromabroad.org. Due to this year’s challenges with the US postal service, states encourage voters to request a ballot as early as possible.
Vote From Abroad: A nonpartisan voting platform
Federal Voting Assistance Program: Government site for voter registration and ballots
American Citizens Abroad: A membership organisation offering information and lobbying
Republicans Overseas: A membership organisation for Republicans
Democrats Abroad: A membership organisation for DemocratsEnd of insertion