US elections: ‘There’s less that divides us than we realise’

Rodney participating in a protest in Zurich Courtesy Jennifer Rodney

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
Jeannie Wurz

Jennifer Rodney moved to Switzerland almost 16 years ago for a job with the bank UBS. She met and married a Swiss man, and they now live in Zurich, where she works for a small nonprofit. Originally from Connecticut, she is a dual citizen of Liechtenstein and the United States and speaks what she calls “imperfect Swiss German”. Jennifer is a board member of the political advocacy organisation Action Together: Zurich.External link 

(Hear from James Foley, an American member of Republicans Overseas living and working in Geneva, here:) When people in Switzerland find out you’re American, what’s the first thing they say or ask? 

Jennifer Rodney: There’s kind of this little wincing face that they make, like “oooh, sorry”. And kind of a little sparkle in the eye, too, as if it’s a little funny for them. Like, “Too bad.” Was your family politically active when you were growing up?  

J.R.: My grandmother—my father’s mother—was a staunch advocate of voting. So I’ve had it drummed into me from an early age that you vote in presidential elections. She always worked the polls. But that was it. And we didn’t have a strong affiliation to either party. Do you belong to a US political party now?

J.R.: I do not. I’m an independent voter. Where were you on the night of the last US presidential election? What do you remember about it? 

J.R.: My mother was visiting from the States, and so we were watching the election results before we went to bed. When we woke up the next morning we were expecting something very different. We had gone to bed thinking: “This is going to be a good day to wake up and celebrate together”. That did not happen. You were expecting Hillary Clinton to win? 

 J.R.: I sure was hoping. In a word, how would you describe your reaction to Donald Trump’s election? 

J.R.: ‘Fear’, maybe? I’m trying to find a word somewhere between ‘dismay’ and ‘horror’. When and why did you become politically active? 

J.R.: Later on the morning after the election I went to a parent-child music class with my young son. The American mothers there all had the same stunned expression on their faces. Some even had tears in their eyes—literally. One of the mothers later organised a casual meeting that led to the formation of Action Together: Zurich. I joined the board in the spring of 2017. 

Issues and information Are you happy with the changes that have taken place in the US in the past four years? 

J.R.: No! A lot of the rhetoric has moved so far from what I was brought up to believe America stood for. I think that America still exists, but you wouldn’t know it if you see what’s happening there, or if you read about some of the attitudes in the current administration. What issues are particularly important for you as a voter? 

J.R.: Obviously, the most pressing issue at the moment is the pandemic. I know no country has a clear exit strategy, but it’s absolutely striking to me, being over here in Switzerland—which was one of the harder-hit countries initially—that I’m able to live my life pretty close to normal at the moment, versus what I know is happening back in the United States. So for me, the pandemic has to be faced and addressed with solid, science-backed policy.  

Second, systemic racial inequality in the US needs to be addressed, not just through words and talking points, but through concrete action determined with leadership and input from the communities impacted by that inequality.   

And third, the climate crisis is kind of in the background of the news cycle at the moment, but it’s looming on the near horizon, and time to address it is running out. 

Those for me are the most pressing issues…but there are plenty more. Where do you get your news? 

J.R.: My mandatory daily reading is the “Letters from an American” by Heather Cox Richardson. She’s a historian and sends out a fantastic daily essay which is a recap of the day’s events with a larger historical context and perspective. She finds the most important points and puts them together in a non-sensational way, but with insight from the bigger picture. I also read the BBC a lot, to get an international perspective. And NPR is another go to. 

On social media I’m most active on Facebook because that’s where our ideas for Action Together are generated.  

Party politics and worldview What do you see as the main differences between US and Swiss politics? 

J.R.: I love that it’s not a two-party system here. I think that just by its nature, having more parties creates more stability. And I really appreciate that about Swiss democracy. 

I also love that everybody who is eligible to vote gets their little packet in the mail with nonpartisan information about the issues that they’re voting on. I think the Swiss make it as easy as possible to participate here. What do you see as the main differences between the two major US parties, Republicans and Democrats? 

J.R.: I think there’s less that divides us than we realise. It’s really easy to demonise the other side. But at the end of the day we all want a stable economy, we all want good schools and opportunities for our children, we all want a safe, sustainable place to live. There’s so much more that we share than we tend to pay attention to these days. So for me it’s important to bear that in mind and to seek out those commonalities. Because I think when you find common ground, then you can start to work together. What kind of role do you see the US playing in the world? 

J.R.: Obviously the world is changing, and we don’t know where things are going to land. With China, with Russia, with the EU, things are shifting so quickly. But I think it remains true that the United States is maybe not “the” but “a” key player on the world stage. And we can play that role either in cooperation with our allies or not. I think we still have a very important role to play in the crises and issues that we as a world face, whether it’s Covid-19 or the climate crisis. Immigration and refugees and asylum seekers. There are many things that would benefit from a coordinated global effort. We absolutely have a role to play. 

Action Together: Zurich  

Action Together: ZurichExternal link is an activist organisation made up of several hundred volunteers, mostly Americans. According to Rodney, the group does not have a budget, collect membership fees or take donations, and its goal is to make an impact from abroad on a range of US political issues. Its current international campaign, #passthevote, is an effort to encourage US citizens living abroad to vote in the upcoming election.  

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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.orgExternal link. Due to this year’s challenges with the US postal service, states encourage voters to request a ballot as early as possible. 

Voting resources

Vote From AbroadExternal link: A nonpartisan voting platform

Federal Voting Assistance ProgramExternal link: Government site for voter registration and ballots 

American Citizens AbroadExternal link: A membership organisation offering information and lobbying 

Republicans OverseasExternal link: A membership organisation for Republicans 

Democrats AbroadExternal link: A membership organisation for Democrats 

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