It is generally surprising – and even sometimes frightening – to follow the American elections from Finland, considering what the candidates are saying and planning. But it is quite fun to consider what is said from the point of view of a Nordic citizen and to ask ourselves: Would we vote for this candidate if he or she were a candidate here, for example in Finland or in Sweden? So we tried.
The mechanism of the election
One first shock for Nordic voters would be the primary election system. The countries are quite different, as Sweden, Norway, and Denmark are monarchies while Finland is a Republic and has a president. However, the Finnish president has very limited powers, as do the kings in the three other countries; in each, the prime ministers are the ones with powers comparable to the US presidents.
Here we do not use the primary system. The prime minister, chosen by the king or the president to create a government, is generally the head of the party who received the most votes or has the most members in Parliament. He/she then tries to create a coalition. As there are more than four parties in Parliament (generally six), when the candidate has a coalition with a majority in the Parliament, that candidate leads the country.
Finland is still more democratic than its neighbors, with a system where people are not voting for a list presented by a party but for a person, and those with the most votes are elected, not necessarily the ones chosen by the party. It looks strange, but it appears more democratic when even the leader of a party can be excluded by the voters, a trait shared by the primary system in the US: the winner of the primaries is not necessarily the one chosen by the party.
Even if they are different, the US and Nordic systems could look equally democratic if it were not for the money: In Finland, no candidate, his or her support group, or other entity operating exclusively for the purpose of promoting the candidate may accept campaign contributions from a single donor in excess of 6,000 euros in parliamentary elections. It is very exceptional that a candidate receives more than 100,000 euros for the campaign, and, from my experience, I know that they hesitate to even ask private companies, as it becomes public knowledge and can be used against the candidate. I doubt that any party uses more than 1 or 2 million euros for a campaign.
In the US, only Bernie Sanders is criticizing such a system where private companies are the main source of funding for political campaigns; Hillary Clinton is proposing limited reforms, but she will spend around 2 billions dollars, and globally candidates and other organizations supporting them will put up about $10 billion in the 2016 US presidential election.
On this specific point of campaign financing, you could have Nordic politicians pleading for strict limitations on party financing. Even more liberal ones tend to consider money from lobbies relatively dirty.
Are Nordic parties similar to Republicans or Democrats?
In the Nordic countries, we have no republicans or democrats, due to a different electoral system which allows for a larger number of political parties. Our parties range from the populists or far-right (some with neo-Nazi support); the conservative right; the Centre parties, which are agrarians; the Green parties; and the left, which include the Social Democrats and left-wing parties, some previously linked to communism but now distanced from it.
The reality is that the conservatives (such as the National Coalition Party in Finland) could have been, until recently, considered comparable to the Republicans, as they think that what is good for companies – in particular, the big ones – is good for the economy, the people, and the country; that it justifies deregulation, less taxes, less state, and less support for poor people and the unemployed. Conservatives are also in favor of joining NATO, a big topic for Finland and Sweden. They want to go for a privatization of public sector activities, such as public health and education, considering that it would bring more efficiency. Finland tends to avoid the question of gun control, however, which is quite sensitive in certain regions, which is a little like the US.
It also looks like the US Democrats would be in different political parties in Finland and Sweden, depending on their values and their approaches to political problems. They might belong to social-democrats, Center Parties, or even the conservative parties or the Greens, depending on their main focus of interest.
But on a number of issues, there are strong differences, which in particular, would make it impossible for a Nordic candidate to endorse the issues expressed by US Republican candidates without appearing like an irresponsible lunatic.
In Finland, the strictest Nordic country, the law allows abortions up to 12 weeks of pregnancy for broad socioeconomic reasons: if the woman is younger than 17, if the woman is older than 40, if the woman has already had four children, or if at least one parent is unable to raise the child owing to disease or mental disturbance. The law also allows abortions up to 20 weeks of pregnancy in the event of fetal deformity or physical threat to a woman’s health or for an underage woman, and up to the 24th week if an amniocentesis or ultrasound found serious impairment in the fetus.
In the other Nordic countries, the law is more liberal. The rate of abortion is very low compared to the US rate and is dropping continuously. There is no real debate on the topic, or if so, very mild ones. It could be noted that in Finland, Timo Soini, leader of the Finns Party, is an exception. He has declared that he is against abortion, contraception, and women priests, but he is not proposing to change anything, and it’s not in his party’s programme, so it is a non-debate.
In the US, the law is stricter and varies, depending on the states. In addition, there has been an increase in abortion restrictions and a simultaneous decrease in abortion access during the last several years, but the rate of abortion there is much higher than in Northern Europe (and in all Europe).
For the Republican, it looks like it is a major topic: All Republican candidates are firm abortion opponents and so-called pro-life, with Donald Trump being more moderate when he said, “I’m pro-life, but with the caveats. It’s life of the mother (very important), incest and rape.”So the Republican debate on abortion could look quite outdated as seen from Europe.
On the Democratic side, Clinton calls the right to an abortion “a fundamental human right” and proposes to put an end to limitations on the financing of abortion for all women, which has been imposed these last years by the Republicans. Sanders takes the same position, stating, “The decision about abortion is a decision for a woman and her doctor to make, not the government. I will not allow the right wing to deny women control over their own bodies …”
In this domain, no major Nordic politician, from the left to the right, would have the same position as the Republican candidates. Clinton and Sanders are more on the Nordic side, with a caveat: They do not seem to address the major question: why are there a lot more more abortions in the US than in Europe.
The US discussion on creation and evolution looks quite strange from a Nordic perspective.
Here, in Northern (and Center and Southern) Europe, nobody really refuses the theory of evolution. When we are religious, we consider the bible as an allegory and that God has created the evolution, as he has created everything. You can find in an article called “Pope Francis: evolution and creation both right” the following declarations from Pope Francis:
“The big bang, which is today posited as the origin of the world, does not contradict the divine act of creation; rather, it requires it. Evolution of nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation because evolution presupposes the creation of beings which evolve. When we read the creation story in Genesis we run the risk of imagining that God was a magician, with a magic wand which is able to do everything. But it is not so. He created beings and let them develop according to internal laws which He gave everyone, so they would develop, so they would reach maturity“.
But this religious position is not apparently shared by a number (40% according to a Gallup poll) of US citizens, mainly Republicans. It is a problem for the candidates who want to please all citizens without looking ignorant in light of the scientific evidence, and even in light of the Pope and mainstream protestant authorities.
For the Catholics, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio – who was at one time Mormon, but is now Catholic – it should be clear that they are not creationists. Accordingly, Trump is Presbyterian, a religion which takes the same position as the Pope: the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s website indicates that “Neither Scripture, our Confession of Faith, nor our catechisms, teach the creation of man by the direct and immediate acts of God so as to exclude the possibility of evolution as a scientific theory.” The same goes for John Kasich, who is a member of the Anglican Church of North America.
So all of them (but not Carson, Seventh – day Adventist, a purely creationist church) should be for a school that teaches evolution, then letting churches teach religion, the two being compatible – but not when 40% of US citizens do not believe in evolution. So we see something which would be unbelievable in Europe: candidates make the strangest declarations.
You cannot avoid laughing when you hear that when asked the earth’s age, Rubio replied, “I’m not a scientist, man.” He added, “At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all.” After his remarks on the earth’s age were widely derided, Rubio acknowledged that it’s 4.5 billion years old, but maintained that wasn’t inconsistent with creationism (strange if you consider the number of schools in the US where only creationism is taught). And this guy may become the leader of the free world.…
The same goes for Cruz, who launched his campaign at an evangelical university that denies Darwin’s theory of evolution and teaches that the world is only 6,000 years old.
And what about the “moderate” Kasich, who, according to the New Hampshire news website Political Monitor, when asked about the teaching of creationism versus evolution, said it should be a state’s choice, explaining that placing the power there gives parents the best access to effect change. “It is far easier for you to get your hands on a state legislature here than in the federal government” he said.
A candidate with this attitude would probably be considered insane in the Nordic countries, but quite funny in some way: and we have had our crazy politicians also, after all, just remember Toni Halme, wrestler and Member of Finland’s Parliament calling the President a lesbian. And, after all, the Republican candidates do not really believe in creationism. They just agree to let it being taught in schools in order to get votes. They definitely would not be suited as Nordic candidates…
Denying global warming
When Europeans look at the US campaign, one main worry is that the next leader of the world is going to deny global warming.
On the environment, nobody in the Nordic countries seriously denies global warming or the scientific evidence behind it. Any declaration denying it would totally disqualify any politician from any party.
In the US, there seems to be a competition among Republicans about who looks the dumbest on the topic. Trump wins it easily with declarations such as, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.” He then said that it was a joke, and added, “This very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bullshit has got to stop. Our planet is freezing, record low temps, and our GW scientists are stuck in ice.”
Cruz disagrees with scientific opinion on climate change (he knows better). He has said, “The scientific evidence doesn’t support global warming” and that some people are “global warming alarmists,” and cites satellite temperature measurements showing there had been no significant warming in 18 years. (Look here if you believe him).
Kasich seems a little more rational but is not planning to do anything about it. According to Wikipedia, in a speech in April 2012, Kasich acknowledged that climate change is real and is a problem. In the same speech, however, he said that the Environmental Protection Agency should not regulate carbon emissions and that instead states and private companies should be in charge of regulating coal-fired power plant emissions as if the fox would regulate chicken security in hen-houses. In 2014, Kasich signed into law a bill freezing Ohio’s renewable portfolio standard program for two years. He would here be considered as a blindsided unenlightened polluting industry supporter.
Rubio believes in climate change but is not convinced that it is provoked by human activity: “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it.” Today, nobody really knows what he thinks and proposes, as he took a more diplomatic approach in response to questions about the encyclical on climate change that the pope issued recently. There may be some hope.
It is understandable that the Republicans, mainly financed by the industry, and coming from states where coal plants are delivering energy, want to please those financing their expensive campaigns… But still, it is not a reason to ignore the reality.
On the democratic side, Sanders takes a strong stance in this domain, and wants to act on it: “Right now, we have an energy policy that is rigged to boost the profits of big oil companies like Exxon, BP, and Shell at the expense of average Americans. CEOs are raking in record profits while climate change ravages our planet and our people — all because the wealthiest industry in the history of our planet has bribed politicians into complacency in the face of climate change. Enough is enough. It’s time for a political revolution that takes on the fossil fuel billionaires, accelerates our transition to clean energy, and finally puts people before the profits of polluters“.
Clinton has the same objective: “I won’t let anyone take us backward, deny our economy the benefits of harnessing a clean energy future, or force our children to endure the catastrophe that would result from unchecked climate change.”
Again here the Republican candidates would not be considered as acceptable from the Nordic extreme-left to the Nordic far-right when they deny the global warming. Some right-side politicians may agree with Kasich or Rubio: accept the idea and do nothing about it. Sanders and Clinton are probably more similar to the Nordic leaders on this topic, the Left and the Greens, but also the Social Democrats, the Center Parties and certain conservatives.
Sanders versus Clinton
We have seen that the Nordic countries’ political parties have ideas which are not too far from those of the Democrats, even if they have sometimes had better relations with Republican US presidents than with Democratic ones. So, if we had to vote, who would we choose?
In theory, the idea of having a woman president seems quite appealing for Nordic citizens, as the question of men-women equality is still very important politically in our countries. So Hillary Clinton should normally find natural supporters in the Nordic countries.
However, the majority of the Nordic people have been astonished, when listening to Bernie Sanders, to discover that there is no universal health insurance in the US, that there is no free access to universities for US nationals, and that there are no limits to the funding of political campaigns by private companies and lobbies (already discussed). This is really shocking!
The question of the health system in the US is quite surprising for Nordic citizens, as here everybody benefits from a system as described by Bernie Sanders. What surprises us the most is that the US health system is practically the most expensive one in the world, and one of the less effective, which positions it in terms of efficiency between the Dominican Republic and Iran (according to Bloomberg, one of the top US news sources). Why Clinton seems to oppose it as being unrealistic seems unclear, as adopting a real universal health insurance system can only allow costs to drop and improve the health of US citizens.
The question of free universities is a little different. Here, universities are free to our citizens and the only question is to decide if we should continue to offer free universities for non-EU citizens (the answer is no). Sanders does not even propose free universities for US citizens’ children, as there would be a cost. But the present system in the US seems to increase the proportion of rich students to the detriment of the clever ones in other categories, which should be a worry for the future of the country. This inequality would not be accepted here and yet Sanders’ success seems, in particular, to be built on it.
For the rest, the differences between Clinton and Sanders do not appear major from here. Sanders is probably more Nordic on the control of banks. Also, Nordic voters are not particularly afraid of electing prime ministers without previous government experience, as is the case in Finland today. (Whether it is a good idea can certainly be discussed).
One surprise for us is that the Democratic Party’s establishment has taken the risk of putting all its hopes on Clinton even with her involvement in some scandals. During her term as Secretary of State, she was accused of ignoring requests for additional security for the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi immediately prior to the terrorist attack at that facility, and also of using her own private e-mail server to handle and discuss sensitive state documents in a manner that may have opened the door to espionage.
Just remember, some years ago, Swedish politician Mona Sahlin, a Social-Democrat leader, was obliged to resign when it became known that she has bought some groceries, such as Toblerone bars, from her ministry’s credit card, even though they were reimbursed.
Another fun fact is that Sanders would be considered a socialist, as he apparently believes in a free market and in the virtues of controlled liberalism. In Finland, Sanders would be a Social Democrat, or a Social Green, or a Center Party leader, but definitely not a socialist who would be belonging to the Left Alliance. Clinton would be a right-wing Social Democrat, or even a social liberal belonging to the conservative National Coalition Party.
Economy, employment, immigration
On this topic, there would be Nordic citizens with ideas similar to those of the Democrats, and others more Republicans.
On economy and employment – and this is probably no surprise – there are a lot of common debates between those who push for less public expenses and less taxes to improve the economy, and those who support the economy with more Keynesian policies. On these topics, Clinton, Sanders and the Republican candidates would be on the right side of the Nordic political spectrum, as they appear – at least from here – quite in favor of a free market economy with a relatively weak Federal State, compared to the situation here where it is quite huge.
The debate on immigration seems to be as crazy in the US and in Europe, with some, such as Trump, or some far-right Nordic leaders using racist or offensive terminology while nobody is really able to objectively discuss the topic and propose solutions. The bold language of the US and European politicians is just hiding the incapacity to objectively work on the problem and take the necessary measures to avoid dealing with people who are compelled or pushed to migrate.
One final remark: as fun as it is to follow the US campaign with its excesses and its surprises, there is a global worry here about what the result will mean for us. In particular, is the new President going to be able to correct past mistakes in the Middle East? Is she or he going to be able to avoid escalating problems with Russia, so that we can return to normal relations, or are we going to see a rookie and unreliable president provoke a war in Europe?
Nobody in the campaign, even Clinton with her experience – despite her mistakes – seems to offer for us a guarantee of peace, security and stability. This will be a challenge when he or she will move in the White House and sit in the Oval Office.