Tuesday night I went to sleep not really knowing what would happen. I woke up around 6am and turned on to CNN to see a predominately red map of the US. Bush had a 2% lead in the popular vote but there were still several significant states to come in. But shortly after, Florida was declared a winner for Bush. I knew in my gut that it was all over. Mathematically, yes it was possible and it was hinging on Ohio but I did not really feel it would happen.
Everyone was talking about it at work. We gathered in the hallway (the equivalent of gathering around the water cooler) to talk. I jokingly said that I was going to apply for the opening in the Dutch office and stay in Holland. My co-workers were so amazed that Bush had such support. They did not understand it. Didn't the voters see it? Why did they vote for Bush? As the headline in a British tabloid said today "How can 59,054,087 people be so dumb?" What could I answer? I did not fully understand it either.
I talked about how little the average American knows about what happens outside of the US. Here in Holland, I can watch news from the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Italy, German, UK and US. I can get many different view points. In the US, you get very little beyond the US news. The international news is buried in the newspaper on page 8. I also talked about how important social issues were for many conservative Americans. But overwhelming, I think the issue was how secure Americans felt. We felt so much at risk after 9/11. Going to war, made many Americans feel like something was going done and we were helping the people of Iraq.
My coworkers mentioned how little support Bush had outside the US. They knew of the internet poll taken by people worldwide which showed 77% support for Kerry. They did not think Kerry was great, but they did not want Bush reelected.
Now they wonder what he will do. Will he invade another country? They think not. The troops are spread too thin. The US may bomb another country but not invade. What will happen in Iraq? They don't see any solution beyond asking for help from UN and they can not see Bush doing that?
I was also amazed that they knew so much about the election process and how the US is governed. I know very little about the Dutch parliament and government. They had several questions about who would remain in the cabinet. Do you think Rumsfeld retain his cabinet position? Everyone agreed that Powell will leave.
But there is also turmoil here in Holland. During their last election, a conservative gay leader Pim Fortuyn was assassinated just before the election. It was shocking to the Dutch. And just this week, a controversial Dutch filmmaker, Theo Van Gogh was killed in Amsterdam. He had received death threats since the release of his movie about violence towards Muslim women. There is tension here and a lot of anti-immigration thoughts especially towards Muslim immigrants. I see many more Muslims on the street than I did in 1996. Even then, I knew that some Dutch did not like the increase in immigrants and the changes in the social services such as schools to accommodate the languages and culture. I wonder what the future will bring for the Netherlands and Europe as they struggle with this issue.