WTF America?

Vote counting. Easy and straightforward in most democratic countries. Mission impossible in “the greatest country on Earth.”

Here’s how it happens where I live. Election day is always on Saturday. We picked Saturdays because of the expectation that most people ought to be free and consider this the most convenient day for dragging their asses to a polling station. Polling stations open at 7 in the morning and close at 10 in the evening. Of course, it’s also possible to cast your vote also several days in advance or vote from home, and some citizens choose this option for various reasons.

Anyway, as soon as polling stations close at 10 p.m., vote counting starts. Members of political parties who were candidates in the election usually don’t go to sleep this evening, instead they tend to have “waiting for election results” parties in their offices where party members gather together, wait for results, eat, maybe also drink. The first results usually start coming in shortly after midnight. From what I have heard in the news, party members often go to sleep once they have a rough idea about whether they have been elected or no.

Personally, I have newer stayed awake and waited for the election results. But on Sunday mornings I always looked at the news as soon as I woke up. Results were always there.

We use paper ballots here, and people count them. You know, counting, something humans are capable of doing with the help of their hands and brains. Usually nobody requests a recount, because political parties send their members as observers to polling stations, where they just sit and look as polling station workers count the ballots. When members of different parties all sit in the same room where ballots are counted, fraud becomes unlikely.

Of course, there’s always room for human error. For example, last time we had an election in my city, due to human error, in a single polling station a few hundred votes could not be counted. Fuckups can happen. But so far those have always been minor, and didn’t influence election results in any way.

And here the party that gets the largest number of votes wins. You know, like in civilized places where nobody actually wants room for problems like gerrymandering and whatnot. And here all citizens can vote. Incarcerated people vote from inside prisons, sick people can vote from their hospitals or homes. The state makes sure that all citizens have valid identification papers that allow them to vote (whoever doesn’t have a passport gets a free voter card instead).

I wish I could sarcastically congratulate Americans for their “democracy” and being able to live in “the greatest country on Earth” while the whole world is laughing at them.

Unfortunately, Americans aren’t destroying only their own society. Today the USA has become the first nation in the world to formally withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.


Oh yeah, and since we live in a globalized world, a single country’s inability to manage their COVID-19 infections harms also everybody else, because, you know, people travel and trade with each other.


  1. Ichthyic says

    correct. the rest of the world no longer trusts the US.

    if that was the “mission goal” of the Trump administration… mission accomplished.

  2. says

    You might as well ask WTF Brasil, WTF UK, WTF etc until you’re blue. It’s the ascendance of unashamed bare-faced global fascism. We do what we can, but enough of us are horny for evil that it’s a real grind.

  3. xohjoh2n says

    You might as well ask WTF Brasil, WTF UK

    Hey! Almost all the above applies to the UK too. (Except we don’t even need a passport or voter registration card.)
    Paper ballots, manually counted, count observable by candidates or their agents, results generally available before the next morning, results generally trustworthy and accepted by all. The only thing we really need to lose is constituency based FPTP, but that’s a really hard thing to change.

  4. says

    @Great American Satan, I get what you mean, this shit is happening on multiple places. But those countries you mention do not declare themselves to be the best in the world at everything, the leader of the free world and the chief exporter of “freedom and democracy” at the tip of a bayonet.
    Not to mention the sad fact that the mere fact that Trump has won the last election has greatly encouraged right-wing extremist here in Europe.
    In the last few decades the most succesful exports from USA are stupidity and jingoism.

  5. DrVanNostrand says

    There’s some legitimacy to this complaint, but I think it’s mostly overblown. Why does vote counting have to be complete RIGHT NOW? Because of the pandemic, there were massive shifts in the proportion of mail-in and in-person ballots. State laws governing the processing of mail-in votes means that a few states will take until the end of the week to finish their tallies. All of the vote counting is going just fine. Our toddler/tyrant-in-chief is throwing a tantrum. The states are ignoring him and properly following their legal vote counting processes. The real embarrassment is the Electoral College. We shouldn’t forget that Biden is winning this thing by 3.5 million votes, with the expectation that after California is finished counting the margin will be around 5 million votes. In any sane democracy, this election wouldn’t even be close. We could declare a winner today.

  6. DrVanNostrand says

    Sorry for the double post. I just want to clarify that by “this complaint”, I only mean the complaint about counting votes taking a few days. I agree with all the other complaints.

  7. says

    Lithuania is half the size of Pennsylvania. That may have something to do with it. But, also, you don’t have a bunch of competing local governments and a federal government over top of that, and completely incompatible non-standard systems and voting locations.

    Our system sucks because the two party system never wanted a good electoral system. We can afford one. I mean, we could just have Northrup Grumman whip something up, like they did the F-35.

  8. DrVanNostrand says

    Following up a little on what Marcus said, in terms of population, Latvia is about the size of Nebraska. I’d like to point out that Nebraska counted all their ballots and all of their races were called within 24 hours, even though they distribute electoral votes by congressional district, and one of those districts is competitive (it was called for Biden). The problem is that the US is made up of 50 Nebraska’s. And actually, most states are much more difficult than Nebraska for a variety of reasons. Anyway, it all goes back to the fact that the electoral college is the source of all the problems. Tiny advantages, in a random group of states, in an election where one candidate got 5+ million more votes than his opponent are only relevant here. THAT is American exceptionalism!

  9. Ridana says

    1) @ Ichthyic:

    The rest of the world no longer trusts the US. If that was the “mission goal” of the Trump administration… mission accomplished.

    Did you ever doubt that it was? That’s what Putin wanted, and that’s what his dog delivered with tail wagging, hoping for a treat or a pat on the head.

  10. says

    With the exceptions of Australia, Japan, and Canada, the least corrupt nations are all geographically small, have small populations, are secular societies and have functional democracies. You can’t have a trustworthy or accountable government in an unwieldy and diverse country.

    The US fails to meet all four criteria. If it were split into three parts (west coast, northeast, and jesusland), two of the three might qualify.

  11. says

    DrVanNostrand @#6 & @#9

    It’s not normal for elections to be decided by a couple hundred people who live in a specific district. It’s not normal for a candidate who gets the largest amount of votes to ultimately lose in an election because of where each voter lives. It’s not normal for courts to decide who won an election. It’s not normal for candidates to file lawsuits immediately after an election is over. It’s not normal to use voting machines with known security vulnerabilities. It’s not normal for protesters to march the streets because of perceived problems with ballot tallies.

    And, in my opinion, it is also not normal for vote counting to take days. If some USA states can get it done quickly while others take much longer, it suggests that we are dealing with a patchwork of different voting and vote counting systems some of which are flawed, inefficient, I guess probably some polling stations also being understaffed or underfunded or probably both or maybe there being too few polling stations for the number of citizens who live within some region or whatever.

    Of course, it’s not up to me to lecture Americans how they ought to live. If they like waiting for days to figure out who won an election, whatever, it’s their choice how they want to live. But when Americans start lecturing me about how theirs is the greatest country and the greatest democracy all other countries on Earth ought to emulate (I have heard this from Americans frequently), I’m going to find it laughable.

    And yes, I am aware that the number of citizens can make some difference. The emphasis being on “some.” Even within Latvia, polling stations in small towns usually finish counting votes faster than those in large cities where the number of voters per a single polling station is larger. But I still find the larger number of voters a poor excuse that cannot justify vote counting taking days. On this planet we have many large countries with many millions of citizens (UK, Germany, France, Canada, Australia, Japan, and so on). Somehow in the news I don’t hear about all of these countries having the same problems Americans have with their elections.

    It’s not just that USA is a large country. Instead we are dealing with systemic problems in how Americans organize their elections. Be it the number of available polling stations, the number of staff working there, the amount of funding they have, the way ballots are designed, the voting machines or vote counting machines they utilize, the electoral college, or whatever else that is wrong in each state. And inefficiency is a design flaw in a system. “It’s OK to take your time” is a poor excuse when pretty much every other democratic country on Earth has proven that there are better and more efficient ways how to solve various problems in how humans organize elections.

  12. says

    Marcus Ranum @#8

    Lithuania is half the size of Pennsylvania.

    Latvia and Lithuania aren’t the same.
    I already addressed the size of some country and the number of voters they have in my comment @#12, so I won’t repeat myself about that.

    Our system sucks because the two party system never wanted a good electoral system.

    Yes, of course, I wasn’t criticizing American poll workers for taking a while to get votes counted. Instead I argued that this doesn’t happen in other countries and the entire American voting system is poorly designed (probably intentionally, because such problems could be fixed or at least improved if political parties actually cared about making improvements).

  13. says

    Andreas Avester@#13:
    Latvia and Lithuania aren’t the same.

    I’m sorry; that was a pretty bad brain-fart on my part.

    Lithuania’s bigger than Latvia, according to Google.

  14. springa73 says

    While I agree with some of the criticisms, I also think that the idea that US Americans think of themselves as exceptional is at least partly a myth. I’ve lived in the US my whole life (45 years) and have rarely encountered any belief in “American exceptionalism” except in the form of non-USA people complaining about it. It seems to me to be mainly a club used to beat the USA and its citizens with, rather than a real problem in the USA.

  15. says

    springa73 @#15

    On one occasion an American citizen who was an outspoken atheist (not from Freethoughblogs) told me that despite its flaws USA still remains the greatest country on Earth.

    On another occasion I discussed flag desecration online (said discussion happened after somebody posted online an image displaying a desecrated USA flag). I made an argument that public flag burning can be a protest method and there are numerous problems in the USA against which people could legitimately protest (I listed an inadequate healthcare system, inaccessible education for poorer people, racism, gerrymandering, probably a few other problems). The person with whom I talked turned out to be a die hard American patriot and a conservative who stated that in my list everything either was a good thing or didn’t exist and proclaimed that USA is the greatest country on Earth.

    I don’t know why our experiences are so different. Maybe the same people who acknowledge among their peers that USA isn’t perfect will still defend their country in front of a foreigner like me who is critical about their country? Or maybe people who see no need to brag about their country in front of their peers will brag about how awesome their country is in front of me while expecting me to admire their oh so amazing country? Who knows. But I sure have heard loads of nonsense from American patriots and nationalists. (Granted, I have also heard similar nonsense from Russian nationalists. And a few others.)

    As for USA exceptionalism… Which other country acts as if international agreements didn’t concern them or war crimes were things only others are capable of committing, tortures people, sends their troops all over the planet, expects access to the entire planet’s personal online communications, messes with other countries’ democratically elected political regimes and does all that while claiming that they are the paragons of morality who can do no wrong? For example, remember when Americans tapped Angela Merkel’s mobile phone? Just imagine what kind of outrage we would have gotten from Americans if Germany had tapped the phone of their president. Or when Americans admitted that they have tortured some people and decided to happily move on and forget about it. Compare this with how Americans treat merely alleged rather than proven human rights abuses in other countries.

  16. DrVanNostrand says

    springa73 @16

    In my current social circle, it’s not a widespread belief. We are well aware of our country’s flaws, and happy to look to other places in the world for ideas to improve it. However, I grew up partly in a very conservative part of WI, and partly in a tiny town in rural TX, where it was an extremely common belief. I think there’s a pretty stark liberal/conservative divide on the issue. That’s just my personal anecdote. Perhaps your experience is different.

  17. says

    @springa73 #15, you are joking, right? Your personal circle of contacts is an anecdote, not data. I have a different anecdote.

    I was in the USA a few months (one experience to be found -here-) and the attitude that the USA is the greatest country in the world was not uncommon. There were very few people who have ever set foot outside their home state but it did not stop them from thinking that everywhere else it is worse. I was highly bemused by the apparent need of every household to fly a flag somewhere on their property. Flags were literally everywhere, something that you do not see in Europe, except perhaps during some celebrations or sports events.

    Not that long ago John Olliver used a video recording of a man saying “The one thing I want my kids to know, when they get out of school, about America is that the worst day in America beats the best day in any other country.” and further complaining about how kids should not learn about the bad things that happened and happen in USA except in the context of maybe saying how exceptionally well it has managed to deal with them. And he got applause!

    But anecdotes aside – you just had nearly 70 million people voting for a fascist MAGA! And when I read about it in the news it is impossible to not come across someone (a politician, a commentator, a Joe Schmoe) here or there saying that the USA is this is “the greatest democracy in the world” – on both sides of the American political spectrum!

    So yeah, American exceptionalism is definitively a thing. Hard to say how many Americans believe it, but it definitively, undisputably, is not a barely-visible minority or only low-profile wackaloons. That you do not hear about it in your social circles that much migt be just a coincidence of where you live or what things you and the people in your social circle choose to talk about.

  18. says

    Most of our experiences are anecdotes. When other people talk about how their observations differ from mine, I try to keep an open mind. I also try to keep in mind that my experiences aren’t always the most common ones.

    That being said, I am about to pile some more anecdotes to this discussion.

    Back when Obama was a president, Hillary Clinton once visited Latvia. There was an event with her spending two hours in front of a large crowd and TV cameras and answering questions. Said event happened in the building of my university and my debate club got invitations, so I went there. Basically, she spent two hours saying “Latvia should do this, Latvia should do that.” She wasn’t talking about international affairs concerning both Latvia and USA. She wasn’t talking about any kind of international affairs at all, she basically spent the whole time lecturing Latvians about how we ought to live within our country. Needless to say that I got rather grumpy.

    I am aware that I just recently published a blog post in which I suggested that Poland ought to rethink their abortion laws and in this very post I criticized how Americans handle their elections. So yes, many people lecture others about how they ought to live in different countries. But the degree to which Hillary Clinton lectured us and her “we know better” attitude stung. Also, I don’t think I have ever witnessed some Latvian politician visiting another country and spending hours lecturing locals about how they ought to handle various domestic affairs.

    And when it comes to the USA, it’s not just lecturing, they literally send troops to overthrow political regimes all over the planet. And some of the political regimes they have attempted to undermine were merely democratically elected socialists with popular support.

    That you do not hear about it in your social circles that much migt be just a coincidence of where you live or what things you and the people in your social circle choose to talk about.

    American citizens who are bloggers here tend to be very critical about their country. So yes, such social circles of Americans who dislike various aspects of their country and don’t brag about how awesome it is certainly exist. I just wonder about whether such social circles are that common. Given how many people support Trump, I suspect that they might be a minority.

  19. anat says

    Charly @19:

    But anecdotes aside – you just had nearly 70 million people voting for a fascist MAGA! And when I read about it in the news it is impossible to not come across someone (a politician, a commentator, a Joe Schmoe) here or there saying that the USA is this is “the greatest democracy in the world” – on both sides of the American political spectrum!

    Not quite, as the MAGAts don’t believe America is a democracy in the first place. (Didn’t you know? It’s a Republic!) I get tired of explaining the two terms are not exclusionary, and that representative democracies are in fact democracies, and also that democracies usually do have constitutional or constitutional-like protections for minorities.

  20. springa73 says

    I will admit that my post was too strongly worded – I don’t really have enough information to say that widespread belief in American Exceptionalism within the US is a myth. I only have my experiences, which mean a lot to me but may not reflect the wider reality. I should have confined myself to saying that I haven’t personally seen a strong sense of exceptionalism in my admittedly limited experience.

    I suspect that where I live – liberal, Democrat-supporting Massachusetts – certainly gives me a distorted view of what is “normal” in the country overall. I’m sure there are many parts of the country where assertions that the USA is unquestionably the greatest country on earth are common. It may be common even around where I live, just not with the people I know well. There certainly are quite a few people in my neighborhood who fly USA flags – that seems to be common among liberals almost as much as conservatives, Democrats as well as Republicans, in the US. I know that in much or most of Europe, the flying of national flags by private citizens is seen as excessively nationalistic and in bad taste, but for a variety of historical reasons this has never been the case in the US.

    In terms of the US governments’ actions around the world, I agree that many of them have been appalling, and I can understand why the USA, or at least its government, is hated in many places. Sadly many in the US have bought into the idea that they are somehow threatened if people in another country have a government that disagrees with that of the US. There is also definitely an arrogance in the US that comes with military and economic power, which is especially strong in the political and economic elite but also found in some ordinary US citizens. I tend to doubt that this arrogance comes from something unique to USA culture, though. I think it is just the effect of power, and if Canada or Sweden was as powerful as the US, then their governments and people would probably have the same arrogant, interventionist attitude. I could be wrong about this, but I think that looking at history bears me out.

    In terms of elections specifically, I agree that the way that the US handles them is unnecessarily complex, slow, and prone to interference, not to mention potentially undemocratic. I certainly would not recommend it as a system for any country building an election system from scratch!

  21. DrVanNostrand says


    I think a lot of people underestimate how politically segregated it can be in the US by geography. And Charly’s link in #15 was a really good story about the wild diversity of experiences you might have traveling around this country, especially as a foreigner, or really anyone who is obviously “different”. I also live in Massachusetts, which is why it’s easy for me to have a group of friends that includes zero Trump supporters. That was a choice. I grew up surrounded by those people, and I hated it, so I got the fuck out of there! It’s why I’m not impressed by the bleeding hearts who say, “They’re not really terrible bigots. They’re good people who have just been economic victims!” I know from personal experience that they are definitely both, and the latter doesn’t excuse the former. I know this is a problem, that it’s not good to have two groups drifting further and further apart in this country, but I don’t know what to do about it. Do I have to start hanging out with awful bigots that I can’t stand, so that maybe I convince them to be less bigoted? Do I have to sit there and listen to them drone on about Trump’s latest pack of lies, because I might be the only person in their life that will push back and try to fact check him? Just thinking about it makes me miserable.

  22. says

    I know that in much or most of Europe, the flying of national flags by private citizens is seen as excessively nationalistic and in bad taste

    In Latvia on most days very few people fly the national flag. A few days per year, during various celebrations, most people do it. State laws mandate that private citizens are expected to fly the national flag on certain dates, but some years ago a court ruled that the state is also forbidden to punish citizens who refuse to put up the flag on their property on those days.

    The result is that people do whatever they want. For example, my boyfriend’s brother has a flag in his front yard year round. Meanwhile, my boyfriend refuses to fly a flag even during celebrations when the state sort of recommends people to do so. (My boyfriend and his brother are neighbors, so I noticed.) The overall attitude among people seems to be “whatever, do as you want.” At least that’s my attitude towards flags, and I have noticed similar attitudes also from many other people. What other people do with pieces of fabric on their property is up to them and none of my business. Here only far-right nationalists make a huge deal about flags one way or the other. Others don’t seem to care that much.

    Granted, if I saw flags everywhere year round in some country/city/neighborhood, that would evoke from me certain questions about what kind of message people who live in this place are attempting to communicate. And my first assumption would be that this message is probably something nasty and bigoted.

  23. says

    In CZ (and afais GE), flying of the national flag is extremely uncommon on private property. Even during celebrations what you can mostly see are the flags displayed on official places.
    The most one can see private citizens sporting a flag in one form or another is during sport championships.
    I have never seen a flag over a random house in the countryside during an ordinary day here.

  24. Ichthyic says

    “Granted, if I saw flags everywhere year round in some country/city/neighborhood, that would evoke from me certain questions about what kind of message people who live in this place are attempting to communicate”

    what’s interesting is that I was taught, growing up in the US, was that you are only SUPPOSED to put up your private flag on specific days, like Independence Day, and immediately take it down and properly store it afterwards. unless you are a federal public service or military, you aren’t SUPPOSED to be flying a flag all the time. It’s only been in the last few decades that right wingers have decided to fly the american flag all the time at their houses.

  25. billseymour says

    danielwall @27:

    Vote counting is difficult here because the powers that be wish to make it so.

    I think there’s truth to that.

    As for flag-flying, up until the day he died at 102 flew an American flag outside his house every day.  That was a time when “American exceptionalism” was closer to the truth, and one could reasonably be both liberal and patriotic.

    These days, faux conservatives often wear bits of the American flag as articles of clothing, which is specifically disallowed by the U.S. Flag Code:

    No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform.

    although there’s no punishment for it and there shouldn’t be.  (If the flag can be desecrated as a form of protest, then desecration that I might disagree with should be allowed as well.)

  26. billseymour says

    Oops…the sentence @29 that begins, “As for flag-flying” is talking about what my maternal grandfather would do.  I need to proofread better. 8-(

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