This is not funny

Drawn by a night out buoyed by either beer or coffee, about 50 Norwegians attended a polite debate last night about the 2016 Presidential election. Why would Ola and Kari Nordmann surrender their precious Wednesday evening to listen to three men go on about the current crop of candidates? You certainly wouldn’t get half that many people in my hometown to attend such an event – unless the beer was free. I bet the same is true for your hometown.

IMG_0262They were there because the 2016 Presidential election matters-to Norwegians. By extension it matters to the world. That is a point that is too easy to forgot in the States. Familiarity breeds contempt. As an Iowan that sentiment may be more true than for others considering how the Hawkeye State is saturated with political campaigning for over three years prior to the caucus

There are perennial topics for comics like: weather, relationships, drunk uncles, air travel, and politics. No matter the year or audience, you can get use the grist from at least four of these to support a stand-up routine. Politics are especially ripe for ridicule. I think for many it is the only act of participation they feel they have. Additionally, it’s a form of stress relief. Since politics have such life-and-death consequences on your lives, then making jokes about it may seem empowering. Someone ask a psychologist.

Wednesday was a typical damp and cool day. The sun set at 3:29, the fog and mist that was present throughout the day became a backdrop for the glow of the city. I entered the open air when I exited the underground train at National Theatre station. In the distance was a Ferris wheel, towering over Storting, the Norwegian Parliament building and seat of governmental power.

I assume the wheel was there for pleasure, all though it may as well have been an art project. What would it mean? What would be a clever monument to place outside of the American Capital as an art project? New postcard contest: most clever art project explained per building. You have one week, add your ideas as a comment.

IMG_3796My drawn downtown was to rendezvous with a favorite professor of mine from the University of Wisconsin. Unbelievably this was the first date we were able to make. I was really looking forward to hearing about her adventures and telling her about mine. As a bonus she suggested we attend a debate at the locally famous Litteraturhuset (The Literature House). The Fulbright Alumni Association of Norway was hosting a public debate on the 2016 American Presidential Election.

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The young and old faces in the crowd sat in attention as three experts with diverging political ideologies added their insights into the fitness of the hopefuls: Jan Arlid Snoen represented the most conservative of the three, Svein Melby literally and figuratively sat in the middle, and Professor Ole Moen voiced the left’s position. Each man spoke in turns and then the moderator, Helene Megaard, took questions from the assemblage and attempted to corral the speaker’s opinions for time.

I wish I had a transcript of the event so I could make a WordCloud. What would be the words and phrases that were the most reoccurring? Likely contenders would be: Tea Party, Trump, Photo ID, Caucus, and Gerrymandering.


The night was conducted in the local language, naturally. But what was unnatural, or at least surprising was the bounty of directly used American phrases and descriptors. I guess some things don’t translate, or at least need to be translated. In the analysis of my notes, most of the Americanisms had negative connotations. That’s too bad, even the Norwegians can notice the sour taste in our politics.

The oldest living Constitution in the world comes from Philadelphia in the late 18th Century. Early in the 19th Century, Norway adopted her Constitution on 17 May, 1814; Synttende Mai. Longevity has made her’s the second oldest living Constitution. Sorry, not France, most everyone-including my Norwegian students-makes that mistake.

The Norwegians borrowed from the US Constitution, of course they did. And of course they added Rights, procedures and structures to suit their time, their culture and their needs. One of the differences that was mentioned last night, in passing, was striking. Professor Moen said that Americans shout about their Separation of Powers, whereas the Norwegians invented a government based on the Sharing of Powers. A subtle difference of words with significant ramifications.

Several topics garnered the most attention, two in particular. One, if a party has a majority in the Senate, then why can’t they get anything? The Supermajority concept even stupefies Americans, the Norwegians seemed incredulous that the US Senate can claim to be the most August body in all of democracy. Ola asks, “Since when is 59 to 41 not enough?”

The other central issue of discussion was the high standing of two inexperienced political outsiders. America’s individual campaigns instead of party campaigns are partial answers. The other answer is who votes. Or, more precisely, who isn’t voting. Voter turnout in the world’s oldest democracy is low. But for the preliminary contests the participation is abysmal. Only the most fervent and dogmatic voters turn out and, accordingly, reward the most fervent and dogmatic politicians.

Low level of voter participation in America makes me sad and embarrassed. I am sad because we need every voice and vote possible to make sure our government speaks for the people, so it has legitimacy. I am embarrassed that billions of people don’t have the vote but want it. Americans have the vote but we seem to squander it. Gaffs and silly candidates are easy to laugh at. Late night monologues will use them until the end of time. No one makes jokes about voter apathy, this is not funny.


2 responses

  1. Hei John! I read your interview in the Viking magazine. Looks like you are already having some great experiences and seeing some wonderful places. I wish you and your family a very memorable year in Norway. I was a Fulbright scholar to Norway myself in ’09-’10, and it was one of the most incredible experiences I think I shall ever have. Wish you the best! Med vennlig hilsen, Brooke Colburn

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have been searching for a special Norwegian word that means once-in-a-lifetime super special, haven’t found it. Tusen takk for brev, jh


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