We should all be allowed to vote on November 8

The US upcoming election will impact billions of people who don’t have the right to vote in it.

U.S. President Obama and Italian Prime Minister Renzi hug during an exchange of toasts during a State Dinner at the White House in Washington
US President Barack Obama and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi hug during an exchange of toasts at a White House state dinner [Reuters]

After the third and final US presidential debate, most opinion articles and mainstream television commentators continued to focus predominantly on Donald Trump’s violent racism and Hilary Clinton’s corporate cronyism.

Only on rare occasions is the possible presidency of either candidate compared with Barack Obama’s presidency, and it seems doubtful either would do a better job than the outgoing president, who himself has disappointed many by his relentless use of drones and vicious war against whistle-blowers.

At the same time, little is said about the election and the potential impact of its outcome on the entire world. US elections are objects of intense scrutiny on every continent, and this is not simply because of the millions of dollars involved in the campaigns or our fascination with US politics but rather because they affect our lives at least as much, if not more, than the lives of American citizens.

Asking that everyone in the world be allowed to vote on November 8 does not reveal any particular concern for American politics but rather constitutes a demand for some say in our own lives, given the global consequences of these national political contest. But how much authority does the United States still exercise?

‘The leader of the free world’

Although many claim that US supremacy has diminished with the rise of new powers such as China and India and the formation of economic blocs such as the European Union and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), the US “still largely sets the terms for global discourse”.

This discourse, as Noam Chomsky recently explained, ranges “from such concerns as Israel-Palestine, Iran, Latin America, the ‘war on terror’, international economic organisation, rights and justice, and others like them, to the ultimate issues of survival of civilization – nuclear war and environmental destruction.”

The winner of this election will become, as we are accustomed to reading in the press, the 'leader of the free world' and of a nation that 'is on the right side of history'.

With more than 800 bases in more than 80 countries and no foreign base on US soil or close to its borders, as Commander in Chief the next president will have at his or her disposal, as David Vine reported, “more [military] bases in foreign lands than any other people, nation, or empire in history.”

The yearly defence budget of the United States – $597bn – is equal to the budgets of next 14 big defence spenders put together.

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The winner of this election will become, as we are accustomed to reading in the press, the leader of the free world” and of a nation that is on the right side of history“.

But it is the next president who will decide not only how free the world is but also which one is the right side of history. There are many examples of the US clearly standing against freedom (Honduras) or on the wrong side of history (Rwanda), but the upcoming referendum in Italy is a good illustration of both, as it directly involves the vote of a sovereign nation that happens to be within the so-called free world.

Free from US interference

A few weeks ago Obama hosted the last state dinner of his presidency. Among the many politicians invited, Italian prime minister Mateo Renzi received particular attention, as he is in the middle of a political storm that could end his career and harm US investment.

Renzi is desperately promoting a change to 47 of 139 articles of the Italian constitution. According to many Italian law professors and constitutional experts, this is a counterproductive reform as the Italian senate would no longer be elected directly by the citizens, among many other changes.

It is curious that Obama would endorse this reform given that it is the “reverse of the 17th Amendment in the US, which gives American citizens the right to directly elect their senators”, as the law professor Luca Baccelli points out. Why is Obama endorsing a reform that undermines democratic rights historically secured in his own country?

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The introductory report on the proposed reforms specifies “the need to adapt the domestic legal system to the recent evolution of the European economic governance […] and to its cogent budget rules” as well as “the challenges coming from the internalization of economy and the changed context of global competition.”

That is, the proposed constitutional changes are aimed at overcoming widespread popular opposition to the TIPP agreement.

“We both reaffirmed”, Obama said at the press conference before the dinner, “our strong support for negotiations around the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which can support jobs and exports and innovation and growth on both sides of the Atlantic.”


A defeat for Renzi in the referendum on December 4 will hurt, as US ambassador John Phillips recently said, Italy’s ability to attract American investment.

In Italy then, how free and on which side of history the nation will be after this vital vote is determined by the US president.

If Italians, as well as Iraqis and Mexicans, could also vote for the only world leader who can truly influence their lives, perhaps the next leader of the free world would be more likely to allow that world to be free from US interference.

Santiago Zabala is ICREA research professor of philosophy at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.


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