Historic numbers of Americans have casted their vote as one of the most captivating U.S. presidential races in history draws to a close. It wasn’t easy getting to this point: the COVID-19 pandemic has created roadblocks for voters, exposed social justice issues, wealth disparity, health inequities and harmed the American economy. But not all Americans have had first-hand experience of living in the country during the fraught presidency of Donald Trump, one which has created a massive divide between Democrats and Republicans and inflamed wars surrounding social causes.
For the past four years, Nathaniel De Avila has witnessed the partisanship tear Americans apart from his home in from Canada, where he and his partner relocated. The native Iowan moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba in 2016 after his spouse received a job offer, but admits the timing was ironic and not purposeful given Trump’s win.
“That's a convenient correlation,” said De Avila laughing while he registers the question.
De Avila won’t get a chance to vote from Canada
For De Avila, he anticipated being able to vote in the 2020 election, but there have been problems in trying to get his vote cast in Johnson County, Iowa. Less than a handful of days out from the general election, De Avila had yet to receive his absentee ballot making him ineligible to vote.
“I never received a ballot and had no discernible reason and could not get any information as to why I didn't receive one,” he said.
As millions of Americans tried to vote by mail, De Avila said he expected some problems with his ballot and hoped it was just delayed in getting to him. After sending in the correct forms to the election’s office, which included having his mother print off and hand deliver the forms, he still remained without a chance to vote.
“It got to the correct office. Somehow, it didn't get back to me. It actually got there twice and still didn't get back to me in Canada. So I don't know why that happened, but that's the reality of my situation right now and my vote not being counted,” he said.
‘American exceptionalism’ clouding U.S. reality
While he’s moved away, De Avila admits he’s started to notice one thing that stood out over the past four years on both sides—American exceptionalism. He added that from an outsider’s perspective, there’s a sense that the country is flailing, but from within there’s an idea that it still is the best in the world.
“There's a pretty standard narrative within the U.S. that there's some sort of exceptionalism, but a lot of people outside of the U. S understand that to be propagandistic...the U.S. is not receptive to their normalcy as humans,” he said.
During his time living in Canada, he added that he thinks Canadians have a limited and reductive understanding of U.S. politics, in essence because of the two-party system which results in similar policy-making. While De Avila doesn’t openly say who he’s supporting during this campaign, mostly because his preferred candidate, Bernie Sanders lost in the Democratic Primary, he feels that the two-party system has made it impossible for new ideas to circulate within the Democratic Party.
“I think the duopoly has succeeded in stopping the leftist side of the populist movement, and the Republican party has opened its arms to populism,” he said.
One of the things that some politicians like Sanders, New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others have done is point to failures of the American system, both socially and economically. The focus on inequities, both socially and economically which have been brought more to the forefront by COVID-19, remain issues De Avila hopes both parties would address.
“It's vitally important that we talk about systemic oppressions, systemic injustice, the consolidation of wealth, the American inability to consider people who are struggling...these are the issues that I would focus on and what I would be attracted to vote for,” he said.
Picking leader like choosing ‘lesser of two evils’
However, when it comes down to the two candidates themselves, De Avila noted that there is a pretty clear distinction that Trump has caused a cultural and systemic divide within the country.
“There’s one candidate who is espousing and riling a base of people who seem to be okay with systemic oppression and racism. I think a lot of people respond appropriately opposed to that,” he said.
While De Avila doesn’t agree with Trump’s policies, he isn’t necessarily a fan of Joe Biden either, and admits it feels a lot like 2016 again, where both candidates are not ideal choices for the highest office in the country.
“In some vein you're ending up with a lesser of two evils voting strategy, whereas I do think it's still important to vote, I would also readily acknowledge the unfortunate futility of a portion of that vote,” he said.
It remains unclear to this point if a winner will be called on Tuesday night or the early hours of Wednesday morning, De Avila noted he’s going to keep his eyes squarely on the vote count and electoral college.
“I’m going to be watching, I have to, it’s time and I’ve waited a long time,” he said.