Staunton, November 8 – Moscow has focused on what the outcome of the US presidential elections will mean for Russian-American relations, but Russians living beyond the capital’s ring road have been far more influenced by the way in which the American vote shows what federalism can bring and highlights what they do not have, Vadim Shtepa says.
“Both the US and Russia call themselves federations,” the editor of the Tallinn-based Region.Expert portal says, “but what a deep difference there is between them in the meaning of these terms! American federalism means a legal multiplicity of states, while Russia, on the contrary … is a unitary state where federalism remains only on paper (severreal.org/a/30935609.html).
The US electoral college reflects this difference and means not only that every individual’s vote counts but that it counts in particular because he or she lives in a particular state and that anyone who wants to win the presidency must garner not a majority of the popular vote but tallies in the several states that yield a majority of state-defined votes in the electoral college.
Many Moscow commentators have portrayed the US election as a battle between “residents of ‘the progressive megalopolises” on the coasts who were for Biden and “’the backwoods’” in the middle of the country who supported Trump, a mistaken picture that reflects the Russian situation in which all politics is made “’in the capitals.’”
“The American system is much more complicated,” Shtepa says. Trump was a resident of New York, and California’s Silicon Valley which voted against him is a network of small cities. In Russia, such small cities distant from the capital are typically called ‘provinces,’ but in America, they on the contrary are technological and style leaders.”
For the 80 percent of Russians who live outside of the capital agglomeration, the American pattern reflects their aspirations regardless of whether they favored one US candidate or the other. And thus the most important impact of the American election on Russia may be their desire to have something similar for themselves rather the centralized regime they have.
There is no prospect of that under Putin who is a committed centralizer, and there may be little chance of it even in the years after he left. But the extensive coverage of the vote count in the US and the way in which votes in each state mattered in the outcome provide an object lesson to another large country about a better way to organize its political life.