Amerikanische Qualität

Got yet another SVP (Swiss People’s Party) flyer stuffed in the mailbox yesterday, outlining what passes for their platform for the April cantonal elections, which is a straight cognitively-dissonant mix between xenophobic nationalism and classical liberalism. Schweizer wählen SVP, it says: Swiss people vote SVP, the implication being that all the other parties are for people who are somehow less than Swiss. The party somewhat disappointingly leaves the question of the impact of the rather stark protectionism implied by disengagement from Europe on the freedom of markets and Switzerland’s competitiveness unanswered. I get the impression this is because actually attempting to answer such a question would require nuance, which doesn’t fit onto a triple-folded A4 flyer in 36-point type underneath the picture of the scary foreigner. (You’d hope they’d be smart enough to realize, at least from the mailboxes, that they were advertising to a building full of binational couples. But alas.)

I’ve been grappling with my concept of the SVP for a while. I would associate the level of rhetoric (which, as I’ve noted before, leads me to sympathy with gangsters, which I’m guessing is not the intent) with nascent political violence by paranoid schizophrenics (cf. Jared Loughner and the Tucson shooting). I bring this up with Swiss people and they look at me like I’m mad. The problem is I assume that all right-wing loons are Americans — slightly unhinged, heavily armed — while they’re assuming the SVP right-wing loons are Swiss — basically reasonable, still armed, but with cause: they’re in the army reserve (just like everyone else), they’ve got better firearms training, and they’re not following a dogmatic independent-clause interpretation of the Second Amendment, which, of course, isn’t in effect here anyway.

Assuming they’re reasonable makes them a lot less scary. Let’s face it, the one thing they’ve managed to actually change of late is banning minarets a year and a half ago, a meaningless little piece of symbolic islamophobia that’s been largely forgotten. I wasn’t planning on building one anyway. Yeah, their Ausschafungsinitiative makes it indeterminably easier to deport “criminal foreigners”, which in SVPlerisch means “all foreigners”, but you still have to actually do something to get thrown out, and the initiative itself was so poorly written that it’ll take five years to figure out how to implement the damn thing. Okay, it might get me deported if I decide to drive 210 km/h, drunk, down the A1, but this is also not putting a huge crimp in my plans for the weekend. The Smart’s rev-limited to 135 in any case.

No, the problem isn’t that the SVP is preaching xenophobia to the Swiss. Switzerland was basically founded (in legend anyway) on a 13th-century pact to keep the outsiders from overrunning them, and is one of the few places in Europe which still uses dialect in the open as a way of separating Swiss from non-Swiss (and indeed, Bündner from Berner from Zürcher from Walliser). An inward-facing viewpoint is built into the culture.

The problem, ironically, is that the SVP is importing the worst features of American politics into Switzerland: twenty-second soundbites, casting of nuance as weakness, nationalist exceptionalism, and above all a culture of reaction to fear. Christoph Blocher, the man behind the haircut, who sets the party’s agenda, has been called Switzerland’s Karl Rove, and reported to be a great admirer of the Turd Blossom’s work. Which is sad. One of the things I was happy to be leaving behind was the screaming dysfunction that passes for political engagement in America, and I hope it doesn’t rot Switzerland’s uniquely participative democracy, especially before I get a chance to take part.

Brian Trammell
Brian Trammell
Scientist, Synthesist, Cyclist, SRE