On Trusting Politicians

A few weeks ago, I attended a meeting/meet-and-greet in the Graduate Life Center with the Swiss Ambassador to the US, Manuel Sager. In the meeting, the ambassador discussed the frequent elections held in Switzerland—four per year!—to decide on a number of policy issues.

One of the relatively recent elections had to do with adding another two weeks of vacation time onto the already four weeks of mandatory vacation time for all Swiss citizens. The Swiss people voted against this measure. While all the Americans in the room shook their heads and scoffed at this rejection of more vacation time (who doesn’t want more time off?!), Sager explained that the politicians in the country had explained to their constituents that two extra weeks of vacation time would decrease productivity, which would, in turn, be detrimental to the economy and the country as a whole.

And the citizens listened to the politicians and voted against the measure.

I was struck by the trust placed in the political system by the Swiss. The citizens listened to what their representatives had to say and believed that their representatives had their best  interests at heart. This seems so different from the ways we view politics here in the US. While I’m an optimist, and I want to believe that my elected representatives have my best interests in mind, sometimes it’s hard not to believe the common refrain, “never trust a politician.”

I remember my dad saying this when I was a kid. Although his statement, more specifically, was “never trust a politicians whose eyebrows are a different color than their hair.” So maybe all the Swiss politicians have matching hair colors, and are, inherently, more trustworthy? Regardless, it was refreshing to hear about a political system that really seems to value the voices of the people and seems to make an effort to have the citizens and political system work together.