On Being American Post-Trump

on-being-american-post-trump

By about 3 a.m. local time, as my eyes were drooping and consciousness giving way to exhaustion, I realized that a Trump presidency was becoming more and more likely. I couldn’t sleep, not then. Every time I’d roll over and decide to sleep, I felt a heaviness and overwhelming need to stare at this little screen on my phone. I was watching a live update of presidential predictions–when I loaded the page I think it was around a 78% predicted chance of a Clinton win. As the night wore on, I watched the numbers come in and this little dial took control of my every emotion. Twitch to the left, twitch to the right, twitch twitch twitch. Then it wasn’t really twitching anymore, it was slipping… slipping further away and taking my comfort along with it. No, I couldn’t sleep.

By morning, I was in tears. Not heavy tears, just some sort of weird whimpering as I struggled to process the reality of the night through mental fog, emotional despair, and sheer exhaustion. What has happened? How did this happen? This will be okay. Everything has to be okay. Did this really happen?

This morning has been different. After a long and much needed sleep last night, I finally have a tiny bit of clarity settling in. Fear, confusion, despair–those things are still there. But I’ve had time to think some things through and I have a few things I need to say.

I currently reside in the UK. As the whole word is aware, there was recently a very important vote here, too. In the throes of the campaigns surrounding the EU referendum, I found myself strangely silent. I am always politically outspoken, but this time was different. I felt like I was not allowed to speak my opinion as an American, an immigrant, and a non-tax payer. I was afraid of offending my new family and of losing the very few British friends I have, especially since I live in an area that very much supported the leave campaign. Besides, I thought to myself, Britain would never, ever leave the EU anyway. It was unthinkable. Then two things seemed to happen one after another:  Jo Cox, a Labour MP and champion for immigrants, was shot and stabbed just 7 miles from my house, and Britain voted Leave. I realized much too late that I had been grossly mistaken.

The feeling I had yesterday was similar to how I felt when the results of Brexit were announced. Disillusionment, fear, confusion. The next week, when we traveled to London to register my daughter’s birth at the US Embassy, I was greeted by a message in the bus station toilet:  “Blacks, Jews, Mozzies, ALL IMMIGRANTS GET OUT.” Never before had I become so aware of my own immigrant status, coupled with the bit of privilege I carried simply by virtue of being white. These kinds of messages were/are not uncommon. In fact, race hate crimes in London alone spiked to over 2,300 in the 38 days after Brexit, and that doesn’t even include the countless instances that undoubtedly went unreported. I knew at that point, for the first time, that a Trump presidency could happen. The slim majority who voted leave were generally a poorer, less well-educated, older generation of voters. There were the people who felt disenfranchised, economically under-represented, fed up with an elitist government that they perceived as disconnected from their own interests. It was also a people who felt fearful and nostalgic for a nonexistent past–the “good old days” when homogeneity and not multiculturalism was the norm. They fell into the messages they were fed that the influx of immigrants/migrants/refugees (largely conflated due to sheer lack of understanding) was responsible for their biggest concerns:  a shortage of jobs, overstretched NHS, low wages, and overpriced housing. Does this sound familiar to my American friends? It should.

So here we are.

I feel like I really failed myself when it came to Brexit, and I failed my brothers and sisters who are refugees, migrants, immigrants, or just plain British people who happen to be brown. I failed because I didn’t do anything. I didn’t speak up. Well, I realize that now, and that ends today. I am going to get up off my haunches and find a way to reach out, to volunteer, to connect, to do anything that reminds those people now living in fear that they are loved and valued. Never again will I remain silent or nervously laugh at inappropriate jokes just because I don’t want to be perceived as annoying. Go ahead, I now welcome your eye-rolls. I believe in a better version of humanity than this, one that esteems unity and love, and it has to start somewhere. I guess I’m starting here. So first of all, American friends:  please do the same. Reach out to those around you, our friends of color, friends of other religions, LGBTQ friends, friends with disabilities, women. Be a beacon of hope. I have no doubt that the US will see the same increase of hate crime as happened here and our brothers and sisters need us more than ever.

Second, please stop talking about leaving the country. Everyone seems to want to pack up, take off, and leave it all behind to go somewhere better. I want to ask you, where is that exactly? Because the truth is that the same issues are plaguing just about every Western country right now to some degree or another. Are you going to Asia then? If you think that similar problems, including intense levels of racism, do not exist there then you have been sorely misguided. And what would you achieve, really, by running away? Would it just be a big “screw you” to a government that really doesn’t care about you? I can tell you, I am lucky enough to live abroad, and yet never before have I felt so much desire to be at home. Recognize your opportunity, your duty to remain PROUD of being American. More than half of us didn’t vote for Trump, and that is important. Most of our country still speaks a language of love and inclusion, and I am not so jaded as to recognize that includes some well-meaning people who voted for Trump, whether I can understand it or not.

That brings me to the last thing I have to say, and this is the hardest part. We need to stop hating those that voted for Trump. We need to stop preaching for inclusion and love while denying it to half our country. We need self-reflection on a massive scale. I’ll start with myself:  I would be lying if I said I have never acted self-righteous and failed to listen or try to understand viewpoints I disagreed with. I have shut people down more times than I would like to admit. I have worn my over-education like armor protecting me from being wrong. I have utilized fancy arguments and knowledge to win a debate when really I should have been listening with empathy. I have laughed at Trump supporters, laughed at their failing intelligence, laughed at their manner of speech when I should have been recognizing the education system and economic climate that failed them. I suspect if we are all honest, I am not alone. This is the role we played in Trump’s election. Rather than build bridges, we have propagated division despite our messages of unity. We need to stop. We need to try to understand the economic and social factors that are underlying and driving negative ideologies, and actually do something about it. We need to find ways to integrate with people that differ from ourselves. We need to recognize the rural/urban divide and begin to understand how and why it affects perspective. We need to listen, really listen with empathy, to each other and start a new dialogue that addresses the fears plaguing the other half of our country. We need to analyze an unequal education system that has failed us. We need to break out of the bubble that allowed us to believe that a Trump presidency could not happen, and start dealing with a bigger reality.

We need to bind ourselves together, Democrats and Republicans and everyone else, as a united country. We actually can make America great again, even though it might be harder now than ever. This is what we owe ourselves, the world, our sons and daughters. Don’t give up.

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