I felt this election in my bones.
I’ll be honest–this is the first political race that I’ve ever lost sleep over, that affected my mood, that made me feel uncontrollably combative towards the ‘other side’ even when I tried very, very hard not to. I know I’m far from alone in this.
I desperately wanted to be an activist–if we were in the States, I can guarantee I would have donned my very own coordinated pantsuit and gone door-to-door, making quite the impassioned case.
Even though I once promised myself to avoid all political talk on Facebook and stick to family pictures or light updates on the state of my being, for the past month or so I just couldn’t help myself. I poured a glass of wine as soon as I got home from work and thought, no, no, stay away, stay away—no one’s mind has ever changed from a goddamn Facebook post—but was unable to help myself.
I seriously COULD NOT stop; it felt like the only way to grab people by the shoulders from afar and shake them. You’re making a huge mistake! Click, click: Look at what he said! Look at what he did! Please, consider what he’ll do!
Yesterday when Todd woke me up with coffee and the announcement that Trump was winning, I thought he was joking. And, if so, I thought it was the least funny prank, ever. Over and over I insisted it wasn’t true until I put in my contacts and checked the news for myself.
And, yet, there it was. ‘Trump Triumphs,’ I read.
Let’s just say it wasn’t a great morning.
The ruling emotions for me (and so many others) have been the first four stages of grief on a loop –denial, anger, bargaining and depression. One of the most recurring adjectives I’ve heard Clinton or third party or Republican voters who dislike Trump use is “painful.” I think, for so many of us, this was a campaign that went beyond the politics and became deeply personal for all the issues it raised, all the values it put in to question.
So now we’re sitting in the rubble of what was a deeply divisive race. And, as an American living on the other side of the world, I’m suddenly struggling with the question of–what is my home country all about? Do I know America, anymore? Do I understand where I’m from in the way that I thought I did?
I truly, for the first time in the fifteen years I’ve been over here, feel the entire stretch of that 4,000 miles that separate me from where I was born and, over and over, I keep asking—who are you, America?
For the next four years (at least) the ‘mouthpiece’ of the country I come from will be someone who does not in any way reflect my values or how I view/treat women, immigrants, the disabled, veterans, the LGBT community, and everyone else he’s been offensive to.
These are important things. At least for me, this goes so much deeper than my preferred tax plan or student loan debt goals or state of the economy or dislike of ‘the establishment.’
This election highlighted core values—our attitudes and treatment of people.
And, when my core values apparently aren’t aligned with the majority in the place I come from…where does that leave me? What does it mean? These are the questions I’m struggling with in light of all this. How is this election going to shape my relationship to ‘home?”
I understand and appreciate the democratic process and respect that the people voted, as is their right, and that this is the outcome. What’s done is done and it was fair.
But, I’m feeling a very personal loss right now, as so many others are. I’m feeling the loss of country. It’s impossible not to have deep concern for the groups of people he targeted because they will be affected by this.
The common tagline after elections is that we must “all come together.” Normally, I champion that idea wholeheartedly. But–how do I ‘join forces and come together’ with a new leader who goes against every moral standard I have?
We all knew what he was about. He left nothing in question. It was all out there. We heard, directly, how he talks about women. We saw twelve come forward and bravely tell their stories about how he assaulted them. We heard him demonize an entire religion, an entire population of our country. We heard his disrespect for Veterans suffering from PTSD. We heard him call them ‘weak.’ We watched him mock a disabled person live on national TV. We know what Pence would bring to the table with his voting record and stance on LBGT rights.
And, yet, the country I come from didn’t show much sign that it mattered. They voted him in, anyway, fair and square.
My problem is that I will never be able to clap my hands and say, right—let’s move on from all of this and rally behind this man.
Like Martin Luther King, I passionately believe the ‘content of our character’ is important. Above all—I believe in human rights and decency. And, that being said, the content of Donald Trump’s character lays at the opposite spectrum of everything I value in a human being. In a leader.
If you read my second to last post, ‘Man Behind the Tree,’ I see Trump as being aligned with the man who waited behind that tree to attack me. And, in a broader sense, I see him as the ‘man behind the tree’ most of us experience in some form throughout our lives—the one who mocks disabled people, the one who gropes women or comments about their looks, the one who targets immigrants or anyone else they consider to be “different” from them with hate speech.
And now, instead of being behind the tree, this man will be behind the desk in the Oval Office. He will be the one engaging in global dialogue.
So what happens now? Since I do not accept that voice as my own and never will, where does that leave my relationship with America?
I don’t have answers to these questions. They are just what I’ve been asking myself and struggling with all day.
Another thing I’ve been thinking about is this—as an expat, as someone who chose to move away so many years ago, do I even have the right to feel everything that I’m feeling?
Over the past month I’ve gotten so worked up time and time again and then I stop myself and say, why do I care so much? I don’t even live there. I pay German taxes and will start receiving German retirement benefits in 2045. I’m in a different world. So why/how can I care SO much that I’m losing sleep?
I’ve been giving this a lot of thought over the past two days and here’s what I’ve come up with:
First and foremost, the people I love most in the world live there. A Trump presidency will impact many of them directly–from their right to health care to their ability to be married and share equal rights and perception in our country.
Second, yes, I’m physically removed from the situation, but in an international setting you serve as an ambassador for where you’re from.
Yesterday I dropped Laken off at daycare and was actually a little surprised when the election was immediately brought up by her normally ultra-private teachers. They were horrified, couldn’t believe anyone would ever vote for Trump, wanted to know my personal thoughts.
I tried my best to explain it and later realized–I may be the only American they’ll get a chance to talk directly to.
See, when you’re an expat, you aren’t removed from where you come from. If anything, your Americanness is more pronounced than ever. You aren’t part of the masses. You don’t blend in with the crowd. Every single time I speak in public, I see people tune in to the English and glance over at me in acknowledgement of that Americanness.
As an expat you represent your country during the best and worst of times. You engage in dialogues; you try to explain it.
Yesterday at school the other teachers, all from so many other countries, rallied around to give out hugs. My colleagues from the UK shared their own feelings of disillusionment after Brexit. The German teacher voiced his own concerns about Germany’s current political leanings. My Mexican colleague made me laugh when he said, “Hey, we actually want a wall now—to keep us safe!”
We all shared moments of when we’ve walked in to school as a particular country representative, wondering what the reaction would be and how accountable we’d be held for it. How we’d find the words to explain.
America still is, always and no matter what, where I am from.
The election is in my bones because America is in my bones. That’s what has made these past few days so vastly confusing and painful.
I want to feel the closeness that I felt only weeks ago. I want to feel that, even though it’s 4,000 miles away from me, I still recognize the content of my character in the mouthpiece of the nation.
What scares me is that I don’t. What scares me is that I know I won’t be able to reach that final, all important stage of grief so long as he’s president—acceptance.
I simply cannot rally behind someone who is a vindication for hatred.
So, what now? I honestly don’t know.