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Donald, I hardly knew ye

In light of my impending move to South Korea (T minus 11 days!), this election, for me, has been a very odd one. I have to say, at first I was speechless, shocked, flabbergasted. I simply could not believe that so many of my fellow Americans would look past all of the many (many) awful, racist, xenophobic, bigoted, sexist things that President Trump has said. When I listen to him speak, I am enraged, and so I could not comprehend why so many others were so willing to look the other way—or worse, seemed to agree. I am trying to understand this, because right now I am disappointed and ashamed of my country. One thing that has emerged loud and clear from the Trump supporters in this country is this sentiment: “Trump is not politically correct. He says what he means. We know where we stand.” And I want to unpack this sentiment, so that I can understand what these people are really saying. First, we all know that America is a profoundly racist nation; we always have been, and although we have tried to sweep it under the rug and pretend it is not there, we have never been able to completely eradicate it. And we have seen, in recent years, a greater urgency in the efforts to reveal and emolliate the institutional racism in this country, and we have seen considerable backlash from these efforts—white people (not all, but enough) are made deeply uncomfortable when confronted with these nasty truths about our country. We have had to face problems that we have previously been led to believe were not there anymore. This requires an uncomfortable self-assessment, and considerable effort to change if we admit that there is indeed a problem. So, it is not all that difficult to see how “I like Trump because he is not politically correct” becomes “I like Trump because he removes the onus of responsibility from my shoulders and places it on someone else”. Political analysts said that there was an unexpected amount of rural white voter turnout—it is not a stretch to imagine that these rural white voters turned out in a sad kind of self-preservation—a sort of plea for the status quo. Similarly, there was considerable talk about a culture gap. Voters over 65 turned out in support of Trump—these are the people who are not happy about marriage equality, they are not happy about abortion and reproductive rights, and they probably have a difficult time, consciously or unconsciously, voting a female into the White House. Again, this vote for Trump’s “honesty” seems to be, in reality, a vote for his backwardness, a vote for the "good ol' days of yore"--you know, back when gas cost 50 cents, you could beat your kids with impunity, and white males ruled everything.

A different aspect of the Trump presidency that can be understood from this vaunting of Trump’s “honesty” is the idea that Americans are so disgusted with politics en masse that they simply wanted to blow up the entire system, and the way they did so was by voting for Trump. The story goes that President Trump has no political experience, has no support from even his own political party, and since the system is flawed, and Trump is not of the system, that somehow makes him uniquely able to lead our country. Look, I understand that the system is flawed—broken, even—but to elect a bombastic narcissist in order to blow up the system seems to me a lot like a murder-suicide. If honesty without regard for content is the only standard to which we hold the president, then that is a very low standard, and it reflects very poorly on the American voter. A vote for Trump may indeed be a rebellion against the system, but so is the temper tantrum of a child; Trump’s economic policies simply do not pan out in the opinion of most of the world’s top economists, and his social and foreign policies are nothing short of terrifying.

Now, this election is particularly interesting to me in the context of my impending move out of the United States; I confess, when I first saw the signs that Trump was going to win this election, one of my first thoughts was, “Oh, thank god I’m leaving soon anyway!” But it’s not that simple, is it, because, first of all, the election results still affect me as an American citizen, and second of all, any country I may subsequently move to (including South Korea, where I will be moving in less than 2 weeks) will have its own political scandals and upheavals, its own inherently flawed system--it's not like I'm moving to a pristine nation with no corruption. It is interesting that I felt this relief, though, because I think that this sentiment of really wanting to move away from America reveals just how deeply our national ties run. Even though I knew I was imminently leaving the country, the results of this election still impacted me on a not only political level, but on a deeply emotional level. The fact that so very many of us want to leave our own mess, even though we would necessarily be running into someone else's, reveals that we never truly can leave—we carry America with us wherever we go. And because of this--because of my emotional ties to American politics--the politics of any nation I might choose to live in will never be as real, as visceral, as emotionally meaningful to me as “my” country’s politics. My moving to Korea does not make my innate American-ness go away, and I wonder what it really means to be a citizen when I would not exist without my country, when I can never extricate my core self from the concept of “American”, when a Trump presidency affects not only the policies and economies surrounding me, but who I am and how I think.

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