My reflections on how it feels to be an American abroad in such a turbulent time.
It is by no means a stretch to say that the United States is in a tumultuous time right now. The whole world feels the reverberations of the massive shockwaves that hit the American public each day. When other countries experience the repercussions of these shockwaves, they go searching for the root of the issue. The root of the issue is, of course: Americans. Those darn ignorant Americans who elected an idiot into office and now seem surprised at the outcome. Oh, he was serious about that whole wall thing? I thought that was just over-compensation for his small… hands.
Well, I am one of those supposedly ignorant Americans. I was born in Freeport, Maine, and I lived there for 8 years of my life before my family moved to Toronto. The level of connection I feel toward my American identity has fluctuated over the years, but since Trump’s election in 2016, the shockwaves have reached me in Canada, and caused me to question whether my passport is something to be proud of.
It is always a complicated question to ask whether the actions of one’s country are your responsibility. Particularly in a democratic system, in which you do have a vote. Then again, when I drove down to Washington D.C. on January 21st, 2017 to join the half a million protesters at the Women’s March on Washington one of the phrases that we repeated, oh so passionately, was that “we are the popular vote.” And it is true, Hillary Clinton won more of the popular vote than Donald Trump in the last presidential election. But how far can we go with the phrase “Not my President”? What do we gain from detaching ourselves from the leadership that we have?
Sometimes, as a liberal American abroad, I feel that I am running away from my ingrained responsibility. I cannot use the fact that I am not living in the United States as an excuse to skirt my responsibilities; I must vote, I must protest and I must be actively engaged. The voice I have, though limited, must be harnessed to the best of my ability. I am not naïve to the fact that there are many Americans who do wholeheartedly support Trump. But I also know that there are hundreds of thousands of people who immediately revolted, and who continue to protest against each of his actions. Along with the half a million who marched on Washington, there were 250 000 gathered in Chicago, 100 000 in Los Angeles and Boston and 400 000 in New York. These people have not gone away, and the fire in their hearts has only grown stronger.
At Pearson, we are able to put a face to different countries across the globe. That can be an absolutely beautiful thing; one gains empathy and compassion for the places that previously seemed so far away. However, when your country is building a wall around itself and the person lying on the bed beside you is on the opposite side of that wall… it’s hard not to feel guilty.
This is the point at which I am unsure of whether or not to be proud of my American identity. I refuse to succumb to the notion that we can pick and choose when our various identities suit us. I cannot be an American only when the public opinion of America is positive. However, I also do not want to be blindly patriotic. (I want to stress that it is only the perception of the United States that has changed so drastically; the country itself has not changed from one dichotomy to another, we had issues in previous administrations, and there are some positive aspects to the current one.)
How do I reconcile the inhumane actions of the United States, with my knowledge that there are so many wonderful, kind people there?
Maybe I can’t. Perhaps the only answer here is that if I want to feel comfortable responding to the accusations pitted against my country, I should take action. If I become one of those brave souls who actively stand up against the administration, then I might be able to look my roommate in the eye and tell her that I am doing my best to turn the situation around. Easier said than done, sure. But what’s ever been easy said and easy done that made a notable difference in our world?