I was a Senior in high school the first year I was eligible to vote. It was 2008 and Obama’s campaign ran on one simple principle, hope. Shepard Fairey’s duo-chrome portrait of the then-presidential nominee’s face was splashed on billboards and bulletin boards everywhere, challenging the Nation to believe a better future was possible.
I’m not sure if it was the naivety of youth, but back then I really did have faith in the system. I believed in the power of ordinary people to shape our nation. I trusted that the people we voted into power would fight for our best interests and would strive to build a more equitable and just society.
Eleven years later and it’s hard not to be, at best, apathetic, and at worst, profoundly disillusioned by it all.
As an expat, I’m a million miles away and watching what feels like a car crash in slow motion. It’s painful to watch as my country tears itself apart, as longstanding governmental norms are shattered in the name of greed and self-advancement (I’m looking at you, Mitch McConnell). These norms are as important as any codified laws; they lay at the foundation for civil discourse and leave space for opposing views to coexist. As these rules of civic engagement crumble, fascist, racist, and xenophobic views go unchecked and democracy is weakened.
For a deeper dive into how modern politicians are subverting the democratic process, read How Democracies Die by Harvard University political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. Let me tell you, it’s chilling.
It’s hard to believe that we are not living in some dystopian future dreamed up by the likes of Margaret Atwood or George Orwell. Trump is a living caricature of the crooked politician and it scares me to think about how many people will still vote for him in 2020, despite his petty tweets, blatant corruption, and less than subtle white supremacist leanings.
From the other side of the world, I feel powerless to do anything about it.
In some ways, I’m grateful for the degree of separation between myself and the 24-hour American news cycle, which seems to only be deepening the divide between the right and left.
Sometimes I feel guilty for how relieved I am to have found a way out. Through nothing but luck, I had the choice to disengage and leave the mess behind. I find myself in a country whose Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, makes the international headlines for all the right reason and not for the latest erratic decision in the trade war with China.
As the token American in many of my work and social circles, I often find myself trying to explain that this narcissistic orange man with a fragile ego does not truly represent my home and everything it stands for.
Sometimes I wonder if staying would have added one more voice of reason. One more vote in the ballot box (especially for State elections, which I can’t vote in anymore). So far, it’s not enough to bring me back home, but it certainly weighs on my mind.