It’s been two and a half weeks since the election. Two and a half weeks of shock, horror, disbelief and tears. I feel as though I am grieving, mourning a breakup or a death.
Being an American abroad is hard right now: it’s embarrassing and painful and disheartening.
Last week as I rode the bus home in Sydney I was scrolling through Facebook and landed on a post that made my heart sink and my chest shrink. Young adults dressed in Ku Klux Klan hoods and robes. Marching around, filming it. Posting it to social media. Not in the deep South, but where I grew up in the Northeast, a small predominantly white town in northern Connecticut.
I cried on that bus. For my town and my state, for the small minority of people of color living there. I cried for the people who think it’s okay to associate themselves with the KKK.
This is what our country is now, post-election. It’s people having permission from a racist, misogynistic, abusive, bullying leader to reveal their hidden hatred. It’s seeing friends on social media and suspiciously wondering who they voted for. It’s not being able to get through one conversation without it inevitably coming back to Donald Trump, this man who we were so sure would be cast from dinner table conversation forever after November 9th.
Before Trump got nominated, I’d say, “He’ll never get nominated.” Before he got elected, I’d say, “He’ll never get elected.” I would quickly follow this with, “But if he does, I’ll refuse to go home for four years.”
And yet, here we are, with President-Elect Trump.
I see his face on the cover of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian, I watch endless discussion of him on ABC’s 7:30 and feel sick to my stomach. This new leader of our country is impacting the farthest corners of the world, in ways I would never have believed. This isn’t just about America.
I’m nervous for Australians to hear my North American accent now. I worry about what they’ll will think of me when they learn I’m from the USA. I worry that they’ll wonder if I voted for Trump. I contemplate lying and claiming that I’m from Canada. I’m ashamed of my birthplace, despite the fact that more of us (many, many more) voted for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump. I’m appalled at what our country has done, not just for ourselves, but for the whole world.
Yet in the past seventeen days I’ve come to a difficult realization: I need to go back. I can’t not go back.
Part of me would love to flee: to stay here in Australia for four more years. To become a global citizen and avoid facing President Trump and all the ramifications that come with his leadership. But a bigger part of me knows I can’t do that. I can’t turn my back. We’re not all able to up and leave, to quit our jobs and run away to some appealing foreign country and turn a blind eye to what’s transpiring at home.
That is a privilege. A privilege that millions of Americans can’t enjoy. In the country I am from, in the streets I grew up on, there is fear: fear of being deported, of being abused of being ridiculed or shot. How can I turn my back on that? I can’t.
In the meantime, I’m still trying to figure out how to live post-election here in Australia. I feel isolated from the masses in the U.S., unable to attend protests or chat about Trump’s latest appointment to his cabinet or face the aftermath firsthand every day.
Here in Sydney I’m gathering my American friends near. We meet for Mexican food and in between bites of guacamole and chips, we share our grief and exasperation. In embarrassed whispers we confess that we know and love people who voted for Trump. There is comfort in solidarity.
And now, more than ever, we need that solidarity. We need to come together. While social media and news outlets are still fraught – laced as they are with the latest news and commentary about our president elect – there is hope. From friends, strangers, leaders, writers – American and otherwise – who refuse to accept the bigotry a Donald Trump-led world might breed.
I have hope that this isn’t all for naught: it can’t be for nothing. I have hope that there is a greater good that will take hold now that our citizens’ greatest prejudices and fears are out in the open.
That is what I’m holding on to.