Americans abroad have long had to field questions about the ongoings in the home of the brave. It comes with the territory. People are curious; whether it be about our pop culture, our world-powering economic engine, our rampant obesity, or whatever else. True, plenty of folks across the world couldn’t give a damn about us. But here and there you find individuals who have an intense spirit of inquiry.
By investment, personal relationship, a scathing opinion, or sheer curiosity, many across the globe have a personal connection to our (sometimes) great country. Especially these days, seemingly everyone I’ve met on the road has an opinion of our current political climate.
“Are you for Trump?”
It’s the first time I get this question, but it wouldn’t be the last.
The Danish girl I’m sitting with is looking at me with quizzical eyes. It occurs to me that I had never before been asked that question in a serious way. It’s a non-starter within the company I keep back home just outside the heavily liberalized Washington DC. Even casual friends already know my answer to that question.
But she doesn’t. I only met her ten minutes ago. We are drinking beer at the Kex hostel bar in Reykjavik. I gave her my story and she shares hers. She works in the tourism industry in Iceland. Her and her friends frequent the Kex bar because they like the mix of locals and internationals. Learning about the travelers that come to Iceland makes her better at her job.
So when she asks the question I take it in stride, trying to paint a picture of my own perspective framed within the current state of American politics.
I tell her about Bernie Sanders. That many have rallied behind him and his vision for a better democracy that works for everyone, not just a small group of people. They’re calling it a “revolution”. The “revolt”, as such, is one against a government that, by and large, hasn’t met the needs of its populace.
I explain that a similarly powerful, opposing force has emerged from the right. On its face value this movement seems much like a “fear of the other” brigade. But I assure her this faction is no less rooted in the detest of our government’s ability to deliver for the average citizen.
And, no, I’m not for Trump.
Indeed, I #feelthebern. She hasn’t heard of Sanders, much less the phrase that became the mantra of his campaign. Still, I see subtle relief wash over her face. Later I would think to myself:
“What if I had told her I’m a Trump supporter? What would she think of that? Would she feel disgusted? Uncomfortable? Unsafe?”
I can’t be sure. Maybe she would’ve been cool with having another beer. Maybe she would’ve taken a “phone call” and never returned. I’ll never know. We continue to talk politics, she agrees with a lot of Bernie’s platform as I half-drunkenly ramble through his positions.
(Speaking of “The Danish Girl” [a movie about a transgener male-turned-female] the whole cisgender bathroom uproar sure fizzled out quick. Orlando, Brexit, and the Turkish Coup really put things in perspective, no? Who cares where people shit. We’re all just trying to catch a Charizard while we drop a deuce anyway).
In a way I see my conversation with her as a microcosm of the rest of the world, its eyes fixated on the coming November verdict. An uncomfortable tension lingers, driven by the idea that a loud, foul-mouthed, unstable, divisive, demagogic, ignorant former reality star could be our standard bearer and the most powerful person in the world.
To be clear, the tension does not all orbit around Trump. Far from it. As it stands, there is perhaps an even stronger detestation of the opposing candidate within American society and around the world. And not without reason.
Christopher is a Pole who I had the pleasure of conversing with prior to scuba diving in Crete. His wife just gave birth to their first son earlier this year. He seems proud to be a new dad. He is kind, easygoing, funny, and speaks excellent English. Christopher says he would sooner support Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.
“Hillary is controlled by the corporations. At least Trump hasn’t been bought”
In this, the golden age of partisan divisiveness, Christopher’s is one of the rare sentiments that is shared by both sides. Indeed, detestation of Hillary Clinton is something both parties can get behind. She has been pillaged by Republicans for years and, across the aisle, she is seen as all the things Bernie Sanders supporters are working to dismantle in American politics.
It is a sentiment I share. In fact, it was largely the notion of a Hillary Clinton presidency that inspired me to invest myself in the Sanders campaign. I donated, took to social media, and phone banked to spread the word. I called hundreds of people. Some were receptive, many hung up, several were downright nasty. I told some indifferent folks they should still vote, and gave them their polling place. I even changed a few minds.
I did it because I believed in Bernie’s message. For it was never really about the man, but the message and movement itself.
And so I tell Christopher that I support Bernie Sanders, but that I will vote for Hillary Clinton if she is the nominee. He again counters with the moneyed interests argument. I agree with him, and add that her faults hardly end there.
She has been marred by scandal for her entire political career. Some has been blatantly propagated (with taxpayer dollars) by the GOP. But to believe that the entirety of her baggage to be a complete farce is naive. An FBI investigation. Dark money contributions. Election fraud. Alleged Clinton Foundation racketeering. Further, what can’t be denied are her hawkish tendencies, penchant for regime change, ties to the military industrial complex, ties to wall street, ties to big pharma, ties to big oil, and her long history of habitual lying.
She is shifty, un-inspirational, “careless” (James Comey’s words) and changes her views to whatever is politically expedient. She has the transparency of a brick wall. She has quite literally contributed to the current negative outlook much of the world harbors for the United States.
She is the poster child of our current political climate. Establishment, oligarchic, more of the same. Americans want change, as does the world, and Hillary does not represent that change.
So I tell Christopher that she is far from my ideal candidate, but reiterate that I will vote for her in November if she is the nominee (at that point the race was not decided). I tell him that I feel compelled to vote for who I believe would do the most good for the most people.
For many Bernie supporters, picking a “lesser of two evils” is not something they feel would generate change. Many will not vote for Clinton. They will vote for Green Party candidate Jill Stein, abstain completely, or vote Trump simply to deny her the Presidency. I have spoken to many of my peers who feel this way, and have pleaded with them that, in this, their passion is displaced.
The notion that there is no “lesser of two evils”, or accepting that there is one and refusing to vote for this candidate nonetheless, comes from a position of privilege. (I know, I know, that is a testy word these days. But as a white, upper class, straight male, I find I am constantly checking said privilege and am thus qualified to critique my fellow privileged folk).
In a Trump presidency, I would do just fine. Better, even, if my taxes are cut, as he plans to do to the tune of adding over $10 trillion to the national debt. In fact, and this part obviously does not apply to me, the “Top 0.1% would be big winner under Donald Trump’s tax plan”. I suspect many of my fellow privileged white men would also get by alright in a Trump presidency. The same can’t be said for a variety of communities throughout the United States.
Donald Trump’s campaign has given rise to to rampant divisiveness at the expense of several already marginalized groups. Latin Americans are facing mass deportation, 12 million of them, many back to war-torn or incredibly poor home countries, separating countless families. Muslims live in fear that their places of faith will be surveilled by the federal government, and that their family members will be banned from visiting them. The 25 million Americans who have secured insurance under the ACA would have to look elsewhere as Trump would “rip it up”. The candidate has made a habit of misogyny, belittling women and calling them “pigs”, “pieces of ass”, and “unattractive”. He has suggested that abortion should be “punished”.He referred to his penis on national television, with children’s ears listening on. He speaks in un-truths. His running mate has made countless efforts to stifle LGBT rights in his home state.
But you already knew all this.
“Why does Trump have so much support?”
A French girl, Noami, asks me this at the Pura Vida hostel in Bucharest, Romania.
I tell her it’s not all about Trump. In many ways the GOP ticket is more than just his vitriol, it is emblematic of the Republican party itself. For decades they have been fomenting anti-immigration sentiment, anti-compromise, pro Christian values of anti-abortion, anti-LGBT rights, etc. This was effectively tied in with the core Republican agenda of smaller government. The resulting ugly wedding of fiscal conservatives and far-right traditionalists lived in harmony, for a while. Eventually the latter won out, with Trump as the byproduct in the wake of the tea party movement, heightened rhetoric, fear mongering, and congressional gridlock.
Trump represents all the “fear of the other” of the far right, and still carries such detrimental, core Republican positions of tax breaks for the wealthy, reduced funding for welfare, stifling veteran’s benefits, dialing back abortion services, denying climate change, and keeping the minimum wage a poverty wage.
A Trump presidency would have all this on its platform as Republicans have for decades, in addition to the continued divisive and destructive rhetoric that further marginalizes so many Americans. He would have the congressional support to promote such an agenda, as well as likely multiple Supreme Court nominations to help uphold it into the rule of law for decades to come.
Again, we already know all this, and yet somehow the alternative is more frightening.
I would encourage my fellow BernieBros and BernieBabes to consider voting for a party rather than a candidate. The two party system is inherently flawed, yes, but humor me.
Consider a vote for the party that has long fought to protect everything that the opposition has long fought to dismantle. Civil liberties, internet freedom, veterans benefits, reproductive rights, a livable wage, gun control legislation, national parks, a pathway to citizenship, student loan forgiveness, access to higher education, higher taxes on the super-wealthy, and climate change reform.
Consider a vote for the party that just released the most progressive agenda of all time (thanks in large part to Bernie and the hard work of his supporters), that includes calling for a $15 minimum wage, abolishing the death penalty, and implementing a public health option (which was detailed in this article , the first to be issued by a sitting president).
Consider a vote for the party that nominated Supreme Court justices who voted in favor of gay marriage, in favor of upholding universal healthcare, and against the upholding of Citzens United. Consider that the last ruling I mentioned came to be because of a strong third party, uninspiring Clinton machine candidate, and eventual Republican victory in the 2000 election. The parallels are striking, given the unfolding third party support in this election.
Consider a vote for the party that is historically better for the economy, that has been tied to more opportunities and job growth, especially under the Obama and Clinton Administrations.
#NeverHillary folk are foaming at the mouth right now, if any are still reading. If you are, thanks! Please try to dull the white noise ringing in your ears and consider my words.
I know what you’re thinking, and I get it. Hillary can’t be trusted to deliver on any of the above. To that I would say, again, consider the party, and ask yourself, do these items, many of which formed the core of Bernie’s agenda, truly have a better chance of happening under the GOP’s platform? On a higher level, when you look at the platforms, which one is most likely to make life better for more people, in spite of the candidates?
A democratic presidency has and would continue to be better for Americans as a whole. But our candidate’s foreign policy history can’t be overlooked. Hillary may well ramp up our military and escalate our global projection of force. But this is a moot point, we can only speculate on either, and Trump has proven to be equally hawkish, calling for 20,000-30,000 troops in Syria and Iraq. Oh, and he wants to tear down our recent diplomatic ties with Iran and Cuba.
Moreover, humor me once more and refer to Hillary’s record as a lawmaker, in which she voted “Yea” for a great many progressive policies, aligning with Senator Sanders 93% of the time. She co-sponsored the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Equal Protection of Voting Rights Act, Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Funding, infrastructure funding projects, research funding projects (i.e. stem cell), etc. Seems to me she does get things done, and that her hands aren’t completely tied by corporations, no?
Eh, I probably haven’t convinced you. Had to try.
Noami is a fan. She does not know so much about Hillary’s many flaws. But she sees her as capable, and having a steady hand. She sees Donald Trump as scary for the world.
“I think it’s time we let women make some decisions”
I agree with her. I have been blessed with some of the most amazing, brilliant women as leaders in my life. I don’t see Hillary in quite the same vein, but I am generally confident in her ability to work with Angela Merkel and Theresa May, certainly more so than the alternative.
Yes, I will vote for Hillary, unenthusiastically. I see it as a vote for Latin American families, for American Muslims, for the LGBT community, for the poor and middle class. It’s a vote that preserves the forward progress of a movement that began before Bernie, and was certainly enhanced by him. It’s a vote for the Danish girl, for Noami, for my sisters, whom as young women should not be have to live in a world where sexist, rich white men continue to abuse power, belittle women, and subtly bolster the patriarchy that still grips us. It’s a vote for all the young non-Americans I’ve talked to about this subject while abroad, whom would rather live in a world united, not divided, as I do.
(This includes the Brits I’ve spoken to while traveling, whom were rocked by the shocking Brexit vote that is likely leaving them worse off. In my limited conversations, I can generally say the younger generation feels betrayed. The older generation has chosen a path toward a future they don’t have a stake in. One cannot even fathom the future career opportunities, relationships, and experiences these young people will be denied. Divided, instead of united. The parallels to our election are pretty self-evident).
I’m done with the “lesser of two evils” bullshit. There is a clear choice. If you think differently, respectfully, I question the reality you occupy. If you see the differences and still won’t choose as I have, I hope you might reconsider.
Maybe all this ranting was useless and you still refuse to chose between our presidential candidates. If that’s truly the case, no worries. The dreamer in me would love to follow you, but the nagging realist is steering me elsewhere.
If there’s anything I can impress on you it’s this: whatever you do on November 8th, make sure you vote. Vote for candidates and issues you support, and consider how your vote might best be used to help the most people.