I often find myself apologizing, somehow feeling responsible for the actions of a man thousands of miles away, or at least accountable for explaining it—how we got here.
Only few people I’ve met understand how we found ourselves in the era of Trump, even fewer understand the enormity of this political shift. In a way, being in Europe has served as a reprieve from the severe political climate I will soon return to in the United States. However, with distance, I’ve found myself perpetually being asked different forms of the same question:
so how do you feel about Trump?
When I’m asked this question, my nationality suddenly becomes the most important part of me. 2016 was my first election as a voting citizen and it turned out to be the most controversial, divided election I’d ever witnessed in my life.
Once, while checking into my airbnb in Oslo, Norway, the homeowner tells me, “If America didn’t spend so much on the military, you guys could have free healthcare and higher education, too.” Part of me, the part that’s been marveling at Norway’s magical, borderline Utopian, standard of living, wants to say something along the lines of, this could never be replicated in the United States, that he cannot being to imagine the kind of world I come from—but I don’t. I tell him I wish we could. And with a smile, more melancholic than amused, I tell him, “Don’t ever leave this place.”
Another time, while at a café in Stockholm, I talked the owner, Mohammed. He is from Egypt, and he tells me that he has found peace and prosperity here in Stockholm. When I tell him I’m from the States, he inevitably brings up the topic of Trump.
“I just don’t understand,” he tells me, and, to an extent, I don’t either.
And then he tells me the story about the one time he visited the states.
“I wanted to visit America, go to New York. When I got there, I was pulled into some room for questioning. They asked me all these questions about why I was coming here and how long I was planning on staying, where I was staying. I answered all their questions; they still wouldn’t let me go. They wanted to know why I didn’t bring any cash, only credit cards. I told them I only had Swedish kronor, so it made more sense just to bring credit cards. They didn’t buy it. After six hours on American soil, they put me back on a plane and told me I couldn’t come back for another ten years.”
The unsettling part is that Mohammed says he understands, that it was 2001 and the country was on fire with fear. Those TSA officers took one look at him and decided he was a terrorist. Worse, though, not much has changed since then. I think of Trump’s Muslim ban, him nodding assuringly when a man in a crowd told him that Obama was a Muslim and a terrorist, and the proposal of a Muslim registry, a sort of thing I thought I’d only hear in a World War II documentary. And I look at this man in front of me, telling me about his time as a chef in Brussels and the secret ingredients in this smoothie (turmeric), who refuses to charge me for my food, simply because our conversation is payment enough.
Back in Prague, I find myself in a crowded bar with my friends, flumes of smoke framing our figures. Three men sidle up to we’re sitting and introduce themselves. While I nurse a cider between drags of a cigarette, one of the men asks where we’re from. Once he gets his answer, his face lights up. He then he asks us how we feel about Trump.
Occasionally, when people explain to me why they support Trump, why he really isn’t as bad as everyone makes him out to be, why he is exactly what America needs right now, I start to wonder, for a brief moment, if I’m wrong, if my bitter distaste has filtered all the good out of this man. This was not one of those times.
“Trump is selfish for his country. Strong politician,” he explains.
This man’s name is Martin, and he has never lived outside of Czech Republic. In fact, he has never been to the United States. I want to point out that Donald Trump is not, in fact, selfish for his country, merely selfish. His failed business ventures, one after another, leaving hundreds of Americans jobless, while he somehow always protects himself and his assets, prove this beyond reasonable doubt.
“I don’t think you can really say that if you’re not American. I don’t think you can understand what he’s doing to our country if you don’t live there,” one of my friends says to him.
His mouth twists into a smug, toothless grin and he replies, “I work for the U.S. Embassy in Prague,” as if to say, I know more about your government than you do.
“Why do you like Trump?” I ask, breaking my silence.
“He puts his country first. His foreign policy is aggressive. He wants to build a better relationship with North Korea, so he does it. He wants to have a more impressive, stronger military, and he’s doing it. He wants stronger borders, so he’s getting it done himself. Like I said, selfish for his country.” He takes a gulp from his beer and then, directing a pointed stare at me, asks, “So what’s your problem with Trump?”
With a deep breath, I remind myself to remain calm and firm. This is not the first time I’ve engaged in this kind of debate, and I know from experience that if a woman loses her composure, gets a bit too loud or aggressive, she’s called hysterical or irrational. So I take another drag of my cigarette and compose myself to imitate his tone and speak his wordless language.
“Well, these things he wants to accomplish directly affect me and people I care about. I guess my problem is that defunding Planned Parenthood would mean that many of my friends wouldn’t have access to women’s healthcare. And ending DACA, a promise made to undocumented citizens, many of whom know and care more about America than natural born citizens do, would deport some of my close friends. DACA brought so many people out of the shadows, and now he wants to use it against them. And when he instated a Muslim ban, my friends were afraid to fly home for break because they were afraid they might not be able to come back. Not to mention the fact that, right now, men are losing their jobs, statuses, careers for sexually assaulting and raping women, yet a man facing over twenty sexual assault allegations, including one from his ex-wife, gets to be fucking president.”
Martin rolls his head back, so it’s dipped in a pool of pale light seeping through the gaps between the wooden planks of the ceiling and laughs.
“His personal life is his personal life. That doesn’t mean he’s not a good president. And all that stuff is domestic policy. I’m talking about foreign policy.”
He emphasizes the phrase, foreign policy, as if perhaps I don’t understand and saying it slowly and carefully will clear the confusion. Flickering his eyes across the table, he exchanges an amused expression with his friend, raising his eyebrows like a jolted sunrise.
“You know, it’s interesting to look at a president like Trump,” I said. “You can think about his foreign policy, separate from domestic policy, analyze how it affects the rest of the world. And when he makes fun of whoever the next woman he’s angry with instead of addressing real issues, it’s funny. It’s funny to watch the clips from the debates that become memes on the internet. It’s even funny to watch the downward spiral of his tweets. That’s funny.”
“You know what, no, it’s hilarious—until you’re living it.”
“You can separate the two, take the bad with the good, but I can’t. Because I live there; because that’s my home. Because if Trump makes peace with North Korea, or whatever, that’s international news, call it whatever you want. But if Trump ends Title IX completely—I’m not sure if you know what that is, Martin, but it’s a law for gender equality and protects victims of sexual assault, especially on college campuses—my best friend’s rapist gets to go on like nothing ever happened.”
Before Martin can say anything, his friend sitting right next to me burps and mutters, “I’m gonna’ throw up.”
“Well, we should get going, it’s late,” my friend promptly announces in response.
As we make our way out, I feel a hand on my arm. I turn to see Martin standing there. After everything, he still asks if he can have my phone number.
He says, “You’re not like other girls. You’re interesting, can actually have an intellectual conversation.”
Laughing, I shake my head, turn, and leave. I wonder if he understands how insulting and ineffective this pickup line is on the girl who just lectured him on domestic policy, on any girl who knows that most girls are capable, brilliant, and have fierce opinions and ideas—if you ask.