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What My Fellow Expat Friends Are Saying About a Trump Presidency

by Ann Benjamin Dec 12, 2016

Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of Matador Network.

I was angry and frustrated the morning of Wednesday, November 9th.

I am still those things.

‘The US has been ugly for some time. All of this emotion has been there for years, but Trump’s election somehow let it out.’ This statement was part of a conversation I had (on a bus in Salalah, Oman, of all places) with an American teacher I had only met a few days previously. She had been living in Dubai for three years and worried for her previous students in New Mexico. What would happen to them? Or to their parents in Trump’s new ‘great’ America?

Unlike the Bush presidency, which I begrudgingly accepted, the month or so since the 2016 election has been a difficult time for me in the UAE. This experience has not been a matter of ‘getting over it’ or being a sore loser because my candidate lost, it’s been a reaction to the unleashed hate dominating many American lives. If you think anything otherwise is taking place, can I please come live under the rock where you are residing? With each cabinet or senior leadership appointment by President-elect Trump, my disappointment continues. And from such a great distance, I do not know how to reconcile my feelings. I’ve reached out to friends across the world, more determined than ever to somehow (quite impossibly) ‘make things right,’ but haven’t been able to get much further than donating to organizations who need our help more than ever. I’m even considering a trip to the States to participate in one of the many solidarity marches taking place in January 2017.

For the dozen or so American expatriates I’ve interacted with in the last 30 days (some long-time friends, others new acquaintances), disbelief seems to be the overwhelming emotion. We don’t know quite what to do or say. This emotion is not inclusive to our nationality.

‘Really?’ Non-American friends ask (and they always ask). In fact, outside of ‘what do you do?’ and ‘where do you live?’ the question of Trump is nearly always the next question on the list.

And every time, I have to nod my head. And then I have to go into an explanation of the Electoral College. Of how a candidate could win the popular vote by a significant margin and still not be elected President. Of how a man with significant conflicts of interest around the world will take office in January. Of how this was not a person I voted for. Of how the entire situation does not reflect my version of the United States.

‘Really?’ They might ask again, seemingly bewildered as to how what is happening could continue to take place, and there is nothing we can do to stop the situation.

Democracy, amirite? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I’ve had conversations with taxi drivers and people I volunteer with and just about everyone in between. Many of them take a humorous tone (British friends are glad that their Brexit situation is taking a backseat to the ongoing drama of Trump). Some still think the US is an incredible place and I’m too hard on my country. Others are angry at Hillary Clinton (I’m not sure what she had personally done to one gentleman I interacted with, but her nomination was certainly not something he agreed with). I had a Kiwi friend who was camping in Lebanon the morning of the announcement and had been completely offline. When she heard the news, she thought the man who told her was playing a (terrible) joke, that Trump winning couldn’t possibly be true. Like many of us around the world, there isn’t a playbook on what comes next, or how to respond.

There are stories of trying to make peace or find understanding with friends and family back home. Of trying to come to terms with those who might have voted for the President Elect. While no one I know is planning to move to Canada, or otherwise, there is a deep sense of unease, of ‘what can I do?’

I would be remiss if I didn’t answer those who point out things in the UAE are not perfect and that I am ignoring or glossing over the reality of the situation here. While I believe the conversation should be focused on what is taking place in my home country, the difference, I would say, is that I am a guest in this country. I have never believed myself to be anything else. I know that even though certain laws and decisions are frustrating or do not align with my beliefs, I have to accept them for what they are. I have no recourse. I have no vote. I have a residence permit, which is not a guarantee of anything. That’s a fact of being an expat. If things become intolerable or unacceptable for me, then I have the opportunity to move. Indeed, my expat experience is made easier by way of my trade and nationality, but I am still a guest. My argument for the many minorities in the United States is that they are not guests, they are citizens.

And so, like many of you, I struggle — but I will also keep fighting the good fight. I will show others in the world that the blue passport is full of citizens who accept others for who they are and believe we all deserve the same inalienable rights.

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