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One American Expat's View of the 2016 US Election Outcome

United States Activism
by Ann Benjamin Nov 11, 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.

On Tuesday, November 8th, 2016, one of my worst fears as an expat and American citizen was realized. Donald J. Trump was elected President of the United States. It sickens me to write that sentence. In the span of a morning, I went from being proud of my country (yes, even with our many problems) to utterly disenfranchised, disconnected, and disappointed. As I watched a sea of red counties pop up on the screen, I wondered how I became so out of touch with the country I was born in.

As an American expat, this is my third election abroad. I’m currently living in the United Arab Emirates. With Obama’s first election (as I’ve written about previously), everyone in my office dropped by my desk to congratulate me. Optimism shimmered in the air. I wept with tears of joy as he gave his acceptance speech in Chicago. On Wednesday morning, my experience was the exact opposite. From my first text at 6:25 AM (‘I might start crying now’) to late Wednesday evening (‘You need to watch this’) friends around the world wrote to me throughout the day.

They wrote in fear. They wrote in concern. They wrote with every emotion I was feeling. And I wondered if a man can extract this sort of emotion from people who aren’t his citizens, a man who hasn’t even been inaugurated yet, what hope do we as Americans have? I’m going to see more friends this weekend — intelligent and educated friends and colleagues from South Africa, New Zealand, Indonesia, Ireland, Lebanon, and Britain and they are all going to ask me the same questions, “How did you let this happen? Why did he get elected? What are you going to do about it?”

I don’t have the right answers for them. I don’t have responses that make sense to me, as I am still reeling from the fact that half my country openly voted for a candidate who tolerates the oppression of minorities, women, the disabled, and immigrants. I don’t know what to tell people. While there are some at home who might think this is strictly an American issue, I can assure you this could not be further from the truth.

Friends around the world aren’t the only ones looking for accountability. Do you think American children are the only ones who need this election outcome explained to them? Kids around the world were paying attention to the U.S. presidential election. Throughout my travels this year, there wasn’t one single country I visited where the people I spoke to didn’t express their bewilderment on how Trump had made it so far. And in these countries abroad, children are more connected than ever. On Tuesday, they witnessed a white man, who has publically bullied women, people with disabilities, Muslims, Mexicans and even a Gold Star family, get elected to one of the most powerful offices in the world.

How can anyone explain or find sense in that?

I’m sick that friends at home are now scared and I can’t be with them. I’m sick that minorities and women and other groups no longer feel safe. I’m sick that our reputation around the world disintegrated in the span of an evening.

You might think I’m blowing things out of proportion — you might believe it’s ‘not that bad.’ I can assure you it is. I see it on screens and in messages. I read the links that are shared not just by friends in the US, but nationalities all over the world. The only other event I can compare this to is 9/11, a tragedy on such a national level I hoped we would never witness or live through again.

Outside of the terrible potential impact to civil rights for many US citizens, do you know what I’m the most scared of? In Trump’s terrifying ‘agenda’ for his First 100 Days, it is these points that give me pause:

*FOURTH, begin removing the more than 2 million criminal illegal immigrants from the country and cancel visas to foreign countries that won’t take them back.

*FIFTH, suspend immigration from terror-prone regions where vetting cannot safely occur. All vetting of people coming into our country will be considered extreme vetting.

I live in a Muslim country. I’ve lived in the Middle East for nearly 10 years. I have always felt safe and am proud to call the UAE home. What on earth do the above points mean? How will they be enforced? Will there be a day in the near future where my husband and I have to pack up everything and leave? Are we moving towards a world less tolerant rather than one which is more global?

As pessimistic as things are and as empty as I feel, I wanted to leave you with a positive story from my adopted home in the United Arab Emirates. From one of my best friends (a lovely woman and mother of two from Texas, who lives and works in Dubai) when she went to work yesterday:

Young Emirati Man: ‘Why the sad face?’

Friend: ‘It’s a bad day for America.’

Emirati: ‘Well, we didn’t want him either. But don’t worry, this is your second home, sister. Even if he messes up stuff, you still have here.’

Friend: ‘Thank you.’

As she walks away, the Emirati man says, ‘Don’t lose your smile, sister.’

This young man gives me hope.

So today, I am trying to put my money where my opinion is. I’m donating to the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood. I’m researching where donations can best be spent to help immigrants. I’m going to continue traveling and do my best to be a kind ambassador of my country, even when it seems that hate is the order of the day. And more than anything, I’m apologizing. To friends at home and around the world, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for what happened. I’m sorry for what comes next. Please know that you are not alone and know that change is possible.

Because other people can say things better than I can, I’ll leave you with a quote from one of the great American writers, Mark Twain: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

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