A few months before I packed my bags and set off to study on the other side of the world, I was worried about the idea of the “Ugly American.” You know the stereotype: loud, obnoxious, slovenly, selfish, stupid… the list of negatively-tuned adjectives goes on. But don’t worry, Molly, I thought to myself, you aren’t any of those things (on a good day). And if it is actually an issue while you’re over there, you can work double-time to turn that reputation around. And with that, my agitations were calmed. I would always be nice. I would always be on my game. I would prove that stereotypes are silly little theories better saved for bad punchlines, and for a few, I would leave Australia having turned, at the very least, the “Ugly American” into the “Tolerable American”.
And then Trump happened.
His presidential victory took whatever worries I had about American stereotypes and compounded them tenfold. If we went along with the whole leader-as-a-reflection-of-the-country idea, Americans were no longer just a laundry list of dirty adjectives… if we were to be judged by our president’s rhetoric, we were racist, misogynistic, mean, loud, and dangerous (and that’s if those judging were being kind about it). But Molly, you may say, why worry so much about what other people think? I would be inclined to agree with you, if the characteristics up for debate didn’t include white supremacy. And then, once we forget the issue of the stereotype, there is the issue of the reality.
Being an American abroad is like being an extra in an action movie. There you are, sitting at the corner desk in an unnecessarily-dim control room, wearing army fatigues while the squadron commander announces your losses to the tune of the world’s most suspenseful string orchestra. “We’re losing the environment. The EPA has gone dark.” You put your head in your hands, and someone next to you whispers that the world will never be the same. “Abortion is under fire, I repeat, abortion is under fire.”
“Sir?” You question, your throat clogged with desperation, “Sir, what about healthcare?”
He walks over to you, face grim, no light in his eyes. He has family back home too, he knows what you’re going through, what you’re all going through. His hand finds your shoulder.“We don’t know yet. I’m sorry. We just don’t know.” Sirens are sounding in the distance. Dust falls from the ceiling. The room goes black.
Okay, I’ll admit that I have a tendency for the dramatic… but I’m not exaggerating about every fundamental issue that I hold dear being under attack. Trump just promoted Charmaine Yoest, a notoriously anti-choice activist, to the position of assistant secretary of public affairs at the Department for Health & Human Services; a move that, alongside the goal of Mike Pence to consign “Roe v. Wade to the ash heap of history” and the establishment of Neil Gorsuch as a Supreme Court Justice, sets the stage for an all-out war on abortion rights. If anybody was interested in the views of the American people (as this administration is not), 59% think that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and 69% think that Roe v. Wade should not be fully overturned. In regards to health (not healthcare, but straight up health), the NIH places ⅓ of children in the overweight or obese category; in the face of that statistic, the Trump administration is dumping the health initiatives that Michelle Obama had created for school lunch programs. If you were interested in morality, you may like to know that Trump has extended a diplomatic hand to Rodrigo Duterte and Kim Jong-un, both of whom are national leaders accused of multiple human rights violations. And if we continue with the conversation on “rights,” it’s necessary to mention that White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus hinted at the president’s agenda regarding the alteration of our first amendment (freedom of speech) to hinder the media’s continuous Trump commentary.
Want to hear the kicker? All of these headlines happened within the past week. I know because I dedicate about 30 minutes every morning to scrolling through newspaper sites and having rage blackouts (I’m only half kidding); most days this week, I’ve gone over my time limits.
Being an American abroad brings with it an odd bundle of emotions, most of them admittedly negative. But, although they are less prominent, there are a few positive ones floating around in the mix. I can viscerally feel the inspiration of my population mobilizing in the face of national detriment. There is a relief in watching the system of checks and balances strain, but ultimately work (though the timeline of continued success in this realm may be under suspicion). As a precursor to dedication, I’ve connected with those who are ready to fight.
You may think that it is easy to turn off the hard channels and look away from the news stories… after all, this is the age of all media, and the internet has a lot to offer. But it’s even easier to understand that we are entering an era where not being political and where not being informed simply don’t cut it anymore. There is just too much at stake.
I’ve been planning for the moment that my plane touches down by isolating the issues most important to me and joining the platforms of their resistance movements in all ways that I can. The optimistic side of me is hoping that it will all keep moving on like that action movie.
It is a bit of a simplistic notion, but at least in those, the good guys always win.