“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” – James Baldwin
The presidential election has loomed over my time as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in India—a dark shadow haunting almost all conversations. Unsurprisingly, the first question after I say, “I am from America” is some form of, “what do you think of Donald Trump?” The tone is always hesitant and accompanied by an incredulous look of concern.
I live in a lower middle class, predominately Muslim and Sikh, neighborhood in which I am the only foreigner, let alone American, on my block. Given the current xenophobic climate in the United States, I wouldn’t blame anyone if I were seen as an unwelcome guest, yet the opposite has proven to be true. My neighborhood has welcomed me with open arms. Daily, I encounter individuals that go out of their way to help me.
Recently, I read an account of a fellow Fulbrighter, Alex Polyak, who had the privilege to talk to Indian Fulbright recipients before they left for the United States. He wrote of his experience, “One of the Indian students, studying computer science in Boston, raised her hand timidly and asked, if given recent events in the US, whether she would be allowed to bring her Koran and prayer mat into the country. Several other Indian students immediately asked if someone could address whether they would be allowed to practice Islam in the US.”
Similarly, I have had to explain that Trump’s rhetoric does not represent America as a whole while assuring that Muslims, like all others seeking freedom, are still welcome in the United States.
Granted, Trump’s brand of fear and bravado may have struck a chord within America, but that same chord is reverberating throughout the international community stirring disbelief and disdain. And, while these conversations may seem trivial, they speak to the extent to which Trump’s candidacy has tarnished our reputation and legitimacy abroad.
Everyday citizens are asking, “What the hell is going on over there?”
As the election ramps up it becomes harder to explain away Trump’s bombastic tendencies. Most recently, in which Trump needlessly attacked and defamed the family of a fallen soldier for being Muslim. Neglecting the fact that patriotism is patriotism—regardless of creed. Neglecting the fact that those parents lost their son, and their grief deserves to be handled graciously with respect. Not to mention the strange baby incident, comments about sexual assault, rehashing of the Megyn Kelly feud, and the calls for Russia to hack Clinton.
Luckily, despite Trump’s candidacy, there have been some positive conversations. I have even been asked about Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, and why a third-party victory is unlikely. Though some will contend that it is more likely than in recent history as many Americans have become resigned to the fact that they will not like the next president, and should he gain entrance to the presidential debates he may gather a serious following.
Then, a few days ago, for the first time when I said, “I’m from America” in my terrible Hindi.
The man responded with “oh, America… Hillary Clinton!” There was no hesitation or look of concern, just a beaming smile.
It reminded me of the last time I was visiting India, just a year ago, when people welcomed the fact that I was American with comments on Barak Obama and George W. Bush. Policy success aside, these two men had a level of personal decency that demanded and earned respect from foreign dignitaries and citizens alike. They realized that their own actions are heavily scrutinized and transcend any one moment. Yet, they shouldered that burden with class and dignity, never allowing themselves to divulge in petty, reactionary commentary.
Now, Hillary Clinton has the potential to join that list. While her career’s reputation and decisions may be suspect to some, she maintains the level of public decency and restraint necessary to represent the United States of America abroad. And, regardless of political preference, the importance of having a woman nominated for the Oval Office should not be ignored nor relegated to subsidiary conversation.
The changing face of the American Presidency mirrors that of a continual movement towards equality and a more perfect union. It represents a bold declaration that our great nation remains dedicated to the proposition that all are created equally. Finally, children of any race, gender or creed can dream of becoming President of the United States.
And, to the large swath of persons abroad, her face is one whose unfiltered mouth does not pose a threat to our credibility or security. She, at the very least, is someone we do not have to apologetically explain away to the international community, a bar that most expect met by those running for Oval Office.