There’s a very unique kind of anger when your dismay is not only dismissed, but completely misunderstood.
I watched the US presidential election from a trendy cafe in Berlin with a large single room and beautiful wooden tables. The cafe in Kreutzberg, Berlin’s cool, artistic neighborhood, was packed with people from countries all across the globe.
Like many of my friends, I understood this election fucking mattered.
As much as I thought we’d see the election of our first female president, I knew it wasn’t a done deal. I’m from a conservative rural area in Oregon that has its fair share of confederate flags on trucks. I knew that Trump’s message deeply resonated with large parts of America.
I had been living in Berlin for four months for a new job. My decision to move wasn’t a reaction to the impending election.
I had done my due diligence and submitted my absentee ballot (a really confusing process, I might add).
On election night, there were two American friends with me at the cafe, but everyone else around us was from elsewhere. The group next to us consisted of some Germans, an Egyptian guy and a young Iranian woman. All completely in that uniquely shabby yet oh-so-trendy Berlin aesthetic.
It was already 2 am in Berlin when the first polls began to close. I was on my 4th drink, but instead of getting that warm buzzed feeling, I had only managed to summon a dull wine headache on myself.
My attention was fixed on the screen. This was not a joke to me. But to the Euro-dwellers, it was all just a big game.
They were focused on their drinks and loud conversation. I remember an uncomfortable amount of laughter for an evening that would bare such significant consequences.
Everything felt wrong — like that one uncomfortable sweater I bought at Beacon’s Closet that looked cute, but was unwearable due to its scratchiness. I had volunteered on the Obama campaign back in 2008 and watched the results in a large room of really hype college students at the University of Oregon. I was continually jolted with life from the group with each state that turned blue.
￼For President Obama’s re-election in 2012, I was side by side with important people in my life at Housing Works bookstore in Soho, New York. All around me were my people.
On election night 2016, these European-dwellers weren’t my people. They didn’t care how this would impact groups of people in the US.
The Euro-dwellers had plenty of opinions about Trump and Hillary — despite the fact that most of them had a surface-level knowledge of the country.
Their opinions ranged from smugness to intellectual superiority.
“You Americans are nuts. In Germany, we would not put up with such a man as Trump.”
“Even you Americans aren’t stupid enough to elect Trump.”
“Trump needs to win because he will end this era of American aggression in foreign policy. You are short-sighted for opposing him.”
The polls began to close. When the signs of Clinton losing Ohio came in, I felt the ache in my head transfer down to my stomach. This is actually going to happen. I looked around. No one around me understood the significance of the moment. No one knew how the electoral college worked or why Ohio was so significant.
My American friend was trying to explain the situation to the Euro-dwellers, but they actively began laughing at her.
“You guys deserve Trump! You Americans are so stupid!” they cackled as our despair became apparent to them.
These were the sorts of worldly open-minded international folk I had moved to Berlin to be around. This was the sort of chill, yet chic Kreuzberg cafe that I had fantasized about having a glass of wine at. Yet, that night it just became another place I drastically felt like I didn’t belong.
By the time it became clear we would lose Michigan, I was done with the Euro-dwellers. I hugged my friends goodbye, told them to take care of themselves and set out in the cold early morning German air.
I spent the rest of the night in solitude watching a CNN stream trying to steady the significantly escalated headache.
The disaster scenarios began running through my head as I fell asleep: Pence, Christie, Giuliani, reproductive rights, the fucking Supreme Court…
Early in the morning, I rolled over and my eyes opened for a moment to see the giant CNN graphic “DONALD TRUMP ELECTED PRESIDENT.”
I was feeling what my friends back home were feeling. Only, I was feeling it in isolation.
I had moved to Berlin to strike out on my own, to have new experiences and gain new perspectives. But, the foreignness of those new perspectives made me feel cold and without roots. I just needed people to understand what I was feeling — what it felt like as a mixed race gay male who is soon to be a citizen of Trump and Pence’s America.
Then my thoughts turned to, “What can I do about this?”
But everything I came up with, donating to groups, retweeting Keith Ellison and Bernie Sanders, just felt intangible — in a way it all was intangible. My friends were back home protesting in New York City and Portland. I felt not just an anger for not being there, but a very real guilt.
Senator Elizabeth Warren urged in an interview on Rachel Maddow “You can decide to move to Canada, or you can stand your ground and fight back.”
That really made me feel helpless. The people who are most impacted aren’t moving to Europe to escape the dread.
In the same interview, Senator Elizabeth Warren had words for those of us who felt helpless, “We can volunteer… and we can stay connected to each other.”
So for now, I’ll do my best to stay connected and not beat myself up for being geographically removed. There are things I can do and learn, regardless of where I’m living. This election will impact people all over the world. I will work to not be helpless.
Oddly enough, living in another country at this time, I’ve never felt more American.