I was greatly encouraged by the overwhelmingly supportive reaction to my previous essay ‘The New 9/11’. Having begun this series as a light-hearted look at life in the USA from the point of view of a newly-arrived immigrant, I fear that the theme may now take a darker turn, at least in the short term. I spent the past two days (has it really been only two days?) in a state of shock, as have most of my friends. By Wednesday morning I felt like I had aged twenty years overnight. My body ached; I couldn’t get warm. I felt like we were all survivors of a massive tragedy, hugging each other as though clinging to an upturned life raft after hitting the iceberg. That evening, I met my friend J.P. outside the theatre, ‘Welcome to America’, he said.
The irony is that, having spent so many months and so many thousands of dollars and pounds trying to get into the USA, I am now planning my escape. My timing, as far as emigration is concerned, was seriously awry. Despite the reassurances of my friends that as a legal permanent resident I probably won’t be on the list of deportees, I am of the firm opinion that
1) you can’t trust the word of a man whose policies right now are changing from day to day (I will scrap Obamacare, I will keep some bits of Obamacare) and
2) I cannot in good conscience remain in a country whose president-elect encourages hatred against, well, almost anyone who is not a heterosexual, white, able-bodied male.
My observation, for what it’s worth, is that between now and next January when Trump takes office, there will be a process of ‘normalization’. The public have such short memories and the shocking actions and rhetoric will be forgotten; the pageantry and razzamatazz will blind the populace so that the lawsuits, threats and mockery become acceptable, become the norm. And that is the point at which it all becomes much more dangerous.
I am very careful not to take everything I read at face value. I choose which news sources I read, I don’t have television. I don’t watch Fox News. Snopes is a pretty good fact-checker. I am not clever enough to argue and debate politics, and really don’t know how to respond to those who say ‘He might do something really good!’ or ‘It works both ways – if we support Trump then we are accused of being racists!’. Well, yes. If you really think Trump is actually quite a good chap then I’m sorry, but you are supporting his bigotry and his intolerance.
Right now the USA is the laughing stock of the western world. We thought Great Britain was bad enough with Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, but this takes, as we say, the biscuit. Prior to moving to America, I truly thought the grass was greener over here. We looked up to the USA as a world leader, progressive, inspirational. Now, looking back over the past twelve months since I arrived with one suitcase and a heart filled with hope for a new beginning, I realize that the USA is a third world nation. Its lack of affordable healthcare, the poor education of much of its population, treatment of minorities and gun culture mean that life is cheap. The general air of civility barely masks the undercurrent that a big fight will break out at any moment, like watching rival drunks in a late-night bar. Strangers strike up conversations with me, bragging about the bravado they display when they shout at Latinos to ‘go home’. I want to shout back at them ‘I’m an immigrant too!’ but I am too much a coward. I almost resent the fact that I am considered ‘acceptable’ because my skin happens to be white and my accent middle-class. I feel like the banished writer of Brecht’s poem, dismayed when the Nazis don’t burn his books along with the rest of the ‘forbidden literature’. ‘Burn me!’ I want to yell. ‘Burn me!’.