“Mate. WHAT is going on in your country?”
“I’m so sorry. My condolences.” (hug)
“Honestly it’s kind of funny to watch the U.S. f*** up this big.”
“I think he’s funny. We need more leaders like that here that can just laugh it off.”
“This is totally like Brexit. The conservative right is taking over the world. France is next.”
“How did this happen in your country? It must be because people are just really pissed off?”
In the last eight days, we’ve heard it all. Sympathy, bewilderment, gloating, confusion, and like many Americans, uncertainty. We’ve tried to avoid it, but working with an eclectic mix of Spaniards, Dutch, Brits, Scots and Irish, leaves us as the token Americans (and spokespeople, in this case) for our country’s recent decision to elect Donald Trump as the next president of the United States.
Let’s back up. Even before the presidential campaigns began, politics wasn’t a new topic of conversation while living (and traveling) abroad. As soon as the word “American” leaves our mouth, we’re peppered with questions, thoughts, and opinions about everything U.S.A., especially our elected officials. Like it or not, this is the result of being an international leader. America’s economy, military, sociopolitical movements, and especially popular culture, often pervade the daily lives of much of the rest of the world.
As college students back in the day, our friends would slap Canadian flags on their backpacks and we’d hear the moans and groans about George W. from just about everyone we encountered. But thankfully, over the past few years, the tone has changed. We regularly hear that people like Obama. They think he’s doing some good things and represents the U.S. well. But they’re also tell us that they’re freaked out about safety following the increase of mass shootings over the past decade (“so, do I need a gun to go on vacation, haha?”). The point is, the rest of the world is, and always has been, watching.
The international news covered the election like the drama-fueled soap opera it was; and much like in the U.S., the candidate’s scandals made the headlines far more often than their policies. Before the election, people in Spain knew about Hillary’s email server and Donald’s racist, sexist and xenophobic remarks. Sadly, like many Americans, they didn’t know much about either of their stances on the economy, social issues, or even foreign policy (or lack thereof). They saw Hillary as a typical politician and Donald Trump as a crass celebrity. Most people here didn’t think Donald Trump would win. It was a joke that he was running at all.
Obviously we didn’t either. Like most of the world, we went to bed on Tuesday, November 8th expecting to wake up to a very different headline. Our alarm was set for 6am (9pm in CA); and we started streaming CNN shortly after Florida had been given to Trump. We all know how the next 24-hours unfolded (enter shock, tears, confusion, anger…).
On Thursday afternoon, Megan walked into her class of 11-year old Spanish kids, and was immediately greeted with questions about the American election (yes, 11-year old Spanish kids were 100% aware). One student said: “Donald Trump is your president now?” When she replied that yes, he will be in January, he said, “but he is not good.” Another student chimed in and added: “not kind.” The class has been working on the difference between kind, nice and friendly, and in this case, she nailed it. Pretty perceptive coming from kids (or even their parents), halfway around the world. This idea of kindness got us thinking...
While everyone is entitled to their own values and political beliefs, we, as environmentalists, progressives, feminists, and generally compassionate people, believe that our leader should not be viewed as “unkind” around the world. Think about it. Put all your political views aside; all messaging about the role of government and “taking America back” aside. And think about what you look for in a leader. The basic human quality of kindness is probably a good place to start.
America is known internationally as a place that has a lot to offer. It’s an incredible and safe place to visit. A place where international students - from Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East - often choose to attend college. A place that is on the forefront of technology, arts and sciences, attracting the most brilliant minds and creative individuals from around the world. If our leadership continues to spew this scary and unwelcoming rhetoric (aka bullsh*t), or worse, implement some of the legislation that has been discussed along the campaign trail, we may miss out on the next inventor, the next engineer or the next doctor that helps to keep our country great.
Living abroad gives you perspective. We’re immigrants living in a foreign place, struggling to learn a language, contribute to the economy and understand the unique and very different culture that surrounds us. We’re taking advantage of Spain’s government benefits, including an efficient socialized healthcare system and generous paid vacation policy (we recently received two weeks pay just for getting married!). If we were to have children here, we’d receive paid leave for that too. As immigrants, the day-to-day can be challenging, but there are certainly many ways that Spain, and many other countries, are effectively taking care of its residents.
Like many people, this election has left us with feelings of confusion, fear and uncertainty. We try to create distance from the overwhelming amount of news and political commentary, but somehow still end up discussing it each night. In the end, as international citizens, we sincerely hope that the people in our country - minorities, immigrants, women, LBGTQ - can feel not only safe, but celebrated, for contributing to the beautiful diversity of the U.S. We hope the (likely) damage to the environment over the next four years is as minimal as possible. And we hope that at some point, the conversation will shift; away from scandals, bigotry and hate, and toward policies that support basic human rights, education, the environment, and equality.
One of Ryan’s students, a high-ranking member of the Valencia Chamber of Commerce, had this to offer:
"Trump is now a role model for the rest of the world’s leaders and he needs to take that seriously. As he does, many of the world’s leaders will do. So, he must consider his words and his actions very carefully. This is very important."
We hope that President Elect Trump will consider this Spaniard's sound advice. One thing’s for sure - everyone is watching.