Morbid Election

Being an expat, you carry the stereotypes of your nationality with you. When people find out I’m American, they might tell me ‘Howdy’ in a thick drawl, ask if I’ve ever seen an alligator and wonder if healthcare really costs that much (answer to both: yes, lots). Of course, it’s not always light-hearted. Thus, early Wednesday morning, when it was becoming clear that the infamous name Donald J. Trump will soon be prefixed with the prestigious title ‘President,’ one of the cascade of worried thoughts that suddenly descended over me was…

img_2479 Oh no. Americans are going to be a global laughing stock. The detested George W. Bush certainly seemed to have that international effect.

So when I arrived to work yesterday morning, depressed and bedraggled and underslept, dressed head-to-toe in black (melodramatic, but satisfying) I didn’t expect to receive hugs and email condolences from my English colleagues. ‘You can go home if you want!’ they offered. The other office American hadn’t shown up at all. They pitied me and genuinely shared in my shock and frustration. It’s bizarre that US culture is so dominating that people in other countries know about, let alone are invested in our politics. For instance, in London there were at least 10 public, all-night parties held to watch the results come in. I attended one at the swanky Kensington Hotel. And though there were plenty of expatriate and visiting Americans present, there were also New Zealanders, Brits, and what turned out to be the top managing team from Norway’s public broadcasting company, NRK. The director explained to me that Norwegians have always been interested in American politics, and especially this year, would also be staying up to watch the results live. His own company had been covering the race closely.

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I was speaking to Tom, whom I sit beside at work, this morning about (what else?) Trump. We remarked on this monotropism in the media and elsewhere. So far, The Evening Standard, Metro and City AM (the free newspapers read widely on the London Underground), Sky and BBC news, Facebook and Twitter (which are clearly the most consulted ‘news’ sources in this day and age – a dangerous reality, but for another discussion) have been a constant stream of Trump reactions, rhetoric and worry. I just learned that two criminals convicted of attempted murder had escaped the city’s notorious Pentonville Prison last week and were on the loose. Yesterday in London, seven commuters died in the most serious tram derailment in a century. These stories were given a mere section on the news before turning back to Trump.

This attention is surely in part due to how closely Trump’s campaign and surprise victory mirrors that of UKIP and the decision for Britain to leave the EU. People who did not vote for those choices have talked of leaving their countries in protest and disillusionment. Indeed, I feel lucky to be an expat today for the sake of being removed from a Trump presidency and the regressive 100-day plan he promises to implement in January. But perhaps the UK isn’t the most stable place to be instead. Both countries’ governments seem to be taking enormous steps backwards, toward internal quabbling and divisiveness. So it’s comforting that sticking together, commiserating and making the best of things are the order here on the ground.

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