In the Era of Trump: Should I Stay or Should I Go?
If one more person told me I was over-reacting, I thought I would scream. Trump
As far as I could tell, I was the only one responding appropriately to the truth of the situation: We Americans had just elected Donald Trump to be the president of the United States. After backhanding my husband’s shoulder over and over on Election Night with, “See? I told you! I felt it!”, I went to bed with my heart pounding. When I woke up the next day, I didn’t even get that brief, blissful moment of not quite knowing where or who I am. I remembered everything in a swift, cold wave of fear. Sitting up, I felt the blood drain from my face.
On Election Day, I had worn my suffragette white, and went out about the town. I had wanted to feel the energy, the excitement, among the people. This day was supposed to usher in the first female president. Maybe even more importantly, this day was supposed to mark the end of the hateful, dangerous and divisive language so often thrown around by Trump to energize his base.
I didn’t believe he would go away quietly, but at some point, wouldn’t we all collectively groan and send him back into the shadows? We’d been entertained and horrified long enough, hadn’t we? Election Day was for serious adults who contemplated seriously the future of our great nation. We weren’t impulsive or radical, were we? We understood Hillary’s flaws, but she wasn’t going to go tear up climate agreements, or issue un-vetted travel bans, or dismantle the Clean Power Plan, or anything crazy like that.
And yet, if I am honest about what I felt from the people I engaged with on Election Day, it was closer to apathy than anxiety. Closer to calm than jovial or fearful. I drank it in, hoping I was overly worried over what was certain, according to Huffington Post, to be an easy win for the Democrats. Then I, too, could slip back inside my more carefree nature.
After the election, while Republicans had visions of welfare “reform,” tax cuts and the repeal of the ACA, I had nightmares of militarized police going door-to-door seeking illegal immigrants, drugs, minorities, unmarried women, any member of the LGBTQ community…anyone, really, who wasn’t a white male, or married to one, or otherwise belonging to one. While they planned to rid the world of affirmative action and political correctness, I pictured soldiers putting groups of people in camps in the name of “safety.” Crazy? Ask the Japanese.
While they were imagining American anthems and Christian-approved families making a comeback, I imagined gay couples, recently married, having their marriage licenses rescinded, or single women with children harassed, or incidents—murders—like what happened in Portland, Oregon in May, 2017.
While they loosened restrictions on where corporations can dump waste, I thought about how little time we already have to address global warming, and how, only through some miracle, can we save ourselves now. It’s not the planet, after all, that needs saving. It will likely bounce back—once it gets rid of us.
As a writer, I feared the disparagement and even ridicule of creativity, learning, education and the arts. As a woman, I feared the loss of independence—sexually, professionally, socially—for women everywhere. As a mother, I feared raising my two teenage daughters in a nation led by an unapologetic pussy-grabber who seems to have no sense of decency, shame, remorse or personal responsibility (not to mention boundaries)? As a human being, I feared that Trump, with a two-handed yank, would pull out from under us all the human and civil rights progress we’ve worked so hard to attain.
Ask any toddler: destruction is far easier than building, far more satisfying, and far easier to see and point to for evidence of having done something. A toddler is rewarded by quick reactions from their audience—knocking things down makes for good reality TV. In fact, that’s what I theorized: our obsession with reality TV had come home to roost. Only now, the guns and the bombs and the handcuffs and the words weren’t pretend.
Who could blame me for wanting to get the hell outta dodge, before we were trapped in a nation run by the epitome of masculinity-gone-wrong? Unlike the title of Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 novel, It Can’t Happen Here, I definitely believed authoritarianism could implant itself in America. George Orwell may have gotten the date wrong, but I saw all the signs for a world free of facts and truth, similar to the one depicted in 1984. Or maybe a world of fear, submission and oppression, depicted in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Or The Hunger Games. Or The Maze Runner. Or, or, or—yep I was worried.
Maybe, I thought, my husband, my two teenage daughters and I could sell our house and move to Costa Rica. We have wonderful memories of vacationing there as a family—not just the things we did, but the people we met. If we moved to Costa Rica, we could become one of many expats who live there happily. We could say “Pura vida!” to all those we meet. Pura Vida means “good life,” and we would set out to have one far, far away from Trump and Company.
If we moved to Costa Rica, we could live on less and enjoy more. We could spend more time in nature and with each other. We could eat more fruits and vegetables. We could help out our neighbors and likely receive help in return when needed, because that’s what you do in a healthy civilization.
Or, perhaps we could move to France, so we could enjoy more wine and cheese; or maybe England, so we wouldn’t have to learn a new language; or Canada, just so we could say that Justin Trudeau was not only our country’s leader but its hunky role model.
I sat down with my family in the living room to talk about options.
“Mom, we can’t just leave,” said my teenagers, sighing at realizing that I was serious.
“Keri, let’s just wait this out,” said my husband. “Soon, he’ll see that he doesn’t have unlimited power, and that there are norms and rules he has to follow as president.”
“Norms and rules?” I threw back. “I have yet to see Trump honor norms and rules. And we may not have much time.”
Was I so crazy? Had I been taking Trump at his word when I should’ve been looking at his heart, as Kellyanne Conway complained? Was my imagination, the part of me I love to tap for creative work, taking over my daily life? Or, was I one of only a few sane individuals, wisely pointing out the possibilities? In my eyes, all the things we’d been struggling to improve in fits and starts—education, healthcare, food supply, energy resources—had become more endangered overnight. I didn’t want to live in a country that was going backward.
I wanted to be proud of my country, not embarrassed by it.
Growing up, reading about our country in the history books, I was always so proud of us.
We were the supporters of the little guy.
We were the adventurers of the universe.
The defenders of right and wrong.
The setters of moral compasses everywhere, like the Greenwich clock is for time.
We were the country that welcomed everyone to our shores. Everyone dreamed of living here and I, by some strange miracle of fate, was born here. I understood, like any country, that we’d made some mistakes. But we righted them and learned from them. We elected brilliant minds to lead us, generation after generation, into a new and better future.
It took me years, and the experience of being a writer myself, to realize that non-fiction books, particularly history books, cannot be completely objective, despite best intentions. Every story, every sentence, is presented with the mirror held at just the right angle to shine a light on what we want others to see and put in the shadows the less-than-savory.
It took me years to realize that there’s no such thing as telling the whole truth, even for those of us who desperately try. Writers tell stories with words that shape the story in a particular way. We use active voice to highlight our heroism, passive voice to dodge responsibility, superlatives to swell a story. We all do this automatically. So does Donald Trump. And so do those tasked to write America’s story.
But as the months have progressed, my panic has subsided. Not because Trump’s actions haven’t risen to the level of my fears; they most certainly have done so. Instead, I’ve come to realize that the answer I seek is not running away. It rarely is.
This country, no matter who is president, is my home. The people in it are my family. Yes, sometimes, they are embarrassing, but no more so, I suppose, than my dad or my brothers are embarrassing. And I still love them.
Right after the election, I feared for my country, for my fellow Americans, for our legacy, and for our diminished role in the world. I still do. But I can’t do anything if I’m not here. The moment I leave, who will listen to what I have to say, and maybe ponder a different perspective? Who will read what I write, who might I sway, while I’m swinging in a hammock somewhere in Costa Rica? No, I can do more to affect change in this country if I commit to staying put.
How will I affect this change?
For starters, I plan to live on less and enjoy more. I plan to spend more time in nature and with my family. We are eating more fruits and vegetables. I plan to help out my neighbors more, and likely receive help in return when needed, because that’s what we do in a healthy civilization. I plan to enjoy more wine and cheese, and for now, not have to learn a new language.
Meanwhile, Costa Rica remains a vacation destination, not a potential new home.
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