“I won’t come to America because I’m afraid that I’ll get shot.” – an 18-year-old flatmate to a Colgate student
“But in England, we trust our police (crying laughing face emoji).” – a young gentlemen on a Tinder Social groupchat
“America keeps making these Donald Trump memes like it’s just a big joke, but it’s not! It’s really a thing that is happening!” – a woman I was sitting behind on the bus and shamelessly eavesdropping on
A girl walks into a bar and orders a drink in an American accent.
I wish this were the start of a good joke, but it is not. It is just how I constantly find myself in a conversation with Brits about the American election. This is probably the thing I talk about the most with British people when we first meet, second only to the conversation, “Yes, I go to school in New York, but not the city/not in Manhattan.”
There is an interesting dichotomy in how the British I have met feel about America. They love American TV, American music and the American accent. They tell me what states they have been to, what states their family members have been to and how much they love the state of California.
But when it comes to anything political, it seems like all we are really known for is the lack of gun control and Donald Trump. The Washington Post gave a name to what Americans abroad are experiencing right now. It iss “Trumpsplaining.”
I have been asked countless times about Trump, but this was something I expected. I did not anticipate the focus on gun control, but it did not necessarily surprise me either. What did surprise me was that some of these negative perceptions of America run deeper than just the current election.
It is no secret that after Bush’s presidency, Americans were not viewed so favorably by the rest of the world, largely due to Iraq and Afghanistan. I thought that Obama, much more internationally beloved, fixed this for us. This notion was only true to an extent – I saw his name embroidered on bibs in Prague, but generally, I was wrong. At least in Britain, the consequences of the Bush presidency still run deep, and are only exacerbated by the 2016 election.
One of the most interesting and uncomfortable experiences I have had abroad is my introductory International Politics course. In a small discussion group where I am the only American student, we discuss International Relations theory. We debate how countries should be interacting with one another, whether intervention is appropriate and whether it is ever possible to be truly objective.
Somehow, everything always relates back to America. Specifically, American intervention. I always end up feeling slightly guilty and moderately uncomfortable, the American elephant in the room. As America is blasted for forcing Western ideals upon developing nations to advance its own interests, all the while claiming to be liberators (mostly their words, though I cannot say I disagree.) This week, the lecture focused on whether or not America could be considered an empire, or if it is just a hegemonic power. Our lecturer drew comparisons between the American intervention in Iraq and British colonialism in Africa.
I have never taken an IR class in the U.S., but my guess is that the content of these lectures and the material covered is not so different from an introductory course in America. However, here the topic is entirely stripped of any sense of patriotism or any inherent bias from Americans raised celebrating the Fourth of July and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Without any of that, the truth becomes clear. It also becomes clear that whatever damage has been repaired since the Bush presidency is in danger of being undone.
In the U.S., I am solidly left-of-center. I think that I am critical of the U.S., and have been equally critical of myself on all of the same issues that we discuss in class. But it still stings a little to see that this is the view of our government today. I sometimes begin to feel defensive. The U.S. is posited as a bully, manipulative, sneaky and power-hungry, or as a colonial power. I am critical of our country, but considering it in this light is still uncomfortable at best. Another Colgate student put it best when I raised this with him – “It’s like how it’s okay for you to talk about your mom. But if someone else says something bad about her, it’s not.”
So I guess the summation of these experiences is that I have felt both guilt and embarrassment for being an American at times, but also defensive of America. It is difficult, because I only really feel this increased patriotism after leaving the U.S., despite having all the same critical feelings as before. This is not necessarily a rational response, but it is an emotional reflex. It is also a reminder to be more cautious in judging other countries from the outside, something we often do in the U.S. and at Colgate.
England is not without its own problems right now. I agree that American politics are currently a mess. I agree that we have a lot to be embarrassed about, and that the problem with the term Trumpsplaining is that there is no way to actually explain or justify it.
But sometimes I cannot help but point out that, just as the British see Brexit as a complicated and nuanced issue, so too are the issues of gun control and the 2016 election. While these issues are easy to see as disasterous from an ocean away, it is also difficult to fully understand and judge from the outside. “Make America Great Again,” is the very same rhetoric as “#TakeControl of Britain.”
A friend and I were walking home at 2 a.m. (late night at the … library!) and were passing the restaurant on the corner next to the entrance to our university housing. It is a place that sells falafel and kebabs, as well as burgers and pizza. In our study group, we collectively love the men that work here. They are friendly and kind and make delicious pizza.
A man wrapped in a blanket came stumbling down the block and passed us. I watched him lurch into the shop. “Listen you [expletive] Muslims,” he shouted.
I wish that I could say that I did something to stop this from happening. I do not know what happened next, except that a man, a patron, stood up from his table ready to fight. It was 2 a.m., and I was scared, so we ran the rest of the way home.
I am not trying to say that the British are wrong for criticizing America. There are a lot of problems. But there is one problem that unites both Britain and America: you can call it “immigration,” or you can call it what it is, racism. Some of the words and the faces of this problem are different, but it is equally ugly and equally sinister in both places.
Nowhere is perfect, and these parallel issues are evidence of that. The only real conclusion I have come to is “beware of men with thinning strawberry blonde hair.” Boris, Donald: I am looking at you. Here’s to hoping that after November 8, the Trumpsplaining will come to an end.