If you are American, becoming an expat doesn’t cut you off from your home country. In fact, the U.S. is one of only two countries that taxes all its citizens, regardless of residency. So, despite the fact that I’ve been chastised on social media for speaking about the election results because I ‘left my country’, I’m going to give my perspective. Because my voice matters. And because there are millions of American expats around the world whose voices also matter. I just happen to have a blog.
American elections impact the rest of the world; there is no denying that fact. We expats are acutely aware of that fact in our everyday lives. We are representatives of our home country – the informal diplomats who share American culture with our new neighbors and friends. And we also have to answer for our elected leaders, good or bad. Whoever leads the U.S. has enormous influence on international issues. These include trade deals, defense alliances, climate agreements, aid efforts and more.
It has often been said that when the U.S. sneezes, the rest of the world gets a cold.
So it should be no surprise that this year’s U.S. election absolutely shook the world. Electing a man with zero military or political experience has caused great concern among American allies. Electing a man who has espoused an isolationist, nationalist view creates uncertainty among American trade partners.
Add to those legitimate fears the fact that the President-elect has made countless racist, sexist, xenophobic, and Islamophobic remarks throughout his campaign (really, throughout his entire life), and you can see why people around the world are questioning if this is the same America they’ve always known. They wonder if this is the same America that is a land of immigrants, a land of opportunity. They speculate on what could happen next for the great “Melting Pot” that always has been the United States of America.
Regardless of who you voted for (American readers), understanding the viewpoint of longstanding allies and newer world powers is vital to the future of America.
Understanding that the world image of the U.S. has been largely positive under the Obama Administration is important as we move toward a new administration. And, unfortunately, the new one strikes little to no confidence in Europe.
An American Expat Perspective on the Election
As an American expat, it pains me to see my home country in such turmoil. I am disheartened to see that so many of my fellow Americans voted for a man who riled up hatred and promoted violence. I am saddened to see the fear so many of my friends, family, and neighbors now feel. While this hatred has always bubbled under the surface in America, that’s where it predominantly stayed. But now, it has exploded into mainstream America. And that is terrifying.
The country I thought I grew up in promoted democracy around the world. It promoted free speech and freedom of religion. It encouraged fair laws and fair trials. The country I thought I grew up in was filled with people who honestly believed in these things.
But the country I grew up in also had many problems to work on – as we all do individually. I was aware of the continued racism within America and acutely aware of the lack of diversity in my 96% white hometown. I knew I would never truly understand how difficult it must have been for those in the 4% “Other”. But I at least thought of my peers as respectful and open.
I knew that “coming out” was a really big deal in high school and that there were only a handful of my classmates doing so. I wondered how many more might be fearful of living their true selves publicly. But I also watched as those who did come out were embraced by my peers.
I realized that being a female created problems for me that simply did not exist for my male peers. But I felt that we were making progress in women’s reproductive rights and hoped to soon see more politicians and leaders who looked like me.
Overall, I felt that with each passing year my community and my country were becoming more tolerant and more inclusive.
Then I lived in Washington, DC, a bubble of diversity and cultural acceptance that made me feel like we were taking leaps forward. I stood on the Mall as the first black President was inaugurated. The overwhelming feeling throughout the city was pride and hope for continued progress.
But at my job in DC, I was on the front lines of the immigration debate and witnessed some of the vilest language being used in online comments. I marveled at how brave people felt – but only while they stayed hidden behind a computer screen. In my writing career, I’ve since been personally on the receiving end of some of those vile comments. And I can guarantee that if I were to meet those individuals face-to-face, they would never speak to me the way they dared write about me from their technological sanctuary.
These moments – and many others – opened my eyes up to this other world within America. This world filled with such dark hatred for whatever seemed different.
But I thought that dark, hate-filled world was small and depressing. I assumed that nobody wanted to be there and that it was only a fringe element of angry people. I felt sorry for those people and the hatred that filled their hearts. I figured they must be lonely and miserable in their lives.
Given the results of the election, I can see how large that supposedly fringe element has grown to be.
That’s not to say that everyone who voted for Trump is part of this hate-fueled element of America now. I understand that votes were cast based on economic policy promises. I understand that there are many other issues that people feel passionately about. I also understand that history shows Americans often vote for the other party after eight years, in a “the grass is always greener” moment.
But the crux of this campaign was the rhetoric used by Trump. And every vote cast for him was done with full knowledge of the litany of comments he has made against marginalized populations.
The choices in this election were starkly different: the potential first female president who represented the political elite as a career politician or a billionaire real estate mogul and reality TV star. It was a vote between predictability and stability or entertainment and bravado.
This election was about American culture more than anything else. It was about the direction we want the country to take after eight years of socially progressive legislation. This election was about bringing America closer to its much more socially liberal European allies or trying to recreate an America of the past.
Unfortunately, the choice was made by enough people (though not the majority of people) to try to keep American culture white, male-dominated, Christian, and English-speaking.
But, here’s the thing, America…
This election will not stop the inevitable. History shows that we always move forward, regardless of setbacks. We have had our rancorous times before but opted for progress.
This election will not stop people from migrating to America. These people will be of all races, all religions, and all languages.
This election will not prevent women from attaining equality. They will continue to fight for equal pay, for maternity leave, and for the right to decide what happens to their own bodies.
This election will not convert the whole LGBTQ community into a bunch of straight cis people (contrary to Mike Pence’s very disturbing beliefs). The LGBTQ community will continue to grow stronger until their rights are embedded in stone.
This election will not eliminate the religion of Islam nor establish the United States as a Christian theocracy. America was founded on the basis of a division between church and state – though you’d be forgiven for not realizing it given the ubiquitous mention of a god in federal matters.
No, this election will not stop progress. This election will not end the United States of America. But what it has done is awakened many of us who thought we were doing alright. Because clearly, we weren’t.
As an American expat, I can promise you that it does not matter where we live and it does not matter if we never return…we will always defend our neighbors, our friends, our family.
As an expat, I’ve dealt with constant questions over the last year regarding this crazy election. I’ve also received condolences over the past week for what is deemed a major blow to American progress.
As an expat, I still have a voice. I am still an American. I voted. I pay taxes. And what happens in America affects us all. To negate the opinion of an expat merely because of geographic location does a disservice to the way America was built.**
Immigrants headed to America seeking a better way of life. Some fled religious persecution, some fled tyranny, some fled famine or other natural disasters. Many have gone willingly, merely seeking new opportunities or a different way of life.
Americans who head abroad for new opportunities or a different way of life are no different from their ancestors who arrived in America. We maintain that spirit of adventure, that quest for better opportunities and for freedom.
America as we know it was built by people leaving their home countries to do something new. We grow up in America learning about Pilgrims and pioneers heading west. We are taught about that American Spirit – that undying faith in the rewards of hard work and progress.
It’s the American way. And it will continue to be the American way, as long as we’re willing to work for it.
**I fully acknowledge the atrocities committed against indigenous peoples in the Americas and understand the depth of whitewashing that occurs in many versions of American history. For this article, I am referring to building the United States of America as the nation that it now is – not the landmass of North America, which was plundered and its people violated time and time again. If you want to learn more about the first peoples of America and other indigenous groups around the world (plus how you can help them protect their lands), visit First Peoples Worldwide. Full disclosure: I interned there during college.