The US election from an expat’s perspective

trumpI was invited to write this piece on the morning of 9 November, when the election result was still unknown.

I had visions – no, fantasies! – of writing about what it felt like to have the first female President.

The result feels like a ‘sucker punch’ that has knocked the wind out of me. And the taste of humble pie is not sweet.

As someone who spent the Reagan years becoming apoplectic every time I opened my New York Times, this result is truly disheartening. And I’m speechless.

I asked one of my Canadian colleagues about where to even begin. She said “well, you could start with ‘Sorry!’”

I have had the privilege of living in Australia since 1988, and as a dual citizen since 1992. I love it here mainly because of the people.

Life here is different – to begin with, those who are fortunate to be in permanent employment are entitled to four weeks annual leave. In the US employees are generally expected to work for an entire year before taking the one week of annual leave they will receive. Generally you have to work for five years before you reach four weeks’ annual leave. No wonder people are so stressed!

Health insurance is tied to your job (if you have one) and, until the recent ObamaCare initiative, those who lost their jobs, even through no fault of their own, also lost their insurance. This is a serious problem in a country where the cost of health care is very high.

Some of the most disgruntled Donald Trump supporters are manufacturing workers from the automotive industry who enjoyed great benefits thanks to a strong union, until the jobs dried up.

The reach of the United Auto Workers union extended to my administrative role at Columbia University, where we were all members of their District 65, so I have enjoyed some of those benefits myself. When jobs with such benefits disappear, anger is understandable.

Many ‘white collar’ professionals also lost their jobs during the GFC. Some spent years out of work, only to find a way back in at a position of lower pay and status. They are angry too.

And now the other half of the country is angry and many are protesting the election result. Yet so many did not ‘get out and vote.’ That’s the scary part.

Voting is compulsory in Australia. We still get our ‘clunkers’ but most people make an effort to keep up with what is going on. The system is far from perfect but at least it’s sane.

Ironically, my fellow Americans would rail at the thought of compulsory voting because it would impinge on their freedom.

Personally I have tried (very hard) to refrain from engaging in personal attacks about the appearance of a candidate, or their family, or issues that are not relevant to governing the country.

But I have been shocked and, as my sister says, ‘shaken to the core’ by the behaviour of Americans toward one another during this long and sorry tale.

Why did it come down to a choice between two candidates who both have the unfortunate effect of polarising public opinion and distracting the electorate from the main issues?

And how did the one with no experience in holding public office manage to defeat the one with extensive experience? Commentators have had much to say about this, but at the end of the day it just goes to show ‘anyone can be President!’

My father has been writing poetry on Facebook throughout the campaign. Each poem ends with “God bless America – please!”

The country is hurting, and people don’t know what to believe anymore.

There was a spiritual issue at the heart of the election campaign, and neither candidate was going to be the Messiah. The passions that underlie the angry behaviour need to be redirected into some form of constructive engagement that will allow the country to flourish and wounds to heal.

I hope this election result will galvanise people into taking a more active part in resistance: writing letters to their local representative, standing with the vulnerable, participating in demonstrations, actively seeking peace in their own relationships, holding fast to that which is good, and turning the tide at the grassroots level.

It’s only politics. It will last for a season and the pendulum will swing back. It has happened before and it will happen again. I take heart that the younger generation – my children and their friends – are much more accepting of difference as they grow up in one of the most successfully multicultural places in the world.

Rev Lauren Mosso is the chaplain at Epworth hospital

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