Like most expats (and just generally anyone outside of America), Trump never seemed like a real political candidate. I don’t know anyone who voted for him, or even considered voting for him for two simple reasons. First, from an international (i.e. outside America) perspective, this man is sheer ridiculous. As one Brit brilliantly sums it:
For me, as for many people, it started slowly. Notwithstanding the prior existence in European politics of pervy, orange billionaires – hello, Silvio Berlusconi! – it was almost impossible to take Donald Trump seriously. The hair! The word salad! The absence of any political positions! The bizarrely cheap-looking suits!
Surely, surely, the religious right had to object to a three-times married modeliser with a history of leching to Howard Stern? And why the fuck would ANYONE believe a self-proclaimed billionare who goes to the White House Correspondents Association Dinner and the Met Gala and invited the Clintons to his wedding is an anti-establishment candidate on the side of the poor folk? How could a man whose ex-model wife has a heavy accent – and whose model agency appears to have broken immigration laws – go out there and rant about immigration? It just didn’t make any sense.
When you’re living abroad and have a bit better sense of ‘the way things work out there’ or the difficulty of navigating any inter-cultural situation even far below the level of political diplomacy, hiring a loud orange man whose favorite phrase is a self-satisfied “You’re Fired!” and who can’t seem to string sentences together into paragraphs that meet fourth-grade standards of coherency just doesn’t make any sense.
And second, as many pieces of analysis have since pointed out, I, like many Americans, live in an isolated news bubble. The political-social side of my Facebook feed is 95% left-leaning liberal. I have to think back to high school until I hit upon someone I think might have possibly voted for Trump – and I haven’t seen anyone from high school for over ten years. Which is because most of my acquaintances are college educated and either attended college with me (at one of the nation’s most liberal institutions) or were met abroad (and generally people who travel or live abroad tend to both have higher education and a more open, culturally-curious mind).
But a huge segment of the American population did vote for Trump. And regardless of how the electorate college votes on December 19th, that’s a huge problem. Why? Because there’s a huge segment of the American population that is literally left out of modern America and out-of-touch with the rest of the world. Ill-informed both because Trump is truly an awful person (and, if you don’t know that, you obviously haven’t been getting an honest serving of news), and because, even if one supports his supposed political and economic stances (build a wall! bring back jobs!), when one is living abroad it’s quite obvious that this just isn’t going to work in the world. America doesn’t exist in isolation. We can’t just go out and declare whatever we want to do without a bit of negotiation, working our way into the whole world system.
Unfortunately we’re also not too surprised. I say “we” because my husband has recently seen a not-so-dissimilar political situation unfurl in his own country. When the AKP (a conservative religious party) was first elected to office in 2002 they (not unlike Trump) promised to revive a nation weary of stagnant political parties, corruption, and old-guard politicians. And for a while they did (kind of). But when Erdogan started attempting to carve out a greater piece of power for himself and corruption allegations (and tapes, and rather hard evidence) started emerging, liberals predicted he would fall from power. I mean, the man was recorded talking with his son about hiding and transporting millions of dollars stolen from the government. Instead he dismissed the allegations (and tapes) as false (sounding a lot like Trump here…), and people beleived him. Much like in America, he was able to convince millions of people – again, often those who had felt sidelined, including conservatives and less-educated rural residents – that he was truly a man of the people, out to save them from deceitful party politicians. A millionaire who had the interest of millions at heart. And he won. 52%* of the vote (*or not. This figure is as contested as pro-Bush votes in Florida during the 2000 elections).
And because Erdogan now has “a majority” of people supporting him, he believes that his words are the mandate – that “the people” want what he wants and those that don’t are anti-state, anti-the people, and must therefore be shut up and shut down. Turkey was once a[n imperfect] democracy. It’s now inching towards autocracy (or, you know, hurtling at high speed), and is no longer a land where people have secure rights of free speech, of person, of gathering, of refusing religious education, of resisting discrimination based on ethnic heritage or religious belief. In short, it’s becoming the America that Trump envisions (except Muslim and not really ‘white’).
Unfortunately, Turkey’s center-left just largely threw their hands up in the air and waited for someone else to do something. In the past, whenever the government swung too far from center, the military stepped in by staging a coup and returning things [more or less] back to normal. This time too people were waiting for a coup, even after Erdogan jailed senior generals and purged the ranks of liberals. Almost every dinner conversation I’ve sat in on has seen voiced frustration over the political situation or deteriorating everyday economics, but never do people suggest doing anything.
We’ve also seen a sudden surge in the ‘assumption of right’ among AKP supporters – their party is in power, and therefore they’re untouchable (particularly if they have a government post). This transfers over into everything from the way people behave on the road to assertiveness in the office to everyday interactions – an overall assumption of superiority. As I’m young, white, educated and middle class it probably sounds sacrilegious for me to say I’ve experienced racism or any sort of overt discrimination. But racism isn’t so ‘black and white’ outside of the states. Just yesterday a woman whose husband must work at the university lashed out at me and spewed that I was “shameless” for having a kid at my age (I’m 28…but look 18?) when I brought her 5 or 6-year old kid up to her after he sent my (4-month-old) daughter bawling by coming up and violently shaking her stroller and yelling in her face while she was napping (nice kids, by the way…wonder where they got their manners). She’s a housewife – I often see her in the tea garden chatting with the other housewives when I’m coming or going, and we’ve had to shake off her kids more than once. She doesn’t really do anything with her days, and has no profession or occupation of her own. But because she’s covered (headscarved) she’s an overlord. [I think she also thought I was Russian (being mistaken for a teenage Russian in a city with ethno-superiority issues – not fun, but another topic entirely).]
So America, let’s not let this happen. Let’s not let Trump believe he has ‘the mandate of the people’. Let’s not let his less-accommodating supporters turn his ‘victory’ into a green light to oppress or lash out at ‘minority populations’. Let’s take this as a wake-up call and spend these four years figuring out how to make America a less divided nation. Let’s actually listen to the people who voted for Trump because they saw no better alternative and include them in the political discussion with the assumption that, unless we intimately understand an issue we will never change it – and we will face the exact same crisis four years later. Let’s not throw out hands up in the air or wait for someone else to change it. Because, as too many in Turkey have recently discovered, if we wait it will soon be too late.