As a woman, I’m already good at apologizing for things that aren’t my fault but this has really taken it to a new level.
I’ve been in Europe for a month now, longer than any vacation and have fallen into a routine of school and work, and gallivanting around the Continent every weekend. As a political science student I’m genuinely interested in discussing and learning about the political differences between the US and Europe. But the one are where I’m running a bit ragged? Trump.
It’s an inevitable point of discussion with every European I meet and follows the same pattern. They bring it up, I vehemently declare that I did not vote for him, that I abhor everything he stands for, that he is a danger to me and those I love, they ramble on about how they simply can’t believe that America elected such a buffoon and make remarks related to how America is an international laughingstock.
I don’t know how to explain that virulent racism and xenophobia run rampant in my country, that the wealthy white men in power do not care for the lives of women, of black people and people of color, of indigenous folkx. They do not care about the poor or LGBTQ or Muslim. In fact they are actively working to further disenfranchise and oppress those groups.
I am aware that America is not a bastion of equality. Trust me, I’m the first one in line when it comes to criticizing the racist, imperialist, mess of a nation I hail from. The supposed richest country in the world that cannot provide clean water to its citizens.
But quite frankly, it’s exhausting to apologize for and explain that I did not want this for my country.
Thinking about this actually brought to mind the white men complaining that they shouldn’t have to feel chagrinned at the transgressions of other white men, but they’re not apologizing for the actions of the other men, they’re apologizing for a system that they benefit from.
Me apologizing for Trump is like getting punched in the face and then apologizing to bystanders that they had to see that.
One response to “Being an American in Europe in the Age of Trump ”
Sounds like your experience is getting you to take a deeper look at why you view things the way you do, which is always the best part about new experiences. I would argue that an extension of the argument you’re making does apply to you. Your argument is essentially that white men benefit from a system of privileges in this country that allow them to succeed over others–while not taking ownership of fixing it. Which is of course largely true. But I would argue that this same argument applies to the rest of us as Americans as well.
Capitalism in America is inefficient and exploitative. It benefits some at the expense of others. So white men benefit because of the exploitation of people of color. And Americans as a whole benefit from the exploitation of labor from other countries. Somewhere in China people are making smartphones in buildings with safety nets at the top of buildings to prevent them from jumping off and in Vietnam a child is working adult hours making the t-shirt I think is cool and will buy for $9.99. All that is not right. We still engage in it. It is at the core of our society.
Even within America, people of certain social classes benefit from easier access to opportunities. Are we willing to give up our smartphones, our clothes, our college educations, the opportunities handed to us because of people we know more than how qualified we are? We as Americans are not willing to give up these privileges and unfair advantages any more than white men are willing to give up theirs. We as Americans are complicit in it for accepting these benefits and implicitly supporting a system that continues to create them.
So if white men should be held to answer for fixing a system that unfairly gives them an advantage, than we too as Americans should be held responsible for fixing a system that unfairly gives us one too. It’s unfair to sit here and reap all the advantages of being an American while stepping back and absolving ourselves from responsibility for a system of policies in force that gave us those advantages to begin with. So no, we didn’t vote for Trump. But in a million other ways we supported and gladly took benefits from the privileges of a system and society that created him. He’s merely a byproduct of that system. To that extent, we are all responsible for Trump whether we voted for him or not.
The question that I’m hoping this experience is getting you to question is this: Given that we’re all implicitly responsible for Trump, what is the right way for people to hold us accountable for it? What parts of our behavior, attitudes, and privileges that come with being an American are we required to reject and walk away from in order to exonerate ourselves from supporting the inherent injustice that is embedded so deeply into our way of life? It seems unfair to criticize one segment of Americans, white Americans, for benefiting from privileges that make America unjust when the rest of us are doing the same as well.