There’s no question that the issue of Donald Trump as the American President is polarizing within the United States. Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, his presidency has remained an ever-present topic of conversation since the day he was inaugurated. As an American living abroad, you’re forced to watch as Trump’s actions are constantly broadcast on international new channels, dispassionately following the uncertainty and outright confusion when his actions rarely match his words.
In-between the news broadcasts and tweets, there’s the fact that as an American expat, you not only have to watch your country begin to deteriorate in the eyes of others, but you have to also deal with the questions. That is what I would deem the Trump Effect from abroad. As soon as your accent is recognized, the inevitable questions begin to come “Did you vote for him?” “What do you think about the Russia investigation?” “What’s happening in your country right now?”
And the sad part is, as an expat, you can’t really say.
The whole point of leaving your country is that you aren’t there. You can watch the talk shows, read the thousands of Op-Eds in the Washington Post and New York Times and still not have the sense that someone living in the country actually would. You can talk about the Trump Presidency, but no one really knows what’s going on in your country. Particularly not you.
You can answer the questions, fervently discuss the upcoming midterms and talk about how you’re going to send in your absentee ballot two months ahead of schedule. But without really being there, you’re stuck with the rest of the world — not knowing.
One of the most common conversations I have with strangers about Trump is the question of impeachment. Surely, these strangers say with hope in their eyes, he’s done something against the law. How can Congress not impeach him? And even though I do love American law and speculating on whether or not he’ll depart from office, the conversation gets a bit old after you have it 10+ times. Yes, I’ll say wearily after a third time, it probably won’t happen because of the Republican majority and even if it did, impeachment does not necessarily mean that a President has to resign or leave office. Then the conversation inevitably turns towards frustration at the American governmental system and I can’t help but agree.
It’s not that being an expat means I don’t love my country.
Being an expat doesn’t mean that you aren’t still proud to call yourself a citizen of your country. Granted, it’s been more difficult than not to be proud of being an American in these past few years. But you can be an expat, love America and still disagree with practically everything the President says.
Part of what makes the Trump effect so hard to stomach is remembering what the Obama effect was. Was it only a few years ago that people all across the states and the world celebrated when same-sex marriage was legalized? When Obamacare was passed and everyone had the right to healthcare? Having been an expat for quite a few years now means I do remember clearly being proud of watching Obama conduct himself on the world stage. Unfortunately, that also means it’s harder to watch Trump take every bit of goodwill America developed and throw it into the face of world leaders.
Expat life abroad has gotten slightly more uncomfortable since Trump entered office. It means being on the end of accusations, questions and upset. And particularly since it isn’t your fault as the expat in question, it’s frustrating.
But luckily there’s the other side of the Trump effect.
Because for every uncomfortable question and accusation, there’s a person who sympathizes. America isn’t the only nation that has had a leader who doesn’t represent large swaths of the population. America isn’t the only place where a leader acts in ways that upset people abroad and within the country itself. And those people are the ones who you can connect with and find that magical part of living abroad again — that we’re all just people. Being an expat is just recognizing that borders are just that, lines drawn on a map and even in the time of Trump, we can still find likeminded folk all around the world.