We’re all refugees now
Now I realize why Trump’s election reminded me so much of 9/11. It’s not the feeling of impending chaos that’s likely to come from a US response. It’s the destruction of something sacred and representative of America. It feels rather like a horror show or snuff film. While some people are fascinated and can’t look away, I am among those who find it difficult to look at directly. Back when the towers collapsed, I was emotionally unable to handle visiting the site until they’ve built the new tower, while to millions of locals and tourists the place had become an attraction. Now I am unable listen to Trump’s speeches directly for more than a few seconds before needing to barf. So I’m just glancing at the whole sidelong through the refracted lenses of the media in its various guises. Even that is starting to be too much. Yet the situation is changing everyday, and we’re almost forced to keep up. So far though, there appear to be few miraculous signs of someone who is actually practical and shrewd emerging from within the bullying and demagogic man who got over half of the American electorate to support him.
As a part of an immigrant family that moved to the States from a place with considerably less freedoms and (at the time) little material comforts to speak of, I, like hundreds of millions before me saw the US as a leading light in this world. This is not just in terms of economic strength, but also freedoms, innovative thought, happiness in life, and the embrace of people from everywhere, holding all sorts of beliefs and maintaining all kinds of lifestyles. There was an TV ad at the beginning of the Clinton presidency that had people with various ethnic backgrounds and from all walks of life say to the camera, “I am America”, including a Korean guy, who made me feel that us Asians were not excluded either. That trajectory of expanding inclusiveness had not really ended until the present day. Now however we as Americans, new or deep-rooted, are contemplating an upcoming era when historical progresses will be undone. The Neanderthals left behind by cultural and societal evolution are coming back to destroy our civilization.
All of us who have come to this land, or were born on this land have understood that America is a place of last refuge from the awfulness of the rest of the world. Oftentimes its people were able to come together in ways incomprehensible to the rest of the world. “American Exceptionalism” is an acknowledgment to the fact that America had always been able to do good for itself and others in the world, and it’s worth holding blind faith in the country no matter what it does. That faith had began to be eroded with the reckless responses to 9/11 under G.W. Bush. Still, we say to ourselves (and to everyone else in the world), whatever America does is ultimately for the good of mankind, because history had proven to be so. Throughout the 20th century, in almost everything ranging from the sciences to cultural values, the US had indeed led the world along, however fractious its internal politics may be. Its people are good at heart, and things like the 2000 election were just examples of the people falsely being manipulated by political machinery. Even then, the somewhat incompetent president we elected was well-intentioned. So what had the 2016 election shown? Bigotry and prejudices had won. Alienation and fear had won. Lies and selfishness had won. Authoritarian governments like China and Russia are gloating. Democracies everywhere had lost the example that they’ve always looked up to. Immigrants like us with none-white skin colors can no longer feel safe, and the white population itself is bitterly divided. There is no longer a place to belong, no melting pot. We are all, in this country, refugees from what we had hoped to be our home, whether adopted or born into.
One thing that’s left though is the eternal, almost freakish optimism that all Americans possess. That means all of us will be striving for a better tomorrow however way we see it, and perhaps the collective mind of the people will be able to understand soon enough its mistake and course-correct. That, at least, is the view from my particular pair of rose-tinted glasses.