An Ocean Between Us

The Republican National Convention has been underway for four days now.

I had to Google that. I set out to write a fairly BS’d post about the chaos of American politics and how it relates to the chaos of other countries’ politics and then tie it all together in some really deep and meaningful way and thought that would have been a decent opening line. But the truth is I am not a “political person” (or a very deep and meaningful thinker for that matter, especially when I’m on a deadline, but that’s beside the point). Certainly, I’ve been a bit more involved this election cycle than last, partly because this is the first election I’ll have voted in, and partly because this election, like no other election I know of (I’m not really a history person, either), has rocked our culture to its core, sucking up even the most apathetic and ignorant of us into its frenzy of slogans, sound-bites and Facebook brawls. But, despite all that, I’d still rate my interest as relatively low. I do feel guilty about that now that Donald Trump has America by the throat, and is ready to squeeze as hard as he needs to so he can achieve whatever wild goal it was he set out for when he joined the Republican ticket as nothing more than a running joke (is that a pun?). But, at the same time, I’m a white, middle-class guy who has, at this point in his insulated life, heard about quite a few political and national tragedies but felt the consequences of absolutely none of them (not directly, anyway). As much as I can say to people that it would be a nightmare if Trump were president, how hypocritical it would be of Sanders’ supporters to sell themselves out and vote for Hillary, and that we need some sort of ground-up restructuring of our political system, I can’t say that I really feel as though the quality of my life for the next 4-8 years is hinged on who gets elected and what we do about it as a nation.

Coming to Iceland, then, should have been a relief from all the fervor. But when I got here, I noticed a strange thing: America is EVERYWHERE. I always knew that we held a strong, global influence, but I don’t know if I ever could have really conceptualized the strength of that influence without walking through Bonus and seeing the aisles stocked full of Coca-Cola, Lays, Heinz, etc. But it’s not just our groceries that made it overseas. Quite a few times I was asked about Donald Trump — whether I was supporting him, if I knew anyone that supported him, if I thought he was going to win. Some people asked as a sly joke, either as a jab at the current state of America or at the nature of humanity in general, while some asked in earnest, with a genuine fear in their eyes (for reference, I didn’t know the name Boris Johnson until after the Brexit referendum, when he managed to rally enough people to vote for the UK to leave the European Union. I don’t know if there was much of a crescendo leading up to this event as there might be with Trump’s rise to power, but I assume that there was and that the difference is cultural). As I said, I’m not very political so I won’t go and speculate as to what consequences Iceland and the rest of the world faces should Trump be elected in November, but I trust that they are dire (even more so, obviously, for countries that are less stable than Iceland). And so I’ve been realizing, with no feelings of pride, how important this election is to the rest of the world. It’s a cliche, but the fact is I’ve been walking around feeling ignorant and uneducated — I am very privileged to live in the US, and to have the social status that I do. So where was my sense of responsibility that comes along with that? It’s unfortunate that I’ve been so thick as to somehow let all the stories about disenfranchisement and racism and chaos that exists in the US to roll off my mind so haphazardly, only to have my interest stoked when I came to another country, but I’m glad that it at least happened. Hopefully, I’ll have the sense when I go back to dive into the political world and come out a more responsible global citizen.

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