My experience in the USA was life-changing, and I owe it to many people. My camp counsellors at YMCA Camp Ockanickon in New Jersey; my international students and work colleagues at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. Unfortunately, I also owe it to Donald Trump, the recently elected “president”.
While I would like to leave his name off of my list, if it was not for Trump’s inordinate stir of the political climate I would not have found myself interested in politics at all, and might not have realised the importance of understanding it to help in my efforts to promote social change. This is not a ‘thank you’, because I don’t know if I’ll ever have the desire to thank President Trump, but I do admit that he has inspired me to do be pragmatic about my desire for social justice.
Living in the US for a year helped me in the awful realisation that the country I held in such high regard was still immature in its perspective on equality and freedom. Trump offered the USA the possibility of fixing a broken nation but used minorities and other candidates as scapegoats for its shortcomings. America could be great again, Trump proclaimed, but it needed a man in charge that was ‘honest’ and ‘said what he thought’, and that was going to fix it.
What made me realise America was on another level of foolishness was that a man so sexist and vile, so blatantly unsupportive of queer people, despite claims otherwise, and so obviously uneducated and generalising about the very real issues of poverty that affect people of colour, could still be elected. It soon became clear that Trump appealed to a vast number of Americans who felt that the oppressed were actually the ones responsible for their nation’s shortcomings.
A man with no political experience, no real awareness of issues a variety of Americans faced and no real plan other than to keep exploiting the hopelessness felt by many in the nation managed to get into office.
The College of Charleston, my place of study in South Carolina for the year, knew how fearful the election would make students, and they were prepared. They held meetings for students, home and international, to help them process the results, knowing full well how we were feeling. But it wasn’t just students affected. I witnessed one of my professors break down crying in class the day of the election, distraught that a man who could be so detrimental to her student’s rights – and who might backtrack on the progress tmade with women’s rights – was now in power.
A leader should not create such a response. I wanted to think America was better than this, and I truly believed it prior to Trump being elected. But I couldn’t just sit around feeling bad about this taking place: I had to do something about it.
During this period, I had actually been studying certain social issues I cared about: intersectional feminism, women’s rights, LGBTQIA equality, along with discovering new ways of analysing these topics in my majoring degree, Philosophy. Knowing that Trump’s election was a possibility inspired me, even more, to delve into topics only previously explored in my spare time: I could now study the incredible figures that changed the lives of the underprivileged forever.
The passion for these equity-oriented studies reignited the fire that had gotten me interested in social justice in the first place. When Trump was finally elected, the anger that grew inside me fuelled my desire to learn as much as I could. In turn, I became more involved in politics. I had to educate myself on American law, human rights and the electoral process in order to better understand how Trump managed to succeed, but also to see how justice impacted progressive movements and what could be utilised to instigate change.
I joined the protests held in Charleston against Trump’s presidency, and I marched alongside thousands on the Women’s March held in the city. I joined The Odyssey Online, an internet media company, during the latter half of my studies and soon realised it was the perfect place to talk about the inequalities many US citizens experienced.
I interviewed women marching against sexism, and spoke to Muslim Americans about the generalisations and abuse they experienced. I wrote about white privilege and the need for Americans to pay attention to how history has impacted racial disparities. I started researching into political parties that aligned with my interests in justice, and realised that many of my interests coincided with the philosophies of socialism and socialist thought; a political leaning with which I now identify.
Living under Trump was, and still is, an awful experience. I saw hatred and fear bubbling under the surface and witnessed the intense nationalism of alt-right thinkers and white supremacists goaded on by the president’s leadership. And we have seen Trump backpedal on his supposed support of LGBTQIA people by wearing down the rights transgender individuals have struggled to gain.
But with every action is a counteraction, and I also saw America’s response to it. I saw students and activists stand up against racists and bigots, uniting communities that experienced prejudice and, most importantly, providing the push-back needed that would prevent Trump from further harming and degrading their lives. A social revolution has exploded in response to the election, and America is rapidly changing in many ways because people will not stand to see their fellow citizens’ rights taken away.
While Trump’s America was a wild experience, I am glad I was there to witness a unified people willing to stand their ground for their rights to be respected. Trump will never, ever take that humanity away from them.