Skip to content

What It’s Like to Watch America Implode from Abroad

Ever since November 9, 2016, I have lived with a hard pit of dread and fear in my stomach. Nothing has really eased it, in fact things have slowly and steadily gotten scarier and sadder as time goes on. I didn’t think I could be so disappointed in my fellow Americans. That I could feel so outraged and yet completely impotent.

Education starts early

Last night Anthony Kennedy announced he was retiring from the Supreme Court, assuring all sorts of nasty outcomes, like the overturning of Roe v Wade. My Facebook feed exploded with fellow liberals chattering about the possibility of moving abroad. Lots of optimistic, probably not that serious talk about immigrating to Canada or Europe or anywhere else.

Since I actually do live abroad, I’ve been asked a couple times what it’s like to experience this political shit-show from overseas. The answer is: it still sucks a lot.

What’s it like to watch from abroad as the US descends into chaos? It’s confusing, painful and infuriating, just like it would be if I were at home, but with an extra layer of sadness and helplessness heaped on top.

Guilt

Last year in Seattle

We didn’t decide to move abroad because of Trump’s election, it was an idea we were already toying with before that fateful election day.  We had this opportunity to move to Italy now, and it seemed like the right time for a variety of non-political reasons.

Even so, leaving didn’t feel like escaping, it felt like running away.  I see my friends protesting, volunteering, being involved, and I’m so grateful to them for that. But at the same time, I feel so much guilt that I’m not there.

I told this to my friend Katie the other day, while we were drinking wine and eating salumi in the public park in Ferrara. She sympathized but she told me “what, are we not going to live our dreams because this asshat is president?” (that might not be verbatim, but it was something sage along those lines).

I know she is right. I’m so lucky to be here. But part of me still feels like I should be over there, and that won’t change.

Anger

A lot of the time I am so so so angry. Angry at the administration and angry at their supporters who apparently will follow their leader to any depth of moral depravity. I get so angry that I can’t write or do my work or concentrate on anything, and I have to shut my computer and go play with my daughter for awhile until the world seems to right itself.

I would feel exactly the same anger if I were in the US, I don’t think it’s dimmed any by distance. I read the same news as you guys, the only difference is that thanks to the time difference I’m awake for hours with no one to commiserate with, sending messages into the void.

Embarrassment

This one I remember well from my time living abroad when George W. was president a decade ago (although man, that seems like golden days compared to right now doesn’t it?).  I firmly believe that all travelers have to act as ambassadors for their country, but it’s hard to be a US ambassador these days.  I’m not embarrassed to be an American, but I am embarrassed by my government and it’s actions.

And you certainly can’t escape Trump. US news is global news and Trump is on every TV station, in every newspaper, enraging the world with his terrifying antics.

I have noticed less anti-Americanism this time around, although I suspect that might be the difference between living in England in 2007 and living in Italy in 2018. Italians have their own problems with fascism, anti-immigration and the economy, they aren’t in much of a position to be knocking on the US.

Gratitude

Now for the only good part, the part that I suspect most people who talk about moving abroad are after: I’m not there.

We are so privileged and lucky to have the option of living in Italy, for as long as we like.  We have access to free healthcare, affordable childcare, and all of Europe at our doorstep. Life here is far from perfect, but we’re not living in imminent fear of nuclear war, puzzling out the new tax bill or worrying about our jobs. Nobody is trying to take away our bodily freedoms or pass laws to legally discriminate against us. Marcella’s dual citizenship gives her so many more options than most Americans, so I worry slightly less for her future than I probably would otherwise.

Although make no mistake, Italian politics are just as messed up as US ones, I just don’t understand them quite as well, so my fury is capped. Ignorance is bliss as they say.

Sadness

But then there’s the flip side of that: what will we have to go back to?

I personally am not ready to abandon ship on the United States. I want to move back and give Marcella the chance to know the country of her birth. There are so many things I love about the US that I can never have in Italy- starting with good Chinese food and ranging to true multiculturalism.

But I feel so sad when I questioning whether the country that exist in my head is even real. Right now she has free healthcare, free pre-school and affordable college education options.  Can I bring my daughter back to a place where kids are gunned down at their desks, where innocent children are forcibly separated from their parents and placed in camps, where shortly a woman’s right to choose might not even exist?

This stuff keeps me up at night.

It’s a Toss Up

Go baby go

This article sounds really negative, but I swear, I haven’t given up. I donate money to causes I believe in, I will vote in the midterms (and strongly encourage everyone I know to do so).  I stay hyper-informed, probably too much so. And most importantly I think, I’m trying to raise my kid to be a quality human being who can hopefully lead a new, better generation of Americans 20 years from now. I love my country, and I want it back,

If you have the means and ability to move abroad, by all means do so! It’s a rich and rewarding experience that I believe everyone should have. I think traveling and living abroad makes for better, smarter, more informed citizens. And for some people, trans people for example, living abroad may be the only way to be truly free in the near future.

But don’t think for a second that leaving the US will relieve of the massive stress of being an American in 2018. If you are the kind of person who cares about US politics enough to consider relocating, than you are the kind of person who can’t just write off their country either. Also, even if we were to never come home, all my friends and family still live in the United States, so it’s not like we’re ever going to stop caring about what happens there. It’s never ever going to be “not my problem.”

Home is home, and home is broken. And it just really, really, really sucks.

2 Comments

  1. Kate Lyn on June 28, 2018 at 4:43 pm

    This quote perfectly sums up what I’ve been feeling since the election: “I didn’t think I could be so disappointed in my fellow Americans. That I could feel so outraged and yet completely impotent.” Steph, you hit the nail on the head with this one.

Leave a Comment