One year ago today, I renounced my US citizenship.
Here in the Netherlands, since last week’s US elections, friends and colleagues often ask me “Are you glad you gave up citizenship?”
I always say “Yes!” but that’s a lie. I didn’t want give up citizenship then, and I still feel sad that I had to do it.
I am, however, glad that I wasn’t in the US for this election cycle. The level of hateful, hurting rhetoric and plain old bald-faced lying was higher than I’ve ever experienced. Here at home, all that reached me was the highlights on the news, and sometimes I chose not to even hear that.
A year later, what I mostly feel, besides the continuing sense of grief at having renounced, is fear: fear of what I see happening in the US.
The three things I am most concerned about are long-term issues.
Changing the Rules
On Facebook, I’ve noticed various stories and petitions doing the rounds that address the Electoral College. Some call for the Electors to change their votes. The idea is that they should vote for the candidate who got the most votes nationwide (Clinton), even if their state was a red state and they’re expected to vote for Trump.
This would be a form of civil disobedience against an unjust law. It’s okay to break a law if that law is unjust. Look at the lunch counter sit-ins or the Freedom Rides of the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 60s.
The difference, though, between then and now is that the Electoral College system was not unjustly thrust on the left to oppress the left. It’s been there since the Constitution was written in the 18th century, and could have been changed by Constitutional amendment at any time since then.
Getting electors to change their votes is a short-term attempt to bypass “fixing” the Electoral College: an amendment to the Constitution. Adding an amendment would be a long, hard-fought process, especially now, with Republicans dominating Congress. After all, the Republicans have benefitted twice recently from the existence of the Electoral College and won elections in which they actually lost the popular vote. Why change a system that works for them?
Neither campaign—to change the electors’ votes or to add an amendment to the Constitution—will happen in time to change the outcome of this election. Yet many on the left are calling for desperate measures to change the result anyway.
That scares me. If Americans feel it’s okay to circumvent elections in this case, what makes it any different the next time people are dissatisfied with the result? It would be a very bad precedent to set.
It’s also just wrong. You played the game, knowing the rules. Al Gore lost back in 2000 based on Electoral College votes, even though he won the popular vote. Why wasn’t this addressed after that election?
You knew this could happen. It’s wrong to try to change the rules after you’ve lost.
And if you change the rules when they don’t suit you, you’re no better than some petty (or not so petty) dictator who gets “elected” and then changes the constitution to make himself “president for life.”
Instead, work on changing the rules in time for the next election.
Election years have always been nasty times, full of divisiveness and negative campaigning. It’s never been as bad as this year, though, at least not in my lifetime.
The problem now is that the divisiveness goes deeper because it happens over social media. On Facebook, for example, it’s easy to “unfriend” people who express opinions you disagree with. I’ve unfriended or unfollowed people who supported Trump.
What we’ve ended up with is a situation where people only hear people they agree with. They watch the news shows that support their own side; an independent press has been another casualty of this race. They happily bash the other candidate, knowing their friends agree. No one hears the other side.
The result is what happened on Election Day. The left, especially, was taken completely by surprise that Trump won. And they seem to be having a helluva time figuring out why Trump won.
Trump won because no one is listening to anyone else, especially across class lines, party lines, and ethnic lines. Also, the urban-rural divide is wider than ever, and the urban pundits stopped hearing the rural voice.
That urban-rural division is especially harmful. This is not a situation like the Civil War where the differences were geographical: south vs. north. Look at the maps CNN showed on election night: the red states were red in the country and blue in the city. So were the blue states. The only difference, as far as I could see, was that the blue states have bigger urban populations. This gap has to be addressed, and it’s especially the Democratic Party that has to address it.
I’m convinced that racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny, homophobia, and anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment haven’t increased in the US. They’ve always been there. What has changed is that it has become acceptable to voice hateful thinking.
One of the accepted explanations of Trump’s victory is that the white working class didn’t feel listened to. Listening to them is not the same as accepting hateful ideologies. It is necessary, though, to listen to them in order to counter those ideologies in a way that convinces, rather than condemns.
The Democratic Party should not accept the racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny, homophobia, anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment of the right as if it’s normal. Neither should the Republican Party. These are not American values.
However, dismissing people as “bigots” and refusing to hear them doesn’t help them stop being bigots.
Dialogue between left and right, between ethnic groups, between working and middle class, and between urban and rural is the answer. It’s ironic that Americans’ ability to carry out the dialogue has decreased so much in a time of constant connectivity via social media. In the sphere of politics, this lack of dialogue is what leads to political stalemates and the total inability to reach compromises.
These three trends—the willingness to change the rules, the hardening divisions between segments of society and between urban and rural, the increasing acceptance of hate speech—are the sorts of slippery slopes that lead to massive government change toward dictatorship. See 1920s and 1930s Germany.
I sincerely hope that my nation of birth can tackle these obstacles to become the nation of justice and equality that it is meant to be.
Where do I stand one year after my renunciation day? I feel sad, personally, but also worried on a larger scale. I sit here in Europe, watching the US fall apart in acrimony and bitterness, and I fear for its future.
Please feel free to add comments below, but please make comments in the spirit of dialogue: keep it civil!