Winning–At What Cost?

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American Ambassador’s Residence, Paris, France  November 8, 2016

I am not a political pundit or an op-ed writer. I don’t wear my politics or spiritual beliefs on my shirtsleeve. I write stories. Not of war and peace, but about relationships, experiences, or simply a place–often overseas.

Twenty-nine years ago, we chose to leave our home in the U.S. and move to a country in Asia with two very young children. The initial motivation was a job opportunity. But the multi-cultural, international lifestyle suited us. So we remained abroad, living as expatriates.

From the beginning, we found ourselves experiencing stronger patriotic feelings toward our country by living outside it and looking back in. We talked about this with other Americans also living overseas. We weren’t alone in our pride.

People from other cultures have often told us how much they love and admire the United States. They openly wept and leant support in times of national disaster, 9/11 in particular.

They followed the details of our presidential elections. No matter what country we lived in, we have been asked to give opinions about current U.S. politics. Keen to the international importance of American leadership, people were interested in our “insider” knowledge. Which was, of course, simply what we ourselves believed.

This 2016 presidential election has been a turning point to wondering where in the world we belong. Yes, we are a generation older. Our global perspective feels very normal to us now. Yet, we are clearly outsiders looking back to a country we no longer recognize. We see a head-knocking clash of values and compromised national character.

This has been THE most difficult of elections to discuss or try to explain to non-Americans. During the campaign, my husband and I were often asked by neighbors in our Paris apartment building how Donald Trump could become a candidate for the Republican Party.

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We fumbled for words that mostly ended in head-shaking silence. Throughout the whole painful cycle we hung onto the [naïve] hope that preparation and decency and respect for the responsibility of being President of the United States would win in the end.

Because it didn’t work out that way, we have stumbled. We feel stuck in a way that is difficult to shake. Or explain to others in our overseas world.

My personal upset, initially “all over the map”, was honed by something I read a few days ago. A female educator, in Massachusetts, initially thought her sorrow would be about the loss of a qualified woman to lead the U.S., the loss of knowing what could have been.

She went on to say, “…but that’s not where the disappointment is for me. The disappointment is in the values that won and what it means for lots of people.”

In other words, our collective sorrow should be directed towards the dread of a man whose character and values make him a devastating choice both at home and in the world.

And there, in a nutshell, is my sticking point.

Values are goals to strive for, abstract standards to live by. They are the moral fiber that makes us human. Having them defines character. We grow up. We get to choose personal values that play to our individuality, defining the path by which we live.

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Notre Dame, Paris at sunset

There is also a history of values that Americans have culturally ascribed to those serving as U.S. President. Intelligence, preparation, responsibility to service and inclusion of all others, integrity on the job–these are a few.

Living in Europe the past eleven years has solidified for us the valued role American leadership has played historically and continues to play globally. In Normandy, where we repeatedly visit, United States and French flags are flown side by side. At the American cemetery on Omaha beach, French school children annually adopt an individual gravesite to take care of, remembering and learning about the soldier who lies there.

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American Cemetery, Omaha Beach, Normandy

On this windy, northern French coastline the memories of WWII remain very strong. People in Normandy beam when they learn you are American. All Europeans remember that in 1948, via the Marshall Plan, the U.S. pledged to rebuild a devastated continent. It was a remarkable historical first–the victor rising to aid the vanquished. These events [including the noble Berlin airlift] occurred because of morally responsible government leadership and values that represented the best of America.

One more story: Today, my husband went to pick up his dry cleaning. The normally reserved woman at the counter looked directly at him and asked, “How are you doing?’ Then she said, with utter despair, “I have no words!” It was raw emotion.

This election isn’t solely about disenfranchised voters with a myopic view of what they “think” is going to change and “the guy” who can get the job done. It isn’t solely about the inability to break a ceiling by a woman capable of doing so.

This election, as all before it, is also about the recognition, reputation and stance of the United States in the world. It has unnerved people internationally that much of our American-ness, the compassion and cultural values exercised and upheld for 240+ years have been cast aside by so many. At what cost?

Looking upon my country from afar, it appears that we have tossed a vital piece of our national character and conscience out the window. I feel ashamed right now. It’s difficult to know or even predict, but at what cost to our country, to our international standing, to our global consciousness, will this “win” play out in the future?

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24 thoughts on “Winning–At What Cost?

  1. The past 40 years, I have lived in Austin, TX which during that period has
    gone from “big ‘ol country town” to tech center known for being cool.The
    place I grew up in, Galesburg, IL has been in steady decline. My parents
    were most fortunate to be able to sell their home 14 years ago,just before
    the last factory moved to Mexico. Their contemporaries could not then do
    the same unless they wanted to give their property away. My childhood
    memories were of a pleasant, thriving community. But, over time that
    changed as manufacturing left and the town welcomed a new prison, just
    to gain some jobs.
    So as the election season got into high gear, I thought I had an under-
    standing of the sense of loss on many levels in the Rust Belt. But I was
    very wrong. How could so many, brought up on “good Midwestern values”
    ever consider voting for such a person as Donald J. Trump? That is the
    most disturbing aspect of the election. I don’t know my fellow Americans
    nearly as well as I felt I once did.

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  2. Sadness is the order of the month. I have disagreed with many politicians over the years. I have never been ashamed of one, until now. As Thanksgiving approaches, it is challenging to garner the normal enthusiasm. Miss you.

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  3. The only positive–I was very frustrated by my husband who doesn’t want to travel abroad any more because he thinks he is too old. Now I am glad as I am so embarrassed to be an American. Thus we are now in agreement.

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  4. A lovely, heartfelt piece of writing about the election and one that reminded me of my feelings while living abroad during GW’s 8 years.

    I, too, was shocked by the realization that 60 million people were willing to vote for someone like Trump. Someone who was not only unqualified for the job, but who was operating from a different set of values, willing to use vitriol in expressing them, blatantly comfortable in fanning the emotional fires of hate and anger. It reminded me of a different time in history.

    I don’t know who Donald will be or how he will act in the next four years. My hope is that the machinery of our democracy, which was designed expressly to prevent one elected person from wreaking havoc in the land, will do its job and appropriately check his power. I may not avoid being embarrassed for four years, but I am most ardently hoping that the values of justice and fairness which were promised, for all people, in our founding documents will not be compromised any further.

    That, sadly, still leaves me to ponder what it means to be living with 60 million people who think they got what they wanted. It means when I am standing in line at the grocery store with 8 other people, three think Donald is what we need, and three didn’t think Donald was bad enough to vote against, and chose not to vote at all. Kinda spoils the shopping experience.

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  5. Yes, we deserved a better choice. Donald Trump presented himself as a crude, stereotypical reality TV actor with a talent for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. I hope and pray that he’s more and better than that. But he ran against a woman who is the very epitome of the elite class that she railed against, who will say and do anything to stay in power, who has left a trail of lies over the past 30 years, who demeans the people responsible for her comfort and safety, who called half of the American electorate “deplorable”. If she had been a man, she would never have been nominated.

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    • Absolutely agree that sex played a role in this election. If Trump was a thrice married woman with 5 kids by 3 different men, a repeated adulterer, had multiple bankruptcies, paid no income taxes, had zero political experience or record of public service, engaged in emotional midnight Twitter wars, and said she liked to grab young guys by the d**k- suffice it to say, she would never have gotten the nomination, let alone be the president-elect right now.

      Clinton certainly never called half of the American electorate deplorable. Being “grossly generalist“ she said half of Trump’s supporters, specifically those who were “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, [and] Islamaphobic”– could be put in the deplorable category.

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  6. As Duane and I talked about your blog, Duane’s reaction was “Tell her to stay on top of it– it may be Europe’s turn to save us from tyranny!”.

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  7. Thank you, Wendy. At least half of our country is more ashamed and heartsick over an election than I have ever seen. It is NOT who we are. Many voices from both parties are calling for unity, a coming together under one flag. However, the one person who caused all the vitriol is mostly silent and unapologetic. I wish I could be more hopeful but it sounds like his new cabinet appointments are those who were excusing & cheering on his misdeeds.

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  8. Thank you for so eloquently articulating my feelings in a way in which I’ve been unable to all week. Thank you for this being the first thing I read when I woke up this morning. It *is* about the values that won and that’s what hurts so much. While it may be that many intelligent, educated people did not vote for him because of his sexism and bigotry, they did vote for him in spite of it. I took for granted that certain values were nonnegotiable.

    I too am embarrassed and ashamed of my country at this moment. It is not unpatriotic to say so. It is because of our love of country that we grieve.

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