Hardly a day goes by when I can escape talking about Donald Trump. The megalomaniac has become quite a beguiling figure here in the Gulf, setting plenty of tongues wagging for his gross offensiveness and agitprop-like campaign.
I can’t fault the Arab world’s fascination with The Donald. When a man this ignorant and hateful campaigns as the Antichrist, taking pleasure in fanning America’s sexism and racism, people around the world are bound to notice. It seems that almost every day someone will approach me looking slack-jawed wielding a list of questions. I guess when you’re curious about the truculent state of American politics, finding a bone fide American is a good place to start.
Here’s how a typical conversation might go:
Friend: Hey, Andrea. Can I ask you something?
Me: Sure, what’s up?
Friend: Well, I just want to know what the hell is up with your country? Are you guys really going to elect this Donald Trump guy?? He seems a little crazy.
Me: (embarrassed). Yeah, it’s kinda sad, isn’t it?
Friend: Sad? It’s unbelievable! I thought America was all about ______ (insert American value such as freedom, liberty, democracy, etc).
Me: We are, but….
Friend: I mean, I know he’s entertaining but it’s getting serious, no? I just don’t understand. You’re supposed to be the example for the rest of the world. You’re starting to look like us back in ______ (insert unstable foreign country).
Me: Uh, I’m working on it.
It’s only recently that my once unshakeable American pride has come under fire. How can I begin to explain to people that this man who has nearly declared war on Islam could be President of the United States? How can I defend a system that would allow someone as treacherous as Donald Trump to succeed as he has?? I am stupefied by my country’s inexplicable state of politics. I often watch the news with this sense that I’m a Martian living in outer space, wondering what the hell is happening out there in America. I struggle to grasp (let alone articulate to my neighbors) how a country that elected one of the most gallant and respected leaders of our time has devolved into an unmitigated disaster like Donald Trump. I do some quick math and calculate how old our kids would be if we stayed overseas for the next 4—or 8— years. <Gulp>
The amusing thing is, I’m starting to feel solidarity with my Arab friends. Often they’re the ones left to explain the complicated (and at times embarrassing) political situations in their home countries. I have watched my Lebanese friends haplessly shrug off questions about their current government (or lack of it). I have seen my Egyptian friends describe in tears how their homeland has been upended in violence and turmoil. And my Iranian friends so deeply despise the religious extremists in their country that they refuse to acknowledge they exist (although they sure do, as I’ve painfully witnessed).
I try consoling myself with the thought that Donald Trump is a shining example of American democracy in action. He demonstrates that anyone in America, regardless of one’s race, religion or (in Drumpf’s case) their nano-sized brain, can become President. And his candidacy highlights an electoral system that celebrates the prevailing voices of the American people, even if you may not remotely understand or agree with those voices.
However, for an opportunist like Mr. Trump it’s surprising that he would do more to exploit the American brand than to uphold it. His rhetoric is dangerous and invites violence. He encourages his supporters to face off against law enforcement, disregards the rights for peaceful protest and labels people “ISIS” or “terrorists” without any justification whatsoever. He is the dark underbelly of what a large fraction of America has slipped into, a side of the country that— to the outside world—is unequivocally UN-American and I want nothing more than to distance myself from his long shadow.
The irony, of course, is that his outlandishness has only the reverse effect on me. Instead of driving me further away from those he considers fearful (such as Muslims and the general Arab world) he’s pushed me closer to them. I feel a kinship here, particularly among the foreigners who have seen their homelands slip into something unrecognizable and chaotic. Thank you, Mr. Trump, for proving that America can, in fact, empathize with the struggles of the Middle East. Perhaps his motto shouldn’t be make America great again, but simply make America AMERICA again.